Green Teams in Action: Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy

Note: Posts before 2020 reflect EarthGen’s former name, Washington Green Schools.

To understand the emphasis that Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy puts on sustainability, you need perspective on where the school is located. Just ten minutes from the Nisqually Entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park, Columbia Crest is nested amongst thick foliage and sits at the base of our state’s tallest mountain.

The school has made a deliberate effort to provide students with place-based educational experiences that incorporate outdoor lab and learning sites. When you walk around the campus that serves 200 students, one thing becomes instantly clear: Environmental leadership is engrained in everything at Columbia Crest, from the classroom to the cafeteria.

Earlier this month, Washington Green Schools visited Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy to celebrate their Bronze certification. We were also their to recognize the school’s induction as a Green Ribbon School through the Department of Education. Here’s a peek into a few of the things that make Columbia Crest a remarkable green school:

Students and staff aren’t afraid of improvement. With support from Pierce County Public Works, the kids take a hands-on role auditing waste to ensure that compost, recycling, and trash are going where they belong.

Signage through the school also serves as a friendly reminder to the community to dispose of waste in the correct containers.

Last year, the eighth graders went to the school board with a proposal: If they could have a water bottle filler on campus, students would be less apt to purchase the disposable alternative, and they’d drink more water to boot.

The district agreed. Now, every student has a reusable water bottle to hydrate responsibly. Last March, the school reached 1,000 bottles sustainably filled.

Columbia Crest is constantly looking for ways to divert waste from the landfill. They send many traditional non-recyclables to Terracycle, a national program that collects and recycles most waste.

If they have any problem, it’s that the Columbia Crest community is collecting too much waste – it doesn’t fit in their handmade Terracycle station. Mr. Van Steen, a 4th grade teacher, gamely stores the extra Terracycle goods at home and sends it in when they reach weight milestones.


Kindergarten teacher Mrs. King is the pioneer of Columbia Crest’s composting movement. The school has created 5 composting bins – one for each day of the week – to keep their soon-to-be-soil nutrient rich and healthy.

Kids play an active role in composting, and their sustainable habits permeate every aspect of mealtime. With support from the kitchen staff, students now use reusable silverware and some classrooms even use cloth napkins.


Being green is truly a community effort at Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy. Principal Ellenbecker supports staff and students as they work towards sustainability goals – and kids are constantly looking for ways to make their school greener.

From after school clubs to classroom activities, students, staff, and parents are always on the lookout for ways to make their school a healthier place.

Columbia Crest A-STEM Academy is proof that, when a school community comes together, authentic and sustainable change can happen. We can’t wait to see what’s next for these students leaders.

Inspired by Columbia Crest’s story and want to bring their ideas to life on your campus? Or do you have your own school success story to share? Get in touch today