Composting – Enriching Education at Bresnahan

Katara shares the connections she has made with nature throughout her youth and the importance of continuing that tradition to further generations.

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ACES leaders and Youth Corps team members

Editor’s note:

This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship and leadership coordinated by ACES — The Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.

As I consider the significance of International Compost Awareness Week (May 8-13), I reflect on the importance of this meaningful waste reduction program for our community. When I first started teaching at Bresnahan Elementary School in 2019, I felt very fortunate to work at a newly built school building; with beautiful, colorful classrooms, a state-of-the-art gymnasium, and fun, modern playgrounds. But there was something missing: a garden. A space to gather, grow, and reap all the benefits a school garden can bring. Not to mention the immense opportunity for curriculum connections, interdisciplinary learning, problem-solving skills, mindfulness, and most importantly, an enriching environmental ethical awareness experience about the importance of conserving natural resources. And so, with the help of our incredible Newburyport PTO, my proposal was approved, and we purchased and installed four raised garden beds from Black Earth Composting.

As the daughter of a professional gardener, I knew a thing or two about what can make or break a garden. Growing up, I watched my mom work her magical green thumb, admiring how seemingly effortless it was for her to grow all kinds of vegetables, plants, and flowers for her clients. I knew our potential for a successful school garden hinged on one key factor: the soil. As little hands got busy sewing the first seeds in the garden, our school community started exploring composting, what it means, how we do it, and why it’s so beneficial for the gardens. We created an on-site outdoor compost bin to utilize for garden maintenance; clippings, dead foliage, rotting fruits and vegetables. That was a good start… but could we do more?

Over the summer, the gardens exploded, and we had an incredibly successful first harvest, which I attribute largely to the richness of the composted soil we used. It got me thinking…. How can we make this come full circle for students? Can we start composting in our school to then continue to use the composted soil in our garden beds? I knew that students would have more buy-in with the idea of composting if they could directly see it benefit their very own garden beds. So, with the help of Molly Ettenborough and Newburyport’s Sustainability Office plus our principal, Kristina Davis, some amazing parent volunteers, and our custodial staff, we have recently implemented a composting program. 

Over the last few months, students have been working hard to learn how to properly separate their waste in the cafeteria. Not only are they successfully composting, but they are inspired, engaged, and already are developing that green mindset that we need all people to adopt to be true environmentally aware citizens. It is incredible to witness these future change-makers in action, with a new passion and awareness for the role they can play in sustainability stewardship. And the effects are already spreading. After the holiday break, one student in my class shared that her favorite Christmas gift she received was her very own compost bin so her family could start composting at home. Another one of my students took it entirely upon herself to spend her time off from school writing an essay about the benefits of composting, totally unprompted or provoked. Her mom sent me a photo of her writing, stating “She’s obsessed!” These kids are 7 and 8 years old, and they are already encouraging and promoting change. Imagine what they will do 10 years from now? In 20 years? This generation holds the future of our world in its hands. If we want it to continue to be habitable, it is critical that we continue to model how to live consciously and harmoniously with nature.

Katara Harding is a 2nd grade teacher at Bresnahan School and serves as the NPS Green Team Coordinator to help the overall community to increasingly compost its waste. 

Our Youth Corps members ask you to consider the importance of composting all organic waste.  They hope everyone will care about the future of our planet and provide any thoughts about a project or practice that could also contribute to a healthy environment. Send us a note at . To learn more about ACES and its Initiatives, visit

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Katara Harding

Katara Harding is a 2nd grade teacher at Bresnahan Elementary School with a passion for extending learning beyond the four walls of her classroom. Last spring, with support and funding from the Newburyport PTO, she and a team of volunteers built 4 raised garden beds at the school for students and staff to gather, grow, and learn through the many teachings that nature provides. She runs a weekly Garden Club through Newburyport Youth Services in the Spring, Fall, and Summer and enjoys sharing her love of organic and sustainable gardening with her students. She is also dedicated to teaching about conservation, especially that of the Monarch Butterfly.

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