By Angela Rountree, art department chair at Ridgely Middle School and 2012-13 BCPS Teacher of the Year
Having grown up in the ‘70s, I vividly remember a “Keep America Beautiful” ad in which a Native American man paddled his canoe through a smog-filled city. After he exited his canoe onto a trash-strewn beach, the camera zoomed in on his face, lined with worry, to show a single tear as the narrator said: “People start pollution. People can stop it.”
People did not stop it. With the advent of plastic water bottles and disposable shopping bags, the problem has increased tenfold. We, as educators, have the stage and tools to address this and the myriad problems that threaten the health of our planet and its occupants.
As the 2012-13 BCPS Teacher of the Year, I had opportunities to participate in a variety of environment-themed events, from a Chesapeake Bay Foundation retreat to the National Green School conference. Throughout the summer, my mind has been whirling with Earth-friendly ideas for the upcoming school year.
So many exciting opportunities exist for tying in the environment with the STE(A)M – science, technology, engineering, (arts,) mathematics – initiative. Maryland’s annual Serve Day www.daytoserve.org (Sept. 15-29) is a perfect way to kick off BCPS’ commitment to healing the planet. The BCPS Student Service Learning Program is a great resource for funding, helping with organizing events and celebrating via meritorious service awards.
Below are some ways to involve students in healing the planet:
- Collect 400 plastic bags (the average amount a person from the U.S. uses in a year) and do something with them, such as tie them together and measure the length or spell out “reusable bags heal the planet” in a chain-link fence on the school grounds.
- Sell reusable bags decorated by students or adorned with your school’s logo (http://www.reusethisbag.com/) as a fundraiser. Donate proceeds to an environmental group.
- Check out Governor O’Malley’s stream challenge at http://dnr.maryland.gov/trustfund/streamchallenge/. The site includes information on grants and includes a cool interactive map that informs viewers of the health of nearby streams.
- Purchase buckets to use as seats for a portable outdoor classroom. They take up hardly any space when stacked, and cost very little. Home improvement stores have been known to donate or drastically reduce the price of such items for schools. It can’t hurt to ask!
- Schedule environmental field trips (Irvine Nature Center, Cromwell Valley Park, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, clean a local stream, etc.) to several different places on the same day. Allow students to choose their destinations based on interests. This is a great way to take an entire grade level to some different places besides the same old same old.
- Dissect a bag of trash from the cafeteria. Identify wasted food and recyclables. Ask students to brainstorm ways to encourage classmates to reduce the amount of trash. After the campaign, dissect waste from another bag of trash. Graph the differences and celebrate!
- Organize a clean-up of a local park. Save the colorful trash in a separate bag and create a work of art or bulletin board display with it.
- Ask students to write letters to custodians thanking them for taking the extra trip each day to the recycling dumpster on behalf of the planet.