Fighting Poverty with Passion
September marked the start of the 2016-2017 Seeds to Saplings Program, Woodland Conservancy’s environmental education service learning project. Through Seeds to Saplings we educate students on the issues impacting their watershed and they perform community service that directly addresses some of these issues. This takes place over the course of 7 lessons throughout the school year, with each of the 4th and 5th grade classes we partner with. This year we are working with schools in both Plaquemines parish and Orleans parish.
Last week we returned to some of those classrooms for the second lesson of the program. During the second lesson we use a 3D EnviroScape model of a watershed to demonstrate the various sources of water pollution in their community. A watershed is an area of land that drains water into a particular river, lake, or other body of water. The model includes a farm, a neighborhood, a construction site, a golf course, a sewage treatment plant and an industrial plant. Using a cocoa powder-water mixture to represent ‘sludge’ and vibrant kool-aid powder to represent chemicals, the students identify sources of water pollution from different areas of the model then use a spray bottle to ‘make it rain’ and watch the pollutants runoff into the water. They watch as pollutants accumulate from across the model and muddy the once clean water. For each area, we then propose methods to reduce their contribution to water pollution.
One class in particular had been learning about the ways humans modify their environment (for better or more often, worse) in their social studies class. I had the pleasure of listening to these engaged students connect the EnviroScape lesson to the information they had been learning in class, but the greatest shock came at the very end during discussion of the industrial plant. We mention the role of the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, in regulating the ability of these industrial plants and factories to pollute. At this point their teacher enthusiastically joined the conversation, elaborating on the EPA’s dependence on Congress to pass laws that they then enforce. She advised the students on the importance in voting for elected officials who will support the EPA.
The students eagerly shared stories of their own environmental advocacy, from pushing their families to start recycling, to breaking away from the ideas of parents who don’t believe in climate change. When we asked the students what they could do if they thought the factory wasn’t adhering to the EPA limits, one student even suggested they could protest. Their teacher astutely concluded that it was a “very liberal class”.
Their zealous attitudes made me wonder— what happened to adults? I recently attended a lecture by Dr. Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian Institute entitled “#Ocean Optimism: Success stories in ocean conservation“. She noted that elementary age students are excited about environmental protection, but the media’s doom and gloom reporting of issues discourages and disheartens them as they age. They grow up to believe these problems are too large to solve and their actions won’t make a difference. This generation will inherit a world riddled with ever more severe environmental catastrophes. But science is slowly catching up! Thus, it is imperative that we foster their sense of environmental stewardship and instill in them the belief that they can produce positive change. Now more than ever, it is time we flip the script and bring hope back to conservation.