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January 18, 2024

Sustainability Initiatives Get Green Light

Sustainable initiatives are a way of life at the Academy of the Holy Angels, where two seniors just spearheaded two different projects that support the same goal. EcoSchools AHA President Alison Roh of Englewood Cliffs brought a liquid disposal bin to the Student Commons to facilitate recycling. Green Action Team President Ellie Sawyer of Weehawken coordinated the installation of a Little Free Library near AHA’s Peace Pole, an internationally-recognized symbol of humanity’s hopes and dreams, and a reminder of the Academy’s mission to transform the world through education.


Roh’s participation in the 2023 Columbia Climate School’s Green Mountains Pre-College Summer Program inspired her to bring a liquid disposal bin to the Holy Angels campus.


“After learning that residual liquids being left in recyclable containers were the leading contaminant in our school’s recycling, I wanted to create an effective solution that would not only help our school’s recycling, but also encourage individual actions among our community to support a greater cause,” Roh noted. “As I was browsing the internet for efficacious solutions to assist in getting rid of liquid waste, I came across liquid disposal bins. I researched more into them and realized that they would fit perfectly alongside our school’s trash and recycling bins.”


In the fall, Roh shared her idea at a meeting of EcoSchools AHA, and received a green light from the administration. The new liquid disposal bin allows the school community to empty residual liquids and ice from recyclable containers/bottles before placing those containers in the recycling receptacles. The bin funnels residual liquids into an internal tank, which can be removed and emptied when it is full. Roh explained that the conveniently located bin will encourage proper recycling habits.

Alison Roh looks on as Mr. Hickey tests the liquid disposal bin.


Sean Hickey, who moderates EcoSchools AHA and the Green Action Team, noted that Roh’s mother, Jiwon Song, made a generous donation to cover the cost of the bin and future projects. Sawyer’s cousin, Leigh Shahbazian Connelly (AHA ‘03), donated her prize winnings from the AHA Fashion Show to help fund the Little Free Library.


“I am immensely proud of the students who have taken on individual projects to benefit our school community and promote sustainability on campus,” Hickey said. “Both Alison and Ellie have taken the lead in their respective environmental clubs, have shared their ideas with the administration and staff at meetings of the Sustainability Council, and have brought tangible improvements to our school.”


Hickey expressed his gratitude to both students’ families, and for the support shown by the administration, faculty, and students


Little Free Library patrons are invited to take a book, share a book, or both. reports that, since 2009, Little Free Library patrons have shared approximately 400 million books through 175,000+ Little Free Libraries in 121 countries. From a sustainability standpoint, Sawyer noted that these libraries allow readers to access new books without spending a penny or using any new paper. She decided to bring a Little Free Library to AHA a year ago. Sawyer noted that the Green Action Team has hosted clothing swaps, and she and another team member decided to extend that concept to books.


“In my neighborhood, many houses have lending libraries outside,” Sawyer said. “I have always thought they were such a good idea.” In addition to being economical and sustainable, the libraries foster community engagement.


Although the Green Action Team received financial support for the library, it was not enough to cover the cost of one of the larger library models, which the team thought would be necessary for AHA’s needs. The team responded by developing the concept for a Book and Bake Sale.


According to Hickey, this event was one of the most rewarding experiences he has had in his 10 years at AHA. The AHA community’s book donations filled two long tables, and club members contributed a wide variety of baked goods.

Mr. Hickey and Ellie Sawyer check out the Little Free Library.


“We then had tremendous interest from students and staff members, who rushed to the tables and bought armfuls of books to help the cause, or insisted on donating more on top of their purchases, which was such a beautiful thing to witness,” he added. “I hope everyone enjoys the Little Free Library for many years to come and remembers the beautiful spirit of community that it represents and that made it possible.”


Sawyer acknowledged that the Book and Bake Sale exceeded her expectations.


“The whole of the Green Action Team is why we were able to have this new library. Eva Santelli made the wonderful stickers we sold, and Lily Gee and Anissa Lena did the majority of the building,” Sawyer said.


Sawyer also worked with Hickey, Technology Director Nadeem Akhter, and religious studies teacher Jonathan Blevis. The project was completed in December 2023, just in time for students and staff to take home books to enjoy over the holiday break.


“I believe this library also shows the outside world what AHA is all about: building community and leaning on each other,” she added. “It was moving to see the whole school come together over a cause. We raised over double our goal during the Book and Bake Sale, and we got so many more book donations than we expected. I wanted to make something that not only supports a cause I am personally passionate about, sustainability, but also brings the community closer.”