What could third graders at an elementary school in downtown Brooklyn do to help prevent deforestation, an international crisis taking place far away from their urban streets? At a school dedicated to fostering active citizens through service learning, the answer is A LOT.
After conducting several weeks of research about the causes and consequences of clearing forests, this class of 8 and 9 year-olds decided to organize an awareness-raising campaign about the devastating impact of deforestation, and share strategies for how their community can help slow its rate.
The students completed multiple projects of varying intensity. First, for Arbor Day, they created and distributed flyers with tips for how to protect trees as well as an “advertisement” for their upcoming Public Service Announcement (PSA). While passing around the flyers, the students answered questions from classmates and their parents and encouraged the community to get involved in their campaign.
Next, they produced a PSA based on the research they had collected and analyzed. Viewers are informed of the importance of rain forests, the causes of deforestation, and its dangerous impact. The PSA concludes with tips for how people living in any community can help reduce the demand for trees and advocate for more responsible clearing of forests.
At the end of the project, the class broke into smaller groups and visited each classroom in their school to provide oral presentations of what they had learned.
Concerned about the negative impact on children’s health as well as the environment, a second grade class chose to help prevent car pollution in their neighborhood. They surveyed adults in their school to find out how many used cars, and asked them to take a pledge to use public transportation or, even better, bike or walk at least once each week. During their research, the students discovered that idling cars release as much pollution as moving cars. They also discovered that, although NYC has passed tough anti-idling laws (no more than one minute in front of a school for example), the police do not always enforce them. The students wrote letters to the captain of their local precinct asking them to do a better job enforcing the anti-idling regulations.
“GREENING” THE SCHOOL
Two 2nd grade classes organized a “Green Our School” campaign. They began by mapping the school building to identify environmental problems caused by an aging facility or by the school community. They also met with staff from Grow NYC to find out best practices for creating a more sustainable school environment. Based on their research, students made the following recommendations to the school administration:
- Take advantage of natural light on sunny days and leave the lights off
- Have 3 recycling/trash bins in every room: green for paper and cardboard, blue for plastic, and brown for trash
- Students and teachers should use both sides of paper before recycling it
- New paper used should be made from recycled paper
In the cafeteria:
- Remove the second electronic water fountain
- Students taking water should have their own reusable bottle. But if they don’t have one they should take only one paper cup per day.
- Assign students to be cafeteria monitors to make sure kids are recycling properly, taking only one cup for water, saving food they don’t eat, and not taking a school lunch if they bring lunch from home.
- Provide an organic school lunch.
Outside the school:
- Plant a garden
- Hang signs asking children not to climb on trees
- Protect grassy areas
- Install solar panels on the roof
Students also sent an e-mail to parents with tips for how to pack a waste-free lunch, and advised the school to create a permanent “Green Team” made up of students and school staff.