Wildfires are an annual occurrence in the West – but what can kids do about it? Students south of Denver at Rock Canyon High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, decided to think outside the box when it came to conducting their own research and applying science to help the community they live in.
With the help of their teacher Jenny Sickle, an AP Biology and Environmental Science teacher, they applied for a GreenWorks! grant from Project Learning Tree to analyze the environmental impacts of goat browsing as a form of wildfire mitigation.
The Goats are Baaaaack
Every summer, the local fire department trucks in goats to browse the vegetation growing throughout several neighborhoods. Now, at the department’s request, local grade 10-12 students are conducting a long-term scientific field study to research the effectiveness of this fire mitigation method, as well as the environmental impacts on plant biodiversity and soil health.
Rock Canyon students partnered with Einar Jensen of South Metro Fire Rescue, and the Estates at Buffalo Ridge Homeowners Association, in what they called the “Ready, Set, Goat!” project in the Castle Pines community. The fire department had the goats but needed data to assess their effectiveness. Enter our student citizen-scientists.
The students set up the project as a scientific experiment: “We hypothesized that goat browsing would be an effective form of wildfire mitigation, as it would limit vegetative growth by six feet and have positive environmental impacts,” the students relayed via their teacher, Jenny Sickle. Loren Rylander and Delaney Yehle, both juniors at the time, took the research one step further by developing a partnership between their school’s Biotechnology and AP Environmental Science classes.
Rounding Up Data
Students collected data along three separate transects in the Buffalo Ridge neighborhood, where measurements were collected both pre and post-goat-treatment over a span of six months. A total of 300 goats browsed along the two experimental transects, while the control transect received no goat-treatment. The sample collections involved extracting soil and recording plant measurements.
The students discovered that goat browsing was an effective wildfire mitigation tool—at least in the short term—as vegetative density decreased between 49 and 66 percent.
To assess environmental impacts, students measured soil health and vegetative biodiversity, including: soil organic carbon, pH, and the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium levels within the soil. While goat browsing was found to be effective over the six months studied, the students recognized that longer-term investigation is still needed. An important part of the project involved communicating the results, especially in their approach to organizing and displaying the data to different audiences. The project went on to win multiple awards at regional and state science fairs, and students talked to the media, community groups, local firefighters, and others about their results.
Laying the Groundwork
Not everyone has goats to study, of course, but the students shared several ideas that can be replicated. “Community involvement and support can be crucial for citizen science projects,” they wrote. Local resources are also crucial partners. For our students, collaborating with the Colorado State Forestry Department was critical, and Colorado State University soil scientist, professor Jim Ippolito, was an important resource and ally. Finally, “getting a long-term commitment from a team of volunteers is very useful. We found offering volunteer service hours, which are a graduation requirement at our school, encouraged this commitment.”
Each summer for the past three years, Rock Canyon students have been collecting data about plant biodiversity, vegetation characteristics, and soil health in Castle Pines.
This year, three new students will continue the research project by analyzing the data for longer-term impacts of goat browsing on wildfire mitigation. The team plans to complete this project as a five-year study and will share their results with other communities who are considering this method of wildfire mitigation.
It’s summertime and the garden-growing is easy—well, sort of. Planting seeds and seedlings in the spring took a lot of effort, but watering and weeding are part of the summer’s reality.
PLT’s GreenWorks! program has provided thousands of dollars in grants for gardening projects over the years. Tied to a range of PLT activities, gardens provide hands-on opportunities to learn science, math, and other subjects, while also strengthening collaboration, leadership, and responsibility. Check out what these four schools discovered in creating their GreenWorks!-supported gardens during the 2017-2018 grant year.
Giving Garden at Golden Bridges School
Several “generations” of second-graders at Golden Bridges School in San Francisco took on transforming a piece of overgrown, compacted land on the school grounds into a productive vegetable garden. They designed, prepared, planted, and tended what they called a Giving Garden, with fresh greens, herbs, and root vegetables that they then donated to the Excelsior Community Food Pantry. “One of the most successful aspects of our project was collaboration,” said teacher Jenna Frank.
The second-grade students not only organized themselves, but they also took the lead in involving first and third graders, parents, and even local high school students in helping to weed and mulch.
“This service-learning project enhanced student learning by fusing language arts, math, and science content into a real-world and practical context,” Frank said. They read about other famous people who helped humanity, studied life cycles and adaptations, and calculated how to fit the plants in the space available.
Frank used PLT activities Have Seeds, Will Travel (43), Tale of the Sun (16), and Soil Stories (70). “Soil Stories was a favorite activity, as students were able to engage all of their senses during the soil investigation,” Frank recounted. “Their curiosity was piqued by smelling, feeling, and looking at different soil from around the garden.”
Frank made these suggestions for other teachers:
Have support from your school’s administration and class teachers.
Partner with a local food pantry that is flexible with the food they accept so the produce will be used. Ideally, the pantry would welcome volunteers of any age.
Develop a timeline with wiggle room for weather and other variables. Produce that allows for continual harvesting, such as greens and herbs, can help with flexibility.
Invite students from other grades or schools to provide more opportunities for collaboration and sharing.
Have a maintenance plan that includes weekends and school vacations.
Gone Green at Joan MacQueen Middle School
Students in two MakerSpace gardening classes at Joan MacQueen Middle School in Alpine, California, conducted PLT GreenSchools investigations. They then applied for a GreenWorks! grant to take action based on their findings.
According to educator Jane Smith, the investigations led students to recognize the need for reducing campus waste and replanting the beds in front of the school with drought-tolerant native plants. Using these findings, they conducted a campus-wide educational campaign and constructed composting bins to reduce waste from lunches and snacks, which was then used to improve the soil and support a Native Plant and Pollinator’s Garden.
A student committee met with local ethnobotanists, as well as community and student tribal members, to learn about and select native plants. Sunflowers were grown and their seeds harvested to make snacks. After the garden was established, the students created walking tour signs and invited the community to a campus celebration for National Get Outdoors Day.
“We also opened lines of communication with our district’s maintenance team about the needs of native plants,” said Smith. “Our advice is to truly plan for sustainability by having multiple layers of involvement by staff, students, parents, and community members. With changes in staffing, it’s key to have as much school-wide involvement as possible.”
One Wednesday at a Time
The Eco Club at Emily G. Johns Intermediate School in Plano, Illinois, has a saying that guides their extracurricular efforts: “Saving the World—One Wednesday at a Time!”
Their after-school gardening project had two parts: planting native trees to create a windbreak and an organic raised-bed garden. Students and staff adopted the 28 trees in honor or memory of loved ones, which defrayed the costs and built more involvement in the project. Club members had to plant and tend the trees, which were challenging to establish.
The Eco Club is at capacity with 45 members. Teachers Shannon Stang and Sarah Diamond Haynes welcomed the interest but admitted, “the most challenging aspect of the project was having such a large group. So many helping hands can be an advantage, but it is a real feat to get them all to work together and be productive.”
The students had to take responsibility for the trees. They came up with a creative solution. Each of them brought in an empty gallon milk jug, which they kept in their locker. Every day at recess, they would fill their jugs in the bathroom and water their trees. Trees that needed more water had several students assigned to them. “We didn’t lose one tree!” Stang said. “These are expensive native trees and they are thriving.” Once daily watering was no longer necessary, students used their jugs to make bird houses.
Stang and fellow Eco Club advisor Sarah Diamond Haynes drew from the PLT activity Trees as Habitats (22) to give students a better understanding of how trees provide habitats for animals and insects. “Our suggestion would be to start small and add each year,” Haynes said. “Find something you need but don’t have the budget for. Then reach out to community businesses, who are often willing to discount or help you for free.”
Sweet Sensations: Sensory Garden
Bishop Dunn Memorial School, on the campus of Mount Saint Mary College (MSMC) in Newburgh, New York, takes advantage of college faculty and teacher candidates, or preservice teachers, to enrich student experiences. A garden project that began with fourth-graders and the Sigma Tau chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, the international honor society, eventually involved many more students, both pre-K and college.
The fourth-grade students researched and planted a sensory garden and built bird houses that demonstrated relationships using all five senses. They also researched issues related to climate and the impact of climate change on the local environment. “What started as a small project soon became a schoolwide initiative that enabled every student, pre-K to grade 8, to participate,” said MSMC faculty member Ludmila Smirnova. “As the project grew, so did the involvement of faculty from other divisions of the college, such as math and science, and members of the surrounding community.
Teacher candidates wrote blogs on designing and teaching sensory garden lessons and illustrated their professional growth through implementation of the project. Parents and community members have also supported the project. “What began as a Sensory Garden has grown to include an enclosed outdoor classroom, a meditation sitting area, a themed rock garden, a bird haven, and a math trail,” Smirnova said.
MSMC teacher candidates developed their skills as science teachers as they worked during the day with fourth-grade students and in after-school programs with children of all ages. Two college students received funding from the college’s Student Undergraduate Research Experience program to create a math trail in the garden. The honor society members made a presentation at a national Kappa Delta Pi convocation in Indianapolis, to create similar projects in other places.
Bishop Dunn has the advantage of its location on a college campus, Smirnova pointed out. But other schools can explore connections with local colleges or universities, especially schools with which they have a relationship through student-teaching, alumni connections, or other endeavors.
MSMC students participated in PLT professional development and used these PLT activities with students:
A great way to engage students in the environment is to bring in the critters! Whether fuzzy or scaly, big or small, common or endangered, the wildlife in your area, whether there for all or part of the year, provide plenty of learning opportunities. Photos and other images are great, but a hands-on (or at least eyes-on) experience can leave a lasting impression.
Here’s how four educators used GreenWorks! grants and an array of PLT activities to connect their students to the natural world around them by creating habitat for all sorts of pollinators: birds, bees, butterflies and bats.
Creating Habitat in Minnesota
Students at Princeton Intermediate School in Minnesota learned the relationships between flora and fauna through the Migrating Bird, Pollinator, & Butterfly Ecosystem Project. They created a 4,000-square-foot garden of native plants. A few months later, they could video butterflies visiting their garden.
“Students planned and implemented the project from start to finish,” said teacher Becky Pollard. “They were in charge of researching which native plants would thrive. They also had to plan out planting details such as spacing, depth, and color coordination of plants. The work involved math, online research, team building, and planting and caring for the garden.”
A community volunteer used his construction equipment to create the space. Members from the Sherburne Soil & Water Conservation Department and the Friends of Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge, along with teachers and parents, showed students how to plant and maintain the garden. Through the GreenWorks! grant and other donations, the garden also has bird houses and feeders, as well as picnic tables and benches.
Drawing from the PLT PreK-8 Guide, Pollard and other teachers used Improve Your Place (Activity 96) and modified Adopt a Tree (21) to “adopt a plant.”
The project’s success had a lot to do with project management. Pollard stressed the importance of locating knowledgeable community members and coordinating the effort with school staff and fellow teachers. As one example: “The plants can’t sit around for days,” she said. “They need to get into the ground, so all other details need to be done by the time they arrive.”
She also stressed the need to plan for weeding, watering, and other ongoing maintenance. Drawing from Adopt a Tree, students “adopt” a plant—which also means dealing with the weeds that surround it.
Cape Romain Environmental Education Charter School (CREECS) in McClellanville, South Carolina, has the advantage of doing many environmental activities every day. Fourth-grade students already had an observation hive in their classroom as part of Bee Cause, a national nonprofit honeybee project. “The students loved it, but the bees kept swarming and would not stay in the hive,” said teacher Allie Kreutzer. “They came up with the solution to build a hive closer to a real garden.”
The project involved building boxes and a frame for the bees, as well as enhancing an existing vegetable and pollinator garden, Kreutzer explained. The GreenWorks! grant also paid for protective equipment that she as a trained adult dons to maintain the apiary.
She emphasized the need to work with a partner, in their case Blue Pearl Farms, a local farm that maintains bees to enhance blueberry production. Students also went to the farm to better understand the ecosystem and the role of pollinators within it.
When asked about how to manage student contact with bees, she said, “We are fortunate we have no severe bee allergies. We talked a lot about staying calm around the hive, and how bees don’t want to sting you.” Talking to students beforehand, especially those who have preconceptions about bees and other pollinators, is critical.
To understand the importance of bees to pollination and to crops, Kreutzer drew from PLT activities How Plants Grow (41), Germinating Giants (66), Soil Stories (70), Have Seeds Will Travel (43), and Bursting Buds (65). “These lessons helped students understand the importance of bees to pollination and our crops.”
“The hardest part is maintaining the beehive once it’s full,” said Kreutzer. “It is important to have a local beekeeper willing to offer support and guidance along the way.”
Butterflies and Bees in Maine
PLT GreenWorks! grants are available in nonformal education settings, as shown through Homes for Our Endangered Pollinators, a project conducted by the First Church in Belfast, UCC.
Coordinator Elizabeth Haynes explained that students divided into two teams to research pollinators and the plants they need for food and habitat. A local forester and master gardener provided practical information, then the teams prepared pollinator gardens based on their research.
Because the project was not a classroom activity, it had a few unique characteristics, according to Haynes. “The more challenging part was always finding activities that all students felt capable of completing since we had students who ranged from age 2 to age 15,” she said. One solution: “Anything that was hands-on proved to be very engaging with the children.”
Extending from the original GreenWorks! project, they are also using a greenhouse at Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast to grow milkwood seedlings.
PLT activities used included Peppermint Beetle (3), Invasive Species (12), Dynamic Duos (26), Are Vacant Lots Vacant? (47), Planting the Ideal Community (55), Tree Factory (63), and Soil Stories (70).
Haynes noted the importance of a flexible timeline, especially when dealing with fickle weather. “Be ready to adapt the outdoor activities to do them inside if the conditions are too harsh to be outside,” she suggested.
In addition, especially in this nonformal setting, she said, “Be willing to conduct your activity with whoever shows up. We had sessions with three or four students, but other times with 14 or more. We made sure to include all ages even if we had readers and nonreaders.”
Haynes observed something that extends across settings. “All children can learn and are eager when we are learning together about nature since they are curious about their environment.” She also recommended sending an email or otherwise communicating with parents so they could understand the project.
Going Batty in Wisconsin
From birds to bees to—okay, why not bats? Students at Shullsburg High School learned about bat habitat and then constructed 32 bat houses. As a follow-on, students are seeking to place the houses on the property of members of the community.
“The project was an incredible way to enhance student learning,” said teacher Jennifer Russell. “Bats are a topic that makes most people squeamish, but they are a critical part of the ecosystem. The building of the bat houses helped students to understand the habitat needs of the bats.”
Beyond the habitat aspects, “Students demonstrated leadership in the project by becoming team leaders,” she added. “There were lots of aspects of quality control in the project. Students took responsibility for making sure that the houses were painted and stained properly and constructed squarely. Students also worked to help each other out as the projects were built.
“As the project goes into the next phase, I am looking forward to student leadership in asking questions about bat health and monitoring,” she said.
The project connected with the Focus on Forests module for secondary students. “Understanding forests allows students to better understand the wildlife around us. The tie to forests also helps us understand why creating habitat for bats is important,” she said.
Russell’s main advice is to talk to as many community members as possible to find locations for the houses ahead of time. The construction took longer than expected, she said so students had less time before the semester ended to place the houses. Subsequent classes are building the houses as well as reaching out to the community to explain the importance of bat habitat.
High school students in Alabama designed a nature trail with informational signage and seating; middle school students in Indiana removed invasive species and installed part of a hiking trail; and industrial arts students in Michigan built an outdoor classroom alongside a trail in their 110-acre school forest. Two of the schools, Holtville High in Alabama and Vanderbilt Area School in Michigan, have land near their school where trails were built. Fremont Middle School in Indiana worked on a trail at a community nature preserve.
Below, read about these projects and tips from the educators to make them successful.
Building from the Ground Up
At Holtville High School in Deatsville, AL, science teacher Liz Johnson coordinated a project that fulfilled a long-held dream by teachers and students: a nature trail with informational signage and seating. “Students in science and agriculture classes designed it, learning planning and problem-solving while also learning about forest succession and other environmental topics.
The school district owned the land but had leased it for grazing. Allowing the farmer the required time to move his cattle, coupled with syncing schedules with community partners, caused the project to start a semester later than expected—the first lesson the students got in flexibility.
“Our students stepped up and took full control,” Johnson said. “The trail project allowed students real-time, hands-on experiences with working with tools, managing a budget, conversing with successful community businessmen, and building relationships between students and adults within and outside our school.”
Touch base with community partners frequently and share how much you appreciate them and their services.
Let students take leadership roles. Working with teenagers has its challenges, and it may take students a while to realize too many leaders can be detrimental to a project, but if students step up and take the lead, try new things, and get out of their comfort zones, there can be no such thing as failure, only learning opportunities. There were many times my students wanted to do things differently than I wanted to, but I let them lead this project and do things their way (within reason).
Try to stay in line with your timeline. While the unexpected is expected, planning is key for a project of this magnitude. Holding to your timeline will eliminate unnecessary stress.
Consult with a local nature center in planning the materials to use. We did not consider options for the substrate for the trail (mulch, sand/clay mix, etc.) until after our proposal was accepted. At that time, it was too late to edit the budget. In the future, we would like to mulch our trail and “dress it up” a little bit.
Partnering for a Trail
The Clear Lake Nature Preserve and Brennan Woods, operated by the Clear Lake Township Land Conservancy, Inc., in Fremont, IN, encompasses 45 acres to connect with nature and learn about threatened ecosystems. The Conservancy decided to involve students to strengthen the connection. Eighth graders at Fremont Middle School identified and removed invasive species and installed part of a hiking trail.
“The outcome was the trails they built and the ownership they can now take in the land that makes up their community,” said Bridget Harrison, a conservancy staff member. In fact, they accomplished so much that the supplies of wood chips and wheelbarrows were exhausted.
Even the less fun parts of the project—removing bags full of litter—had a teachable moment. “We know how frustrating it was for them to remove garbage bags full of litter,” Harrison conceded. “We think that effort will play a lasting role the next time they are tempted to toss their garbage onto the ground.” After the clean-up and at the students’ suggestion, “No Dumping” signs were installed at key spots along the trail.
Harrison used the PLT PreK-8 activities Invasive Species and I’d Like to Visit a Place Where…. during two classroom visits before the students came to the Conservancy. The first activity “helped students learn what invasive species are; we took that knowledge and applied it right in the field,” Harrison said. The latter activity about favorite recreational spaces engaged the students’ creativity.
Harrison’s Tips for the Trail
If you’re working with a large group, split them into smaller teams with group leaders.
Prepare for bad weather. The outdoor project began with a downpour. Decks of cards and games, not to mention a back-up place out of the elements, kept order.
Build on lessons learned. As noted above, the students were so enthusiastic that they could have used more wheelbarrows and ran out of wood chips. “Good lessons for us to consider for future trail-building workdays,” Harrison said.
Adding on to a Trail
The Vanderbilt Area School in Gaylord, MI, had installed a trail in 2017 in its 110-acre school forest. With a 2018 GreenWorks! grant, industrial arts students took the lead in planning and building an outdoor classroom alongside the trail. Emily Vogelgesang, the environmental education coordinator at the nonprofit Huron Pines, worked with the school to provide support through natural resource and educational connection guidance.
“The most successful element of the project has been the student leadership,” said Vogelgesang. “Students took on a role in their school they normally wouldn’t have and were proud of that.” A highlight was when they brought a group of about 20 community leaders and natural resource partners out on the trail to explain their plans.
A late spring snow storm and a rainy autumn caused a delay, with some of the students involved in the planning not able to see it through to completion. Despite this setback, they recognized their role in creating a usable space for the entire student body.
The school has both elementary and secondary levels, and PLT is used in many grades. The 1st grade/2nd grade teacher used Adopt a Tree to help monitor forest health on a select group of trees. High school students worked through a modified version of I’d Like to Visit a Place Where as part of the planning for the outdoor classroom. “The activity was particularly helpful for them to make connections to the larger why of the project and understand that their work is part of something bigger,” Vogelgesang said. All students participated in elements of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle activity through the Earth Day Bag Project.
Vogelgesang’s Tips for the Trail
Help students understand the needs of the people who will use the space. Students’ initial thoughts and designs were great but once they went through the interview process with teachers, they realized the first drafts were not going to be what teachers would utilize consistently. Being able to have input from several points of view is very important for this type of space to be successful.
Ensure school or community support for the necessary tools and resources. Without a community member who helped teach the students how to use the tools, the outdoor classroom elements would not have come together.
Enlist adult volunteers when necessary. There was a large amount the students handled fine with just teacher guidance but having extra hands at certain points made the project easier.
Have a flexible timeline. Weather conditions and school schedules may mean the project takes longer to complete. However, the longer timeline can increase student ownership and pride.
Every year Project Learning Tree® (PLT) awards GreenWorks! grants to schools and organizations for environmental service-learning projects. The annual deadline to apply for a grant is September 30, and students have the following year to complete their project. In 2016, PLT awarded 20 grants, up to $1000 each, to help preschool through high school students design and implement a variety of projects in communities across the country. Students in 16 states took their lessons from the classroom into the great outdoors to apply what they learned and better the natural world around them.
Read about some of the outstanding school garden projects completed last year:
Pollination in Progress – 3rd and 4th Graders Green their Campus by Creating Pollinator Gardens
Asheville, North Carolina Asheville GreenWorks! and Glen Arden Elementary School
In Asheville, North Carolina, grade 3 and 4 students in the “Eco Readers” club at Glen Arden Elementary School teamed up with Asheville GreenWorks, a local nonprofit environmental organization, to green their school campus and build a pollinator garden. Students organized, designed, and planted the garden while learning about the importance of native plants and pollinators. What was once a grassy, monoculture space, is now a thriving pollinator habitat being used as a learning space by the entire school.
To complement the project, Asheville GreenWorks developed a pollinator education kit to support outdoor learning projects that is now being shared widely with other schools in the area.
The project also helped to support the Bee City Asheville program, an affiliate of Bee City USA.
Dent Middle School students use their skills to solve flood water issues
Columbia, South Carolina Dent Middle School
7th grade students at Dent Middle School in Columbia, South Carolina took on a noble cause – building rain gardens to mitigate the effects of water pouring through 75 storm drains on campus and then into a neighboring lake. In 2015, a severe flood ravaged the area around the school. A dam located nearby failed and flood waters destroyed homes and businesses throughout the watershed.
Two rain gardens, totaling 500 square feet were completed. Students were required to study geography, soil types, and native plant species, to ensure that their garden would be effective. The students were not afraid to get their hands dirty! Based on their research of what soil types would be best, students had to dig and haul bags of soil additives to the area.
“Thank you for organizing this event. It is great that you are helping the lakes with rain gardens.” – Peter Chesney – Homeowner/Carys Lake
K-8 students take their learning outdoors by building outdoor classroom
Los Olivos, California Los Olivos Elementary School
In Los Olivos, California, where the sun is often shining, students built an outdoor classroom to make the most of the weather and get into the great outdoors. Two picnic tables with benches and umbrellas were constructed to give students a space to work on projects outdoors.
In addition to the outdoor learning space, a 3-chamber compost system was also built to teach students about decomposition and the disposal of waste. The addition of the compost bin inspired some 1st and 5th grade classes to work collaboratively to create posters to teach other students about zero-waste lunches. And some students have now become lunch-time compost monitors, encouraging other children to identify what parts of their lunch can be composted!
“In a Garden of Friends…Learning Grows” – Preschool to Grade 6 students build a greenhouse and garden beds for their school and community
Ammon, Idaho Snake River Montessori School
Preschool to grade 6 students at Snake River Montessori School in Ammon, Idaho, came together to expand their outdoor learning environment and build a greenhouse and raised garden beds. The Upper Elementary students (grades 4-6) proposed the additions to help make learning about botany a more hands-on and fun experience for younger students. Students at the school will now be able to experience planting and the growth cycle from a first-hand perspective, and learn the responsibility it takes to ensure plants are kept healthy.
The school partnered with the local Boy Scouts troop who worked with the students to plan and build the greenhouse and garden beds.The students plan to donate some of the fresh fruit and vegetables that will be grown to local shelters to help others in need.
“We have wanted a greenhouse for a long time to really experience a full growth cycle, no matter what the weather, with the students, and now with this grant, WE CAN!” – Barbara Turner, Primary Teacher
As a kindergarten teacher and chair of the Garden Committee at Coles Elementary School in Manassas, Virginia, I wanted to design a service-learning project that would ignite students’ learning in science, math, and English, while at the same time teaching valuable life lessons.
The environmental goal of our school is to explore real-world problems and become a community of environmentally-minded thinkers. When students noticed soil erosion from trees that had been removed for new construction on the school grounds, we brainstormed ways to solve this problem. With the help of a Project Learning Tree GreenWorks! grant, I devised and implemented a school-wide plan of action.
For more than 25 years, Project Learning Tree has been awarding GreenWorks! grants to schools and organizations for projects that support children’s learning, ideas, actions, and voices about the environment. The grant given last year to Coles Elementary School sparked science learning across all grade levels as students investigated the value of trees and took action to stop soil erosion on their school grounds.
Plan of Action
The plan involved 480 students across all grade levels with a multidisciplinary approach to learning. Following are a few highlights:
Preschool, kindergarten, and first grade students learned what plants need to grow and the life cycle of plants by growing seedlings and planting them in our school gardens. Throughout the year, they observed patterns in plants and seasonal changes in the garden. They also observed trees and wildlife on the school grounds.
PLT activities in the PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide were a huge hit and enhanced student learning. For example, in Activity #1 The Shape of Things, they experienced the many shapes, sizes, textures, and colors found among plants, and in Activity #16 Pass the Plants they gained new knowledge about the parts of plants we eat through a fun snack activity.
Second grade students planted hazelnut and chestnut trees. They observed them throughout the seasons and discovered how trees can slow rainwater runoff and reduce soil erosion. They also observed how trees provide food for wildlife. They became good environmental stewards – when a tree was knocked over by wind, they noticed right away and staked it.
We used PLT Activity #31 Plant a Tree, to instruct students on how to properly plant a tree. To help students determine where to plant the trees, we used the simulation in Activity #27 Every Tree for Itself. Activity #21 Adopt a Tree, helped students make observations about their trees and document their findings throughout the seasons.
Third, fourth, and fifth grade students took part in all aspects of the service-learning project. They assisted with the planting of 100 native trees on Arbor Day. This was a collaborative effort among students, parents, and the broader community.
To keep the project momentum going in the winter, students researched designs for bird nesting boxes and bat houses. They had a creative voice in deciding which designs to build. Through this project, students discovered why birds and bats are important pollinators in Virginia and why shelter is necessary for their survival.
To teach students how to get the word out about their projects, we completed the PLT Activity #60 Publicize It! They learned leadership skills and how to present information to the community in a way that would grab attention.
To help students learn important concepts about ecosystems, we used Activity #22 Trees as Habitats, Activity #30 Three Cheers for Trees, and Activity #46 School Yard Safari. These activities reinforced the value of trees in reducing soil erosion and providing habitat for wildlife.
Advice to Others
Establish a garden committee made up of staff members, students, parent volunteers, and local experts. A garden committee is important to help divide the work and involve the community.
Leverage the PLT GreenWorks! grant money through community partnerships. We involved our PTA, Arbor Day Foundation, Master Gardeners from Cooperative Extension, 4-H, and other local community groups who provided labor and expert advice. The Arbor Day Foundation donated 50 trees for planting and we obtained reduced prices for materials from local stores.
Benefits of the Project
We taught life skills through tree planting and gardening. Students learned responsibility by caring for the plants, learned how to communicate and compromise with each other, gained leadership skills, and developed self confidence. They also developed skills of observation as they watched interactions among plants, animals, soil, and weather.
We improved student health by spending time outdoors and providing fresh vegetables for them to eat from the garden. Almost 40 percent of our school population is economically disadvantaged and many of our families contend with food scarcity. Learning to garden at school and extending that to their home through the container gardens allowed many students to eat fresh vegetables that they planted for the first time.
Celebrating our Success
Reflecting on our project, we saw that it helped students:
Develop critical-thinking skills
Learn how to apply science concepts
Develop leadership and communication skills
Connect with nature
Discover how they can improve their environment
To celebrate our success, we provided tours of our gardens and showed off our various projects on the school grounds. At our spring carnival, participants could select their favorite vegetable seedlings to plant in a container garden to take home. What started out as an effort to stop soil erosion blossomed into a school-wide initiative across all grades and the community!
Lesson plans literally present themselves just outside the windows of Lee Academy in Lee, Maine, for teacher Susan Linscott and her high school students. A small bridge down the street, slated for replacement, has involved the environmental science and physics classes. A potential outbreak of spruce budworm in the forests surrounding the town has become the focus of another unit. And at the nearby junior-high and elementary schools, Lee students serve as mentors and tutors to their younger counterparts.
Lee Academy began in the 19th century as a “normal school” to train teachers. The original building, an imposing brick structure, is now the centerpiece of a campus with about 130 local students, as well as 80 international students who live in dormitories. Whether the students come from down the road or across the globe, they have gained an appreciation of how science relates to their everyday lives, thanks in part to Linscott’s classes.
“To me, it’s a priority to make learning place-based, community-based, and inquiry-based,” said Linscott, who has been involved with Maine PLT since 2003. “When I am going through standards and planning a unit, I think of ways to connect to issues or get kids outside.”
Building a Better Bridge
During an educator forestry tour cosponsored by Maine PLT, Linscott learned about culverts, the tunnels or other structures built to cross streams and divert water from roads and bridges. Poorly constructed culverts can restrict stream flow and affect fish and other wildlife. After forest managers and engineers explained the intricacies of Maine’s thousands of culverts during the tour, a lesson was born.
Linscott’s unit on Stream Crossings began with a presentation from a local forester, who presented an overview of why stream crossings are important, their structure and the loads they need to support, and the costs and environmental impacts. Students conducted a survey in Lee to analyze culverts for environmental safety and structural integrity. They then assumed the role of engineers. Using materials that ranged from scrap lumber to soda bottles, they designed models that would have to minimize environmental impacts while also withstanding weight.
Linscott has learned that place-based education calls for flexibility when conditions in the “place” change. In summer 2016, a student noticed debris had dammed the stream below a small bridge down the street from the school. It turned out that the bridge is slated for replacement. Linscott revised her unit to draw on this real-world situation. Environmental science and physics students spent the past year researching the current impacts and suggesting potential replacements. In the coming school year, they will present their findings to the Town Selectmen.
Tapping into Community Concern
In a series of outbreaks, most recently in the 1970s and 1980s, spruce budworms have devastated millions of acres of forestland in the northern U.S. and Canada, with environmental, economic, and policy-related ramifications. Canada has again been hard hit, with the possibility that the pest will move into U.S. conifers. Working with Maine PLT, the Maine Forest Service, and Canadian provinces to understand the potential for another outbreak, Linscott developed a unit to involve students in this pressing issue.
The unit covers the history, economics, and environmental impacts of the last outbreak and helps students predict how a future outbreak may impact the forest ecosystem. Students researched the science, interviewed Lee residents who lived through the last outbreak, and planned a “dine and discuss” community forum. The event featured presentations by a MFS regional forester, forest entomologist, and wildlife biologist, as well as the students’ findings.
When junior Lauren Dodge installed some of the traps at home, she had one of those revelatory moments that can make science so powerful. “We have fir trees, and I put up traps,” she said. “Seeing how science happens at your own house, and the world around you, changes how you look at everything.”
Mentoring and Community Service
Linscott created and facilitates a Mentorship and Community Service class, in which students spend time with younger students at the nearby junior-high and elementary schools. Just as Linscott has to figure out how to engage her students, they do the same with their younger counterparts. “I see how difficult it is for kids to focus, but how cool it is when they understand a concept and you are the one who has helped,” said Dodge. “I have a whole new perspective on what it’s like to work with students.”
Yvonne Yan, a senior, worked with a 6-year-old who arrived in the middle of last year speaking only Chinese. Yan helped the first-grader become acclimated to his new surroundings. She also tutored in math, her favorite subject, realizing that she often approached problem-solving in a different way based on her education in China. “There is more than one way to reach a solution,” she said, adding she recognizes that lesson applies beyond math calculations.
Another Lee senior, Masato Tsuchida, served as a resource to an entire class of third-graders. He admitted he had difficulty at first gaining their attention and respect. “But when they work freely to look up something that they are interested in and I could help, that is cool,” he concluded.
Earlier this year, Patricia Maloney, the Maine PLT coordinator, successfully nominated the Lee Service Learning Team, consisting of Linscott and her students, for the Spirit of Teddy Roosevelt Award sponsored by the nonprofit group Maine Woods Forever. “Thanks to Susan’s professional dedication and passion, the Lee community has gained a greater awareness of challenges facing their own region and can carry their messages far beyond the Lee borders,” Maloney said.
Increasing Involvement through PLT
Linscott draws on PLT’s Focus on Forests high school module and other K-12 guides to create lessons throughout the school year. She has also connected with Maine PLT through the Maine Forest Inventory Growth (FIG) Project, a field-based curriculum designed by Maine educators and natural resource professionals. Through FIG, students and teachers establish long-term study plots using protocol from the U.S. Forest Service’s forest analysis program, and Linscott said her students value the ability compare data across time and location. “Susan joined a FIG training and immediately made plans to set up a study plot at Lee,” noted Maloney. “She then became a PLT facilitator and soon after, hosted a workshop at Lee Academy.”
Linscott said she values the connections made through PLT with other educators and professionals. A district forester, Terri Coolong, lives within a mile of Lee Academy, for example, and is a great resource. “Pat [Maloney] has connected me with people, materials, and learning how to use tools,” Linscott said. “PLT is a great networking source to increase student involvement.”
Tips for Increased Student Involvement—from Students and Their Teacher
PLT asked Lee high-schoolers how they thought teachers could best engage with students and what has worked for them:
The younger you are, the more you can absorb. When we experiment and design things, it will stay with us for the rest of our lives. — Lauren Dodge, junior
You can learn about a concept like biomagnification. When you see the effect of lead on wildlife, for example, it really makes the concept stay with you. — Cole Harriman, junior
Let kids explore their own interests. When they ask questions that they have been wondering about, they will want to find out the answers. — Masato Tsuchida, senior
My father and I walked by a construction site in China after being at school in Lee and I could show him the difference between A and C level soils. He was impressed! — Yvonne Yan, senior
Whether kids are aged 8 or 18, don’t be afraid to get them outside. Let them get dirty, let them explore. — Susan Linscott, teacher
As the leader of the Green Team at my high school (George C. Marshall in Falls Church, VA), I’m proud of the work we have done to become the first high school in Fairfax County Public Schools to achieve Project Learning Tree’s GreenSchools certification. Obtaining this certification was truly a collaborative effort that involved more than 100 students, the principal, and the efforts of countless volunteers. Along the way, I not only discovered how to make my school a greener and healthier place, but also gained skills in leadership and learned about many environmental careers.
Here are a few tips that might help other schools become a certified PLT GreenSchool. (Please see my earlier article, A Rising Senior Starts a GreenSchools Program, for suggestions on how to get a green schools program up and running at your school.)
Tip # 1: Develop a Timeline and Recruit Green Team Members
One of the first things I did was work with the adult sponsors to develop a timeline for completing the five GreenSchools Investigations. The investigations include:
Waste & Recycling
Next we recruited members for the “Green Team” to help carry out the Investigations. We did this by announcing meetings and hosting a table at school activities. One of our most successful recruiting techniques was a display at school-wide events. Students who stopped by our table could draw a question about energy – correct answers were rewarded with candy! Then they could sign up to receive emails and texts about upcoming Green Team meetings.
Tip # 2: Allocate More Time for the School Site Investigation
Because the School Site Investigation takes more time than some of the others, we conducted this Investigation during the summer when it was nice to be outside and when students had more time to volunteer.
One of our favorite parts of this Investigation was assessing the health of the trees on the school grounds and measuring their circumference to calculate the dollar value of the ecosystem services that the trees provide. We did this using i-Tree, a free online tree benefits calculator. We determined that the value was $2,527 per year! This information was shared to highlight the importance of caring for trees on the school property and to encourage additional tree planting.
Student volunteers also worked in the native species and vegetable garden throughout the year, mainly during study hall and after school on Fridays. We had great success getting donations of both plants and labor from local nurseries and landscape companies. In addition, we received donations and raised money to expand our green roof.
Tip # 3: A Little Competition Can Help Save Water and Energy
Join the EPA’s Battle of the Buildings Water and Energy competition (EPA Battle of the Buildings) to get faculty and students excited about saving water and energy at your school!
To kick-off the competition, our principal invited us to speak at a faculty meeting about the GreenSchools program and ways that staff could get involved in water and energy conservation efforts. We presented a PowerPoint and provided a handout with water and energy saving tips. Then over the next several months, an energy or water saving “Tip of the Week” was announced over the loudspeaker, emailed to faculty, and posted in hallways, bathrooms, and classrooms. The Green Team also assessed each classroom, bathroom, water fountain, and outdoor spigot for leaks. Problems were reported and fixed. This resulted in significant savings on utility bills.
Our efforts paid off when we found out that our school won the water conservation award for K-12 schools in the EPA Battle of Buildings competition!
Tip #4: Work with Consultants on Energy Efficiency
Find out if your school works with energy consultants. If so, see if they can meet with students to discuss energy saving strategies specific for your school.
Tip # 5: Get Creative Around Waste & Recycling
During our audit of waste and recycling, we discovered that many students weren’t taking the time to place recyclables in proper containers – especially during lunch. So we decorated the recycling bins and moved them to obvious locations in the cafeteria. Green Team students took turns standing by the bins to remind students how to properly recycle. We also discovered that our school district has a “Food Sharing” policy that allows schools to donate unopened food to local shelters and food banks.
You may be able to create extra enthusiasm for cafeteria recycling and composting by getting the principal or a teacher to dress up in a banana costume, or other compostable fruit or vegetable!
Tip #6: Monitor CO2, Temperature, and Humidity Levels in Classrooms
One of the most interesting things about the Environmental Quality Investigation was monitoring classrooms for temperature and carbon dioxide levels. We found out that if the level of CO2 in classrooms is too high or classrooms are too hot, it can make students lethargic! So we borrowed a CO2 monitor and an infrared laser thermometer. The data we collected showed that CO2 levels were within acceptable ranges, however, many classrooms were too hot or too cold. With this data, teachers felt empowered to report issues for repair.
Be sure to monitor CO2, temperature, and humidity levels in classrooms when they are occupied to get useful readings.
We also met with our school’s head custodian to determine if the school was using “green” cleaning supplies. He was enthusiastic about showing our Green Team the labels on the cleaning supplies and explaining the school’s cleaning policies.
Tip # 7: Share Your Success
Participating in community events, such as garden days and green expos, is a great way to share your success and encourage other schools and institutions to green their buildings.
To encourage other schools in our district to ‘go green,’ we hosted two open houses where teachers, administrators, and students could tour our school and learn about our efforts. The Green Team, as well as teachers and parent volunteers, led the tours and answered questions. Our Green Team also participated in a community “Green Expo.” At this event, we shared why we started the GreenSchools program and how other schools in the area could get involved.
Tip #8: Explore STEM Career Connections
Throughout the investigations, we acted as scientists as we collected and analyzed data, and developed action plans to green our school. We also learned about a variety of STEM careers. Here are some highlights:
A National Wildlife Refuge manager spoke to students about internships and careers with public lands and wildlife management
Staff from our county water testing lab came to our school to discuss water quality testing and related careers, and invited students to tour the lab
A landscape architect met with students to discuss careers in landscape design and installation, and the importance of landscaping to protect local waterways
An energy engineer provided a tour of our school’s HVAC system and talked about careers in providing and conserving energy
A parent volunteer showed us how to use air quality monitoring equipment and discussed related careers
Tip # 9: Use GreenSchools as Inspiration for Other Environmental Education Projects
To become a certified PLT GreenSchool, schools must also demonstrate they are incorporating environmental and sustainability education into other areas of the school’s curriculum.
At my high school, the majority of students take “Environmental Systems and Societies” in 11th or 12th grade. This environmental science course requires students to do original research on a topic of their choice. One of the great things about the GreenSchools program is that it provided us with ideas for course projects.
For example, a student investigated the impact that cars idling in the “Kiss and Ride” area have on outdoor air quality, another investigated how plants in classrooms affect indoor air quality, while others monitored the water quality of a stream behind the school. This course also inspired many art students to incorporate environmental themes into their art work. For instance, one friend built a 3-D sculpture out of used plastic water bottles that showed how they harm the environment, another depicted coral reefs in her ceramic pieces to create awareness about protecting these fragile environments, and I used the theme of human’s connections with nature in my senior art project. In addition, because we had more than 100 students on our Green Team, there were many opportunities for us to share ideas and work together on class, science fair, and service projects.
Tip #10: Use PLT’s GreenSchools Investigations to Build Environmental Literacy
If your school can’t tackle all five of PLT’s GreenSchools Investigations in one year, pick one or two that are most relevant to your school to get started. By participating in PLT’s GreenSchools program, I saw how what I’m learning in my science classes is directly applicable to solving environmental problems in the real world. I also experienced the power of teamwork in accomplishing my school’s sustainability goals.
For more information about becoming a Certified PLT GreenSchool and free access to PLT’s GreenSchools Invesitgations, register here. Good luck and have fun!
Editor’s Note: George C. Marshall High School offers the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which aims to develop internationally-minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world. PLT’s GreenSchools program supports this goal by providing a cross-discipline mechanism for students to explore their environment, think critically about ways to make improvements, and implement environmental action plans.
For 25 years, Project Learning Tree has been awarding GreenWorks! grants to schools and organizations across the country for projects that support children’s learning, ideas, actions, and voices about the environment.
One such grant given last year to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science in Albuquerque was sparked by children’s interest in learning more about the animals that live in a community garden next to the museum.
Intersection of Art and Science
Some of the funding from the grant was used to purchase seeds and plants, pavers, and sets of gloves and trowels for the garden’s volunteer caretakers—children and their families who gather once a week as part of an afterschool family program to learn how to plant and take care of the Kiwanis Learning Garden. In January last year, 16 children (ages 4-11) each chose to study an animal found in the garden. They made puppets using cloth and clay, and created a show to share their research about animal-plant relationships. In the summer weeks they created mosaics. In October, the remaining grant funds helped pay for panels featuring the children’s reports and mosaics. These were installed outdoors for a permanent art exhibit for the benefit of the public who use the garden.
The project gave children a deeper understanding of the interactions between animals and plants that live in the garden and the importance of native plants. The children’s artwork was a visual representation of the culmination of their knowledge and the project has fostered stewardship and ownership of the surrounding environment in both children and the community. The public exhibit at the garden attracted local media attention and many people see the outdoor exhibit every day, including visitors of the museum and student groups from other schools.
“The project blended art and science in such a creative and meaningful way,” said Museum Director Margie Marino. “Children and their families had the opportunity to make something beautiful and lasting while learning about the science in their backyards.”
“We did the Web of Life in the cold of February,” said Cirrelda Snider-Bryan, New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science Garden Programs Coordinator. “Everyone had to bundle up because temps were in the 20’s! We enjoyed this game immensely and played it many times in following weeks. Children enjoyed discussing what factors would influence the disappearance of a particular animal.”
Cirrelda also adapted the Senses component of PLT’s activity “We All Need Trees” found in the Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood guide. Instead of tasting apples, children processed Prickly Pears and drank the juice. “We recalled all the ways we’d seen animals eating these fruits during the fall and winter months, and children learned how the parts of cactus respond to other plants,” said Snider-Bryan.
Power of Partnerships
Many people came together during the project’s well-planned stages to support the young researchers/artists all year long: Kiwanis Club of Albuquerque, Mosaic Artists of New Mexico, Plants of the Southwest, Arizona Tile, Bethany Farms, as well as the Museum’s curator, education, and exhibit staff. These organizations provided supplies, such as native plant seeds and tiles for the mosaics. Every week, volunteers acted as mentors to the children, assisted them with researching the ways animals and plants interact, shared their knowledge of native plants and animals, and helped children construct their mosaic panels and the exhibit.
The project exemplified student decision-making and leadership, collective community efforts, and support from local partners, all of which are also requirements for a PLT GreenWorks! Service-learning grant.
Advice to Others
Here are some tips from Cirrelda Snider-Bryan who reflected on what made their project such a success:
The process of meeting once a week each month, January through October, covering a wide array of tasks to produce these exhibits, stands out as very fruitful and positive.
Interactions with partners and the parents, aunts, and grandparents of the children throughout the project. Their participation and support to the children made this project happen!
Don’t be shy about approaching your local Kiwanis Club. The mission of Kiwanis is “to improve the world, one child at a time.”
We set a rhythm where children know their ideas matter. It was children’s ideas that helped shape the plan and student leadership opportunities were snapped up.
Lay out your whole year in advance, publish a calendar, and communicate regularly with your participants and your partners.
Include notebooks in your budget for participants to keep a record of what they are doing or learning.
Start your photo album with descriptions early. Don’t wait to add descriptions until the last minute of creating your final report!
When we were young, it was easy to think that we’d have to wait until we’re older to make a difference since most of our role models were adults. As young environmental activist Ta’Kaiya Blaney said, “I always wanted to make a difference, but it was always along the lines of…when I grow up. It’s sad that it has to be this way but I realize I don’t have time to grow up before I want to make a change.”
It’s true – young students don’t need to wait until they’re older to make a difference. They can make real change now. Sometimes they just need to know it’s possible.
Here are 13 inspiring stories that show what’s possible when young environmentalists take action.
By the age of 16, Alex Lin had already influenced significant changes to reduce e-waste. After reading about e-waste in a Wall Street Journal article, he decided to take action.
Along with his community service team, Alex has overseen the recycling of 300,000 pounds of e-waste. They also successfully lobbied the Rhode Island state legislature to pass a bill in 2006 banning the dumping of e-waste. This bill paved the way for the producer responsibility bill, which passed in 2008, that puts more responsibility on electronic manufacturers.
The community service team’s work has gone global. They’ve helped establish similar teams in countries such as the Philippines, Mexico, and Kenya to reduce local e-waste.
In Houston, Texas, the East End serves some of the poorest students in the district and was known for being a “food desert.” Twenty local high school and college students have become “Green Ambassadors” since the program began three years ago. They have been trained and certified through Project Learning Tree’s early childhood and PreK-8 environmental outdoor education, and are among the first high schoolers to do so. These young leaders use their new knowledge and skills to transform their community.
Their goal is to provide more than 100,000 residents with fresh, natural foods. Their urban gardens will also be home to local wildlife and pollinators. They’re doing it by planting one fruit tree and one community garden at a time, linking their schools and neighborhoods to form a Houston East End Greenbelt.
In the fall of 2016, Furr High School won a $10 million grant through a new national contest sponsored by Lauren Powell Jobs to continue their work.
Growing up in the Curtis Bay neighborhood of Baltimore, many friends and family members of Destiny Watford suffered from asthma. She saw a link between the high rates of asthma and the air pollution from a local medical-waste incinerator, the coal pier, and several medical plants in the area.
When she was 17, a new solid-waste incinerator was scheduled to be built close to her high school. Destiny and a few other young people from her neighborhood pressured local officials to stop the project to prevent further air pollution from devastating their neighborhood. After three years of fighting, state regulators pulled the project’s permit in March 2016, halting the project.
Destiny’s work earned her the Goldman Environmental Prize for bringing attention to the consequences of environmental inequities. Now a college student, Destiny works for an organization called Free Your Voice and is working to reinstate air quality monitors in Curtis Bay.
The “Students for Sustainability” club at Port Townsend High School in Washington State has helped reforest two local habitats. After learning about the state of their local watersheds, the high school students wanted to help improve the habitat for wildlife and water quality. To plan their reforestation efforts, they partnered with the Jefferson Land Trust and the Northwest Watershed Institute.
The students served as crew leaders for the Northwest Watershed Institute’s Plant-a-Thon events. Students from kindergarten through 8th grade plant several thousand trees during the event. To date, they’ve planted over 7,000 trees!
Fourteen-year-old Ta’Kaiya Blaney from the Tla’amin First Nation in British Columbia has cared about the environment as long as she can remember. She’s been singing since the age of four, and her songs about the environment have already gone viral. She has given speeches around the world, including Rio+20, TUNZA UN children and youth conference, the ONECA conference, and TEDxSFU. This young activist and singer is showing the world that the voices of youth deserve to be heard.
When Cole Rasenberger was in second grade, he was assigned a homework project to write a letter to a local official on an environmental issue. While researching potential topics, he discovered the Dogwood Alliance’s website and learned that thousands of acres of North Carolina’s coastal forests are being destroyed daily, endangering local animals and plants.
Instead of just writing a letter, 8-year-old Cole wanted to take on the paper packaging industry. He partnered with Dogwood Alliance and organized his elementary school to sign postcards to ask McDonald’s to use recycled packaging. A few months and 2,500 handmade signed postcards later, McDonald’s decided to use more post-recyclable fiber, including 100% recycled fibers in their bags.
This win motivated Cole to do more, and he was ready to take on KFC. He partnered with seven schools, got the attention of media venues, and hand delivered over 6,000 postcards to KFC’s headquarters. It took several years before KFC agreed to use more recycled paper in its packaging, but Cole and the Dogwood Alliance didn’t give up.
Students from Ben Franklin High School in Baltimore, Md., are taking action to restore one of the more polluted areas of the city. In partnership with the Baltimore Aquarium and the Shores of Baltimore Land Trust, students are helping to transform Masonville Cove. This site was known for illegal industrial dumping and is now a model environmental education center and bird sanctuary on 54 acres of reclaimed wetlands.
Students planted 3,000 trees and bushes on the site, constructed a native wetland pond, raise and transplant bay grass, and “planted” oysters in underwater cages to help filter the water.
As a bird-lover, 11-year-old Olivia Bouler wanted to take action after seeing the effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. She partnered with the Audubon Society to sell over 500 paintings and sketches of bird species most affected by the spill. She raised over $200,000 for Gulf Coast relief efforts and released a book of her work to support Audubon’s conversation mission.
St. Michael School middle school students in Livermore, Ca., were eager to address the issue of waste on campus. After receiving a GreenWorks grant from Project Learning Tree, they were able to implement a school-wide recycling program. They started by conducting a waste audit and established a plan to recycle different types of materials.
The students took the lead in designing posters, translating information into Spanish for the local Hispanic community, re-sorting trash as needed, and writing tips for students to take home to their families. In just one year, they reduced our trash removal costs by $1,200 and diverted about 40% of their waste from the landfill to composting and recycling centers.
Ryan Nitschke, Samantha Cuevas, Dianna Carreon, Fritz Perera, and Daniel Rivera, eighth-graders at School 28 in Jersey City, have designed a project to use drones to map the city’s trees. Team D.R.O.N.E. (Drones Recording Our Natural Environment) pitched their project to classmates, teachers, and sponsors, and won $10,000 to implement their project through the national Lexus Eco Challenge.
The students attach 360-degree-angle cameras to drones to capture images and collect data on Jersey City’s trees. They are sharing their data with local organizations to help monitor the health of local trees and to identify ideal locations to plant new trees. They are currently in the second round of collecting data, to be completed in February 2017.
A few dozen high school students at City Academy in Salt Lake City, Utah, converted their school bus to run on biodiesel. Students started discussing alternative fuels while studying global warming and pollution. That’s when they came up with the idea of making their own biodiesel fuel from used vegetable oil for our school bus to reduce their school’s CO2 emissions. They received a start-up grant from Toshiba and a GreenWorks grant from Project Learning Tree to work on the project.
Their first year, the bus ran over 3,000 miles on fuel from used vegetable oil collected from a local restaurant. They were invited to present their project at a Green Ambassadors conference in Los Angeles. And yes, they took their biodiesel-fueled bus to get there!
Under the guidance of science teacher Jane Orbuch, three high school students at San Lorenzo Valley High in California organized a local environmental conference. Science students Julianna Manseau, Kate Ussat, and Haile Davis set up the speakers, publicized the event, and worked with school personnel.
Both students and adults attended the conference, which featured presentations on their local watershed, ecosystem restoration, and the impact of regional droughts and higher temperatures. Sharing knowledge in these areas is a critical first step to making change, and these students are well on their way.
Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced ‘Shoe-Tez-Caht’) Martinez has been on the front lines of the youth-led environmental movement since the age of six when he began speaking around the world at venues such as the Rio+20 United Nations Summit and addressing the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York.
Currently the Youth Director of Earth Guardians, he has brought a lawsuit against the Obama administration for “their failure to protect the atmosphere and their future.” He has also worked locally to eliminate pesticide use in parks, contain coal ash, and stop fracking. He has received many awards for his activism, and was the youngest member of President Obama’s youth council.
Do you know of any other young environmentalists doing great work? Please share in the comments!