By Danielle Nadler – Guilford Elementary School offers its share of after-school clubs. There’s the sports-related clubs like basketball and soccer, and then there’s the artsy clubs like cake decorating and photography. But one club in particular stands out.

Its members can often be found ankle deep in dirt, digging through garbage bins in search of recycling or snacking on locally grown produce. They are the Green Beans, a club geared toward protecting and enjoying the environment.

The club, spearheaded by physical education teacher Mark Pankau, started three years ago as a combination of the Kiwanis Kids club and Student Government Association. It claims 20 student members and three advisors, Pankau, Daniel Schroll and Karen Thompson, and meets every Monday afternoon.

During its most recent meeting, the students learned about one of the region’s most lucrative crops–apples. Pankau brought in apples donated from C. Hess Orchard and Produce in Martinsburg, WV, to give the students a taste of freshly squeezed apple juice, dehydrated apples and homemade apple sauce.

“This tastes awesome,” fifth-grader Tommy Sims said as he downed the juice.

The club members asked Pankau why the juice looked different than apple juice at the store–it was thicker and cloudy in color.

Pankau explained that most the juice in grocery stores “go through a lot of filters to make it clear, and it’s pasteurized–or cooked–so it can sit on the shelf longer.”

Aside from enjoying local produce, the Green Beans have made a noticeable impact on how much Guilford Elementary consumes. The club members frequently perform “room checks,” where they critique how green each classroom is. They look for any recyclable materials that made it into the trash can instead of the recycling bin, any pencils, crayons or glue sticks left on the floor that could be swept up by a janitor and whether the lights are turned off after the room is emptied.

“We have reduced the number of trash bags here by more over one-third daily,” Pankau said. “We’re making the students responsible for their own room, and getting them excited about being green.”

At the end of the school year, the class that has the most positive points gets the Green Thumb Trophy–a creation crafted by Pankau himself out a green garden glove and Sta-Flo Starch.

The Green Beans have also made their mark in the school’s courtyard, where they have a green house, a raised table vegetable garden and two compost bins. The club grows small, seedling plants to sell during a spring fundraiser for 50 cents each. Club members also participate in the school’s annual Environmental Fair each spring.

Throughout the past few years, environmental student clubs have popped up in a few elementary schools throughout Loudoun, Pankau said. Guilford Elementary fourth- and fifth-grade students can choose the Green Beans from several different clubs.

Christian Solar, secretary of the Green Beans, considers joining the club a no-brainer.

“I’ve always wanted to be a part of this, so I finally made a goal to join this year,” he said. “This club is different because it helps the environment, and it’s fun.”

Some students, like fourth-grader Emerson Hernandez and fifth-grader Jonny Szutenbach, say they’ve already used what they’ve learned through the Green Beans club at home.

“I grew a flower at home,” Emerson said.

“I’ve helped my parents plant vegetables,” Jonny said. “This is a cool club because you can grow stuff and learn about the environment.”

Asburn Today – November 25, 2011