Northern Hills Middle School students
Northern Hills Middle School students making a tally poster during the week of the fundraiser. Credit: Terri Dufendach.

“THIS IS THE ONLY HOME we have… and all of us need to take care of it.”

I read this sentence again and again after receiving it in an email interview response from science teacher Terri Dufendach. I was in awe at the way, in just a few words, she could express everything we need to know about the importance of our Earth.

Terri teaches at Northern Hills Middle School, and with her passion for nature and science, it’s no surprise that her students are following along the conservationist path she is paving.

Northern Hills is a seventh and eighth grade middle school nestled in Grand Rapids, Mich. The school has always prided itself on being environmentally conscious. All students study Earth conservation, natural cycles, plant reproduction and tree types, and the administration tries to limit the amount of paper used. The school is surrounded by forest land and, according to Terri, students even spend time in the neighboring forest during an outdoor education class.

In honor of Earth Day 2017, the school’s science teachers and their devoted students decided to take their passion one step further. The school announced that they would be conducting a fundraiser with the goal of collecting money to plant enough trees to replace the amount of paper the school uses in one year. They planned to donate that money to American Forests, so we could plant the trees and support the school’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint.

The calculations began. The students discovered that their middle school alone uses 179 cases of paper every year, which is derived from about 110 trees. So, they set the goal at $110 to plant that many trees. But, that wasn’t enough for this group of motivated kids.

They progressively increased their goal number throughout the collection period, using their continuous success as inspiration to meet the next goal, and they eventually raised enough money to balance out the paper that not just their school uses in a year, but that their entire district uses.

The Forest Hills Public School District includes 18 schools ranging from K-12 and more than 10,000 students. The district’s mission is to provide all learners with opportunities to acquire the knowledge, skills and experiences necessary to build meaningful and productive lives. And, judging by the looks of this story, it’s succeeding.

Even before this fundraiser, Terri had noticed that her students were particularly concerned with the amount of paper they use, and she was excited to share with us Northern Hills’ plans to further reduce its environmental impact. The school intends to limit its paper use by sending parents electronic news and transitioning to online conference sign-ups.

Throughout Earth Week, students donated and collected money, and by the end of the week they had met their final goal. The school raised and donated $2,090 to American Forests to plant 2,090 trees. Terri thinks her students felt especially “connected to the cause” and “gave generously” for this fundraiser in comparison with others the school holds since they learned about the impact of their work every day in science classes.

The students of Northern Hills are certainly making a meaningful and productive difference, and American Forests is excited to see where their passion for the environment leads them next.

Melanie Friedel was American Forests’ summer 2017 communications intern and is a rising junior at American University, studying Environmental Science.