On Eco Day, Students Give Back to Community



Mr. Mike Webster speaks during the all-school Eco Day presentation.

With classes cancelled, students rode midbuses and donned gloves to participate in conservation projects around campus and the surrounding community. This year’s Eco Day marked the return of the traditional in-person format, following a virtual Eco Week in 2020 and an optional service day in 2021.

This year’s theme, “Sustainability at Hotchkiss,” highlighted the school’s long-standing commitment to environmental stewardship.

The day began in Walker Auditorium with the former and current medical directors, Dr. Jared Zelman and Dr. Zach McClain’s “Tick Talk” — a message about taking precautionary measures against ticks in preparation for the afternoon activities.

Four keynote speakers addressed the theme “Sustainability at Hotchkiss”: Mr. Josh Hahn, assistant head of school and director of strategic initiatives; Mr. Mike Webster, general manager of dining services; Ms. Bridget Lawrence-Meigs, manager of the Fairfield Farm; and Mr. Allen Cockerline, farmer and owner of the Whippoorwill Farm in Lakeville, Connecticut.

Chosen for the significant roles they’ve played in promoting environmental awareness at the school, they spoke about the school’s green infrastructure, renewable energy sources, land management, and ethically sourced organic food products, either homegrown or from local farms.

Ms. Amy Sidran, the farm education coordinator, said, “We thought about bringing someone in from the outside [as the guest speaker], but then we realized that students don’t really know very much about what sustainability is here at Hotchkiss.”

Following the adult panel, a group of student panelists shared their opinions on the environmental initiatives and reflected on how the school has influenced their views on sustainability. The panelists — Ein Jun ’22, Nithya Chundi ’23, Fati Salifu ’22, Aurora Zhang ’24, Sophie Davis ’22 and Sada Schumann ’22 — represented different voices brought together by their common passion for sustainability, either at the farm, in environmental science classes, through independent projects, or in the Students for Environmental Action (SEA) club.

“Taking agroecology and conservation biology has made me think more about the socioeconomic aspects of practicing sustainability and focus on the human side instead of just the science,” said Zhang.

After an outdoor lunch served at Bissell Common, students and their advisors worked on service projects on campus or in the local community. They went to the Beeslick woods to work on trail maintenance and picked up trash along Route 41, while others cleaned up the beachfront and removed invasive species. Over 80 community members went to the Fairfield Farm to weed and prepare the fields for the spring.

Many students also went to the surrounding communities like Sharon, Millerton, and the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center to participate in other environmental initiatives.

“It [was] a lot of community work, but it [was] also really service-oriented so that students are doing physical actions to improve their environment and habitat,” said Ms. Sidran.

Eco Day provided all members of the community opportunities to spend time in nature and positive contributions to their community. Eliza Ross ’22, a head of Students for Environmental Action (SEA), said, “We often forget how privileged we are to be on a campus that focuses this much on environmentalism. By sending people out into the community, we [can] actually make a tangible difference in our local community and on campus.”

Going forward, Eco Day will continue to be an annual event at the school.