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Herndon High's SAGA First to Earn Green Flag

The Herndon High School Students Against Global Abuse (SAGA) became the first school honored with the Green Flag Award for Environmental Leadership from the Center for Health, Environment and Justice in a ceremony at the school Tuesday. The national award recognizes outstanding environmental achievement in four areas: integrated pest management; nontoxic products; indoor air quality; and reduce, reuse, recycle.

Herndon students have recycled an average of 100 tons of paper and other waste annually.

“The Green Flag program is a program where the community comes together and makes the school environment safe,” said Herndon senior Becky Elstad, president of SAGA. “There are things we’re going to tackle like the air quality at school.”

BECKY SAID, that since 1989, SAGA has been recycling paper collected from small businesses, churches, the Herndon library, and other schools, mostly just private and Loudoun County schools now, that aren’t able to afford a recycling program on their own. Four days a week, SAGA members visit the locations, collect the paper, sort it and arrange for it to be picked up by a recycling company. SAGA pays for the pick up, but also receives money in return based on the amount of recyclable goods.

"When we started, we were the first to have a comprehensive recycling program. Fairfax County didn't even have one," said Gary Gepford, one of the club's founders. "At one time, until the county started its program, we were serving all 25 of our feeder schools."

With the profits — totaling $250,000 to date — from the recycling, SAGA has created a scholarship fund for its senior members, as well as financed school projects such as a reforestation effort. In addition, SAGA members created and performed a play on Earth Day at a local elementary school.

"We also have a greenhouse program where we dig up native species, growing them here and replant them," Gepford said. "And we've started a SETA, Students for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. We're trying to get involved with turtles, they're disappearing."

Becky said the goal of SAGA is to earn the remaining three patches.

"We're very, very proud to be here to win this award," she said. "Right now we have the recycling award and hope to work on the others."

THE GREEN FLAG program is an educational program that teaches students to investigate and create new environment-friendly solutions to issues in four areas:

* integrated pest management, which encourages schools to use less toxic methods of pest control;

* nontoxic products, which encourages student to learn what toxic products, such as cleaners, the school uses and replace them with nontoxic ones;

* indoor air quality, which encourages students to create better air circulation and maintenance practices to produce cleaner air;

* and the reduce, reuse, recycle program.

The center awards a patch in each of the four areas when the student group successfully initiates a policy change that creates a more environment-friendly result.

"Twenty-five years ago, there weren't people like you. Twenty-five years ago, people didn't come to the same conclusions you did, that someone else's trash is someone's treasure," said Lois Gibbs founder of the center. "I can't tell you how extraordinary it is. You … are way above the curve of any other school in the country. Herndon is the first school to get a patch in recycling."

The Green Flag program was launched nationally in 15 schools in 10 states this week, with Herndon the first to earn an award.