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News / Clark County News

Summit helps students become environmental leaders

By Adam Littman, Columbian Staff Writer
Published: November 3, 2015, 6:13pm
6 Photos
Columbia Valley Elementary School fourth-graders Lily Scholl, from left, Paige Holstad, Victor Jimenez, Payton Holstad and Travis Nguyen take their solar-powered car for a test run Tuesday at the Water Resources Education Center.
Columbia Valley Elementary School fourth-graders Lily Scholl, from left, Paige Holstad, Victor Jimenez, Payton Holstad and Travis Nguyen take their solar-powered car for a test run Tuesday at the Water Resources Education Center. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A group at Mountain View High School was looking to make their campus a bit more green, so they decided to start by picking up litter and analyzing it.

They discovered about 8 percent of litter came from disposable coffee cups. Since Mountain View allows students to get lunch off campus, the group worked with a nearby shop to offer discounts to students who brought in reusable coffee cups. Then the group started selling reusable coffee cups in the school store.

That didn’t solve the litter problem at Mountain View, but it has made it better, and bringing such ideas to schools is something Bernadette Donald, an environmental outreach specialist with Clark County, said she wants to see more frequently.

Helping the environment, she said, isn’t a one-person job.

“You can’t do it alone,” she said. “You bring in your resources, stakeholders and the larger community, then it becomes a cultural change.”

Donald said the effort at Mountain View came out of a session with teachers from Clark County schools at the fifth annual Student Summit, organized annually by Clark County’s Green Schools Program and Washington Green Schools, a nonprofit which helps certify schools, teach students environmentally friendly skills and conserve resources.

The summit was Nov. 2 at the Water Resources Education Center. About 135 students participated in the four-hour event, working in smaller groups to learn about solar power, stormwater runoff, recycling and leadership. It was the largest turnout in the event’s history.

“This program is about teaching the future environmental leaders and stewards,” Donald said. “The kids are going to go home and teach their parents what they learned here on how to help the environment.”

That’s precisely what Lindsey Slaton, 10, said she plans on doing, although she said her mom is already “really crazy” about recycling and the environment.

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“I liked learning about recycling,” said the Eisenhower Elementary fifth-grader. “I didn’t know that you could only recycle some plastics, but other plastics you can’t recycle, like strawberry containers.”

Lindsey said she thinks the most important thing she learned about was how much waste people produce and simply throw out. She also wants to think about ways to cut back on electricity use at home, which might mean leaving on fewer lights and maybe not leaving music playing for her dogs while they’re home alone.

Of the breakout sessions, Lindsey said she was most excited to learn about solar-powered cars. At that session, students were given a kit for a car and a solar panel. They had to set up the car so the panel generated enough current to turn a gear attached to a wheel to get the car moving.

At the stormwater session, students measured how many gallons of rain ran off two parking spots and learned why having grass can be important, as it allows water to slowly percolate into underground aquifers rather than simply run off.

The summit was open to schools participating in the Green Schools Program. Donald said 74 out of 136 public schools in Clark County participate.

“Our goal is to keep adding schools to the program every year,” she said. “I won’t be happy until we have 136 schools in the program.”

Clark County Environmental Services Director Don Benton said a big help in getting schools to enroll in the program came about two and a half years ago, when the county started offering a reduction in schools’ clean water fee if the school earned a certification through the Green Schools Program. He added that the reductions depend on a few things, such as the size of the school’s roof and parking lot, and have ranged from $1,700 to $40,000.

Benton opened the summit by talking to the students about the importance of conserving water, something he learned about growing up on a farm with no well in Agua Dulce, Calif. He told the students his family had water trucked in each week, and if it didn’t last the week, they didn’t have water. He said conservation tricks his father taught him then are still with him, which is why an event such as the summit is so important.

“We can be looking at 60, 70, 80 years of habits being formed right here,” he said. “We’re changing the culture of the next generation.”

Adam Littman: 360-735-4530; adam.littman@columbian.com; twitter.com/col_hoods

Columbian Staff Writer