St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, has a rich culture and colorful history. St. Croix has a fluctuating population, due to tourism and migrant workers from nearby islands and the mainland who come to work at St. Croix’s oil refinery – one of the largest in the western hemisphere.
Litter is a pandemic problem on St. Croix. Data from a recent coastal cleanup showed litter comes from a variety of sources—residential, business, commercial, and industrial. Much of the responsibility for protecting and preserving the island’s natural surroundings falls to St. Croix’s citizens. Involving business leaders, homeowners, and community leaders in waste management is crucial to the island’s future.
“Everyone knows litter is a problem on the island, everyone talks about it and notices it,” says Leslie Hamdorf, a volunteer organizer for community events in Frederiksted. “Litter devalues the area and sends the message that more trash is okay, but it clogs up our already stressed sewer system, and is a hazard to both people and animals.”
Leslie works with Central High School’s environmental club, Nature’s Environmental Role Model (NERM). The thirty 10th-12th grade students that make up NERM had volunteered during the 2006-2007 school year at beach and roadside cleanups around St. Croix. Still, they wanted to take a more proactive role and become community leaders themselves. With the help of a Project Learning Tree (PLT) GreenWorks! grant, the NERM team organized a series of “Service Saturdays.” These community service days combined a litter clean-up with environmental activities and lessons from Project Learning Tree.
The GreenWorks! project began with students and community volunteers working together to decorate trash bins with environmental logos, lessons, and quick facts. The bins, paint and paint supplies were all donated by local businesses.
Then, on a series of Saturday Service Days, NERM students conducted hands-on educational activities with other school-age students. The high school students led litter cleanups for the younger, elementary and middle school-aged participants. They also used the new trash bins and litter from trash clean-ups to demonstrate appropriate handling of different types of waste such as potentially hazardous materials, recyclable materials and oversized items.
All the students cleaned up and set up trash bins along Frederiksted’s beach front and other public areas. They coordinated with the town to arrange for trash collection and removal. The town of Frederiksted is an important partner in this project as they are an essential ally in making sure the trash bins are regularly and appropriately emptied and maintained.
The NERM team plans to donate a second set of bins to the town of Christiansted and organize similar community service days coupled with litter clean-ups and PLT activities.
“It is active and it is recycling made fun,” said NERM student Ilan Rivera. “I have a good time getting out there and getting dirty to keep our island clean, but sometimes it is frustrating when we return and it is trashed again.”
Leslie Hamdorf notes that “The small group teaching allowed students to demonstrate leadership abilities to both adults and their peers. By equipping each student with specific knowledge and skills about environmental degradation, coupled with a tool to alleviate it, the students could manipulate teaching words into their language and then share it with the younger students.”
Leslie also said that the Service Saturdays improved student speaking skills and self confidence. “Through this project, students had opportunities to make mistakes, ask questions, teach something new, and practice what they learned.” At the close of each Service Saturday, students participated in a self reflection to assess and evaluate their personal and project progress.
The “Take the Trash Out” GreenWorks! project exemplifies service learning by incorporating academic curricula with hands-on activities that benefit the St. Croix island community and local environment. The project involved youth of various ages in a community service activity that provided more needed places to conveniently discard waste and encouraged others to take pride in their community.
As for Leslie, she has started a new project—a “Say No to Plastic Bags” campaign with the 10th grade class at Good Hope School in Fredriksted.