First Graders Finding New Ways to Love Their Earth

Heritage First Graders Finding New Ways to Love Their Earth
Posted on 02/28/2020
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It all started with some classroom bean bag chairs that had gone flat.

collage of first gradersMost people would refill them with styrofoam beans, but not in Stephanie Allan and Rhiannon Wilson’s first grade class.

Allan and Wilson team teach at Heritage ECS. They share a passion for lowering waste in their lives outside of school and decided to collect plastic bags over the summer to refill the ‘poof’ chairs. When students saw the teachers stuffing the chairs, they wanted to help.

“Naturally we started talking about why you just don’t throw the bags away and other things you can do with them,” said Wilson. “And the students started bringing in their own plastic bags and now the chairs are nice and full.”

That led to more discussions about plastics. “We saw real life photos of plastic island that is a big blob of trash that can make fish die,” said Raquel. That island, also known as Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is so large that it is equivalent to 250 pieces of debris for every human in the world. And the students are passionate about doing their part to keep plastic island from growing even larger. “We want to recycle so the plastic doesn’t hurt the animals in the ocean,” said Makailyn.

So the students began talking about water bottles. That led to the them coming up with creative ways to reuse water bottles. Case in point: the classroom’s ‘Peace Corner’ is now well-stocked with calming jars the students made at home. Filling a plastic bottle with water and things like glitter create a tool to use when someone needs to take a break and refocus. They have also worked with Miss Regina, the school’s custodian, to make sure plastic cups are recycled in the cafeteria.

“This is project-based learning at its best,” said Allan. “The students are learning and doing so much more than if I just sat down with them and presented information.” The students’ interest in helping the earth is sparking curiosity and driving their learning – and leading to the students taking action and creating solutions.

When students became concerned about all of the paper towels used at school, the class brainstormed on what they could do. Hand towels are used at home, so they figured out a way to do the same thing at school and still be sanitary. The class now has a ‘no paper towel policy’ -- using hand towels at school and then collecting and washing them at home. They work together to fold the clean laundry (often using math to fold the towels into fractional parts).

Wilson added, “The kids just have this passion and heart for making the world a better place and coming up with ideas and alternatives to the wastefulness they see in our classroom, at home and in the school. Even though the third quarter curriculum calls for students to come up with a way to make an impact or change to their environment, there is no way we could stop the students’ passion back in September.”

During the entire school year, the teachers are using this passion as a basis for classroom lessons. “It is so integrated with our social studies and science standards – even our math, our reading, our writing,” said Allan. “It’s amazing.”

When the students learned that Crayola had a recycling program for plastic markers, it peaked their curiosity: ‘How can we be part of the program?’ and ‘Who else knows about this?’

The students added a marker bin to their recycling center. They wrote a letter to Crayola. They surveyed Heritage teachers to see if they knew about the program and if they wanted to participate. They graphed the results. They provided boxes to teachers to collect markers, and each Friday the first graders will gather the old markers throughout the school. They’ve made signs and are even talking about creating a commercial.

The classroom recycling center also has areas for boxes, scraps and paper that is only used on one side. The students find all types of ways to reuse these items throughout the school day. And they are taking the recycle, reuse and refuse message home as well.

There is no doubt that the students are passionate about the environment. When asked what ideas they have for protecting the earth, almost every hand went up.

“I asked my dad if I could drink without using a straw.” - Alyssa

“I reused a plastic fork as a back scratcher.” - Alaina

“I used a box and a spring to make a pop machine at home.” - Maico

“Instead of using a plastic fork and straw with a wrapper for breakfast, we have metal forks and spoons to use in our classroom. Then we wash them.” - Sophia

“We use paper scraps to write notes on.” - Isabella

“We made giant dice for the classroom with boxes and sharpie markers.” - Madi, Makailyn and Dean

“The students inspire us every day to come in and teach,” said Allan. “We just go with the passion they have, the decisions they make. We listen to the questions they have and help them try to answer them.”

The first graders plan to be part of the #LakotaGoesGreen Earth Day Celebration on April 18. The entire community is invited to the event, held in partnership with the West Chester Farmers’ Market, from 2-4 p.m. at West Chester Square.