In front of a chalkboard banner that says “ENERGY,” fifth-grade teacher Sean Sullivan shakes a plastic bag at his classroom.
“Plastic!” several children shout.
“What is it made from?” he asks.
In the next classroom, a young girl in braids with a clipboard asks a teacher if he turns off classroom lights during class breaks and when the room is empty. The teacher nods, and the girl checks the “yes” box on a worksheet entitled “Green Eye Energy Audit.”
Dissecting the garbage after a typical lunch, several children wrinkle their noses at the piles of juice boxes, plastic bags, straws, and lunch-item containers they're separating with metal tongs.
They're not yet old enough to drive a solar-powered car, build an energy-efficient home, or vote, but six- to 11-year-olds at Cedar Drive Elementary School in Coquitlam, British Columbia, are doing what they can to save energy.
The less energy used, the less greenhouse gas enters the atmosphere, notes Cedar Drive principal Ross Hardin. “If we all do something, it's going to contribute positively, even if it's in a small way.”
The school's conservation program took off four years ago when Hardin was approached by the Sage Foundation, a Canadian nongovernmental organization that distributes a curriculum called Destination Conservation. The Sage Foundation also helps faculty and janitorial staff plan conservation programs. The first year of a three-year program involves training staff in energy, solid waste, and water conservation; the second year emphasizes implementation; and the third year focuses on school energy audits. There are now 300 participating schools in British Columbia alone.
“It's really the enthusiasm and active participation of the entire school community that makes the program work,” says Sage Foundation director Marlene Moetz.
Litterless lunches and “cool school days” are two of the results to grow out of the enthusiasm of the staff, teachers, and students at Cedar Drive. Once a month, the children come to school in hats, jackets, and gloves, and the heat circulator is turned off – dropping the school's temperature by 8Ã»C. Twice a month on litterless lunch days, students like 11 year-old Amber Bacon bring bulk food items for lunch. Afterwards, a “green team” collects the trash each class makes and analyzes what food items students should avoid in order to create less garbage.
It must be working. In the main hallway of the school, a 6-foot-wide line graph shows that Cedar Drive Elementary School has saved 72,499 kilowatts of electricity, 487 gigajoules of natural gas, and $5,713 in cash in the last year. One third of the cash savings will be used to fund future conservation programs.
The children's learning and example extend beyond the classroom. Several parents, inspired by their children's conservation efforts, began holding Tupperware parties to raise funds for the school's conservation efforts.
“The goal is to raise the kids' consciousness, and then you start seeing changes in the greater community,” says Hardin.
Amber's mother, Nancy Bacon, says her family used to be “really self-centered.” But when her daughter made an issue of practicing conservation at home, she had an epiphany: “Wow, I am a part of this big world.”
Teacher Sean Sullivan, Destination Conservation's most active supporter, says that elementary school students are especially receptive to learning about conservation, and they're learning more than facts. They are finding out where energy comes from and sharpening critical thinking skills.
The implications for Amber are very simple: “The world is going to go bad if we waste everything up.”
Chloe Frommer is a YES! editorial intern.
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