The “Green” Gymnasium in Smarhoń

This story has two heroes. One of them is Sergey Makhnach, who lives in the suburbs and commutes to the center of Smarhoń to study (a town in Hrodna region). In summer, Sergey goes to school by bicycle, in winter he has to go to the bus stop, the bus runs once an hour. Sergey is not complaining. The gymnasium where he studies has turned out to be not a simple one, and it also deserves to be the hero of the publication. But first things first.

The first thing we get to see in the lobby of the gymnasium is the collection point for used batteries. In fact, this is a part of a project. The project aims to attract the attention of gymnasium pupils to separate waste collection, in particular, such dangerous waste as used batteries (a discarded battery decomposes for over 500 years and pollutes soil with heavy metals). An initiative group of Smarhoń gymnasium pupils organized collection of batteries, attracted local Housing and Utilities to the project, together with teachers they held class hours (now everyone in the gymnasium knows where and why one needs to dispose used batteries) and about the action “Battery, give in!”. During the campaign, the town managed to collect about 30 kilograms of used batteries.

In a questionnaire survey the organizers of the action also found out that as compared with 2016, the environmental awareness of Smarhoń residents regarding collection of batteries increased by 30%.

In the photo: Irina A. Dureiko, Director of the Gymnasium, and Svetlana Dudko, Gymnasium Project Coordinator for collecting batteries. A used bottle is being used as a container for collecting batteries.

It is good that Smarhoń gymnasium is actively engaged in the new hype hobby of the Belarusians, namely collecting PET bottle caps, which as you know should be disposed separately (those who are not yet with us in this useful hobby, join in).

In the photo: gymnasium pupils Oleg Korsak, Sergey Makhnach, Vitaly Savonyok show the fresh “catch”, the recently collected 40 kilograms of caps that were sent for processing.

In the gymnasium they do care for paper. For example, the pupils do tests in halves of sheets, which are further on collected in special boxes and handed over to waste paper collection points. There are boxes in every room, including the Director’s office.

In the photo: Alexander Novik

In one of the classes we were offered to play a game “A Journey through Ecolandiya”. The game was developed in the gymnasium.

“I prefer the tasks on energy saving and water saving, although the other tasks are also quite interesting,” says Oleg Korsak. – For example, you walk through a virtual apartment and look into how to save water, it’s a kind of a quest. We let our parents play as well. In the end, if you complete it all, you get a certificate”.

The game was developed in 2014, however it is still popular and available online. Junior gymnasium pupils play it. The set of tasks in the game was created within the framework of the educational project “Green Schools”.

Another project that we get introduced to is the “Sun Tracker”.

In the photo: gymnasium pupils Vsevolod Kurilovich and Alexandra Skirko present their invention. Novitsky Denis, another member of the team is supporting his colleagues in the class.

“The gymnasium consumes 5,610.9 kW of electricity per academic month,” say the guys. – We thought that it would be great to have an alternative energy source. We calculated that for full repayment of electricity costs we need 187 panels, ​​1 m² each. It is difficult to install so many panels on our roof. However, quality may compensate for the number! So we constructed an experimental solar panel with the size of 16 cm², as well as a tracker that allows you to track the position of the sun during the day. The device automatically searches for the brightest light source. You can set the “solar tracker” to turn every second, or every hour. We compared the effectiveness of a conventional panel and the panel equipped with the tracker. It turned out that the panel with automatic guidance at the light source allows to increase the efficiency up to 20% in overcast weather and up to 50% in sunny weather.

There are no solar panels on the roof of the gymnasium, however sensors are installed everywhere that monitor presence of people and automatically turn off the lights if there is no one in the room. There are many similar environmental projects running in the gymnasium. The following projects are among them: “Green Map” of household waste shows the location of all the 34 containers for PET bottles, 70 containers for glass and 29 containers for paper in Smarhoń, actions against the use of plastic bags, initiative “A Drop Would Save a Ruble” (saving water at home), an environmental performance “Once Upon a Time in a Garbage Damp”, and other projects.

The gymnasium received a diploma of the “Green School” four years ago.

“The Green Schools Movement is an international initiative that unites young people from different countries to actively protect the environment and models the image of the future of an environmentally healthy and sustainable world,” says Irina R. Klevets, the “Green Schools” Coordinator of the Project “Ecomonitoring”. – In 2010, the “Green Schools” program was adjusted for Belarus with the help of the UNDP Project “Raising Environmental Awareness of the Youth through Establishment and Development of Green Schools in Belarus” funded by the European Union. As of today, we have 47 educational institutions that have the official status of the “Green School”, and another hundred are involved in the “Green Schools” movement and may receive the diploma in the future.

The “Green Schools” in Belarus gained a fresh momentum from the Project “Ecomonitoring”. The UNDP started to implement the Project six months ago with the EU funds and in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources. Recently, within the framework of the new Project, the Smarhoń gymnasium, the first in Hrodna region, won the Contest for establishing an environmental monitoring club based in a “Green School”. This means that from now on active supporters of nature protection, representatives of civil society will gather in the gymnasium to participate in public environmental monitoring together with the teachers and pupils. You can find out more about this is in the “Ecomonitoring for All” guide. Special equipment will be procured for ambient air monitoring to ensure effective work in the gymnasium. The management of the gymnasium is confident that the club will also contribute to the development of one of the most in demand competencies as of today, namely research. There is not enough time for this under the school curriculum, while the club work provides for every possibility for this.

In the meantime, Sergey talks about what they are doing in the gymnasium these days:

– There is a “wild meadow” on the territory of our gymnasium, for example. On this meadow, one may find up to 65 species of native plants. Now it is covered with snow.  There are guided tours to the meadow in spring, summer and autumn. Actually, the participants of the tour are not just told what grows there and who lives there; in fact, they give you the image of a plant or insect, and you have to find this plant or insect. Or vice versa, one may find a plant or an insect and identify their species. People are wondering, whether there is life on other planets, while in their schoolyard, not every person would identify the brimstone butterfly. And in our school they will identify it!

Previously, Sergey was seriously engaged in judo. Now all the certificates and medals are gathering dust on the shelf. Sergey was considered a promising athlete with a sporting future, but he decided to stop his drills:

– I thought that it was necessary to make up my mind about what to do in life. I like biology, I study beyond the school curriculum. Preparing for this takes all of my time. I won the National judo championship and “put a full stop” on this period and carried on.

In general, Sergey gives an impression of a person who knows what they want. He says that the gymnasium helped him set his life priorities.

A few months ago, Sergey, his friends and pupils from other schools became participants of an environmental campaign, part of the “Ecomonitoring” Project. They visited the Trascianec landfill site. Sergey and Oleg won the contest for making a video on the results of the action.

– People do not really care, they often just throw garbage away and that is it. If we don’t do anything, there will be nothing left from our district in ten years’ time, there will be a mountain of rubbish, says Sergey. – My classmates are the ones who do understand that it is necessary to sort waste, save water, save nature in general, but that is not the way it works in all schools. I’ve got to feel the difference when I ran into a guy from another school in a summer camp. He was throwing garbage on the lawn. For us, the “green” guys, this is unacceptable. My friends and I did not contact the group leader or argue with this guy. You can, of course, just “push”, but this doesn’t help, because the person may become embittered. In fact, one should decide by themselves not to harm nature. In general, we spoke to him many times, tried to convince. I don’t know what worked out in this case, but he stopped littering. In general, the problem of garbage is interesting to me, so I chose the topic of waste for the video. In Belarus, waste recycling is still underdeveloped, and I even thought that in future I would open a waste recycling line. There is no problem with this raw material... Although I then started to dream about a private clinic. And yes, the clinic should also be “green” (he laughs).

– Recently, pessimistic attitudes are growing in the field of eco-forecasts. Do you think there is a hope to restore the planet?

– There is a hope, in case there will be more such schools like ours. My friends and I, for example, we do care about where we will live, what planet, and we would like to live on a green planet.