Projects teach students about efforts to go green

Green Schools summit a day of learning, sharing by environmental clubs

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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A cluster of Gaiser Middle School eighth-graders watched intently at plastic objects floating or sinking in a container filled with water at Clark College.

Why, their teacher Charlene Shea asked, are some floating while others are not? Is it the air pockets inside the objects? Could it be the color? What about the density?

(Spoiler alert: it’s the last one.)

The four Gaiser Middle School students joined about 100 students from 25 Clark County schools Thursday for the Green Schools summit, a day of workshops and classes for the schools’ environmental clubs. The event was cosponsored by Clark County Public Health and Washington Green Schools.

Students explored the impact of plastic in the ocean on wildlife and the carbon footprint of locally sourced meals as opposed to those that aren’t. They built models and maps to learn about stormwater pollution and brainstormed with each other about their schools’ efforts to go green.

Michelle Picinich, a Green Schools outreach specialist with Clark County, said the annual event provides an opportunity to students to see what their peers across the county are doing, and to bring ideas back to their own schools.

“Kids can feel isolated in their projects,” Picinich said, adding that the event encourages inspiration.

Some projects are small. At Sarah J. Anderson Elementary School, students collected plastic grocery bags, which can’t be recycled in your blue recycling bin. Some projects are larger. At Mill Plain Elementary School, students added rainwater collection barrels to their garden.

The scale of projects doesn’t matter, Picinich said. Small efforts can make a big difference.

“We’ve seen a lot of projects just blossom,” Picinich said.

Shea, a seventh-grade life sciences teacher, is the adviser for Gaiser Middle School’s National Junior Honor Society, which takes on environmental projects around the school. The students’ work earned Gaiser national recognition as one of 47 U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.

Students have tackled wildlife restoration projects, designed reusable water bottles for students, discouraged parents from idling in their cars while dropping their children off and increased recycling around the school.

“They have a lot of influence in the world,” Shea said.

Leilani Gonzales, 13, said it’s important as a teenager to preserve the natural world.

“That’s what we’re going to grow up in,” she said.