Austin Jewish Academy Practices Sustainability While Feeding Those in Need with Cans Against COVID

Community News, The Jewish Outlook

Mar 4, 2021

AJA middle school students Zev Gisser (right) and Sam Stavchansky (left) participate in Cans Against COVID. Photo courtesy of AJA National Junior Honor Society.

By Mara Stern

Austin Jewish Academy emphasizes sustainability through many systems within the school. Students, faculty and staff embed this priority, specifically in fifth grade and middle school. 

Head of Middle School Kathleen Rosenmann explained, “The AJA National Junior Honor Society is at the helm of educating the rest of the student body about waste, recycling and about the closed loop system; we eat and throw scraps in the compost pile, we have chickens and use their waste to fertilize our system, and we use the compost to grow food that we then give to those experiencing hunger.”

This emphasis has led to the NJHS initiative Cans Against COVID. 

Middle schooler and NJHS leader, Zev Gisser, said, “Throughout my time at AJA, especially in fifth grade with Mrs. Hidalgo, we learned about the concept of sustainability, keeping a green lifestyle and helping to grow food for those who need it. That continued in middle school with our greenhouse.” 

He added, “For the past five years, NJHS has been delivering produce from our gardens, but we wanted to collect something of greater magnitude, which is why we thought a can drive would be such a great idea in our community. During any kind of event that impacts communities, there is a correlation, and in this time it is the hunger that is caused by more people facing unemployment. We think that collecting cans is something that is very helpful in this time of need.”

Students are central to all of the sustainability efforts at the school. 

Rosenmann said, “We typically have initiatives each year, and this year, with COVID-19, it felt natural for the theme to be hunger because we were already addressing that with our gardens. The Cans Against COVID project came out of the feeling from our students that they wanted to do more in a way that is safe during the pandemic.”

“We have used our gardens to teach about nutrition, to teach about life science, and to teach about plants. It also centralizes AJA’s deep belief in giving back to the community. We’ve continued our quiche program, which uses the eggs from our chickens and vegetables from our garden to make quiche to donate to local food pantries” Rosenmann shared. 

Now, with AJA’s Outdoor Academy, and its creation made possible by Treva Horwitz, AJA students are outside every day. Now that students are tending the garden daily instead of every once in a while, the resulting amount of produce has increased exponentially. NJHS and middle schoolers engage all students at AJA as they partner with teachers to get their students excited and involved with the initiative.

Students were inspired by articles and photos of demand at Texas food banks, which has grown as a result of loss of income due to the pandemic. This initiative extends beyond current students; alumni were also inspired to help with can collection. 

“I came to AJA as a new student, and I have felt that the school is different and is much more focused on community projects and service. The green aspect speaks to a very urgent need in the community,” Sam Stavchansky shared. “I think people really need to understand that we can do more than we think.”

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