Students at Peaks Island Elementary School recently engaged in an endeavor created to align with their new, project-based learning program, RRR-Evolution. The idea is to help the youngsters understand the impacts of their decisions with hands-on (quite literally in this case) examples of how those decisions effect the world around us.
Students spent one week this spring carrying whatever they individually generated for trash everywhere they went while at school. Each student received a garbage bag at the beginning of the week. Then, throughout the next five days, they were responsible for making sure everything they threw away was put into their garbage bag. Most importantly, they carried the bag around with them each day.
This helped the children understand how much trash they generate in a week and that all that waste has consequences. Many of the students, interviewed for a recent MPBN story about the initiative commented on the weight, and especially the smell, of their trash bags.
Peaks Island students already engage in activities to help reduce their impact on the waste stream and the planet by participating in the school’s new composting program. But this week-long endeavor helped the students learn some valuable lessons. Peaks Island Elementary School Principle Renee Serio says the island generates nearly 21 tons of trash every week. She points out how important it is to manage trash on an island, and this lesson applies to the Earth as a whole—which is, after all, an island of sorts.
Perhaps the most important part of this initiative was what happened at the end of the week. Students gathered in the gym. First they each weighed their individual trash bags and then dumped out their bags and sorted the contents. The most valuable lesson from this was highlighted by 10-year-old student Rosie Clews who noticed that some of the other students had far less trash, motivating her to think even harder about what she throws away and ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle before tossing.
Beyond their own habits, students at Peaks Island Elementary are hoping to use what they’ve learned to help influence other island residents and tourists. They want to create positive changes in the way people think about throwing away things that don’t need to be wasted.
As principal Serio points out, the management of trash and the waste stream is going to be one of the big problems these young people face as they become adults. They’ve taken an important step toward understanding the ramifications of our decisions. Furthermore, they’re acting to help the rest of us understand that our decisions effect more than each of us as individuals, those of us here in the present and also those who will come after us who must live with the consequences of our actions.