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Student-Led Project at Independence Challenges Others to ‘Spill It Fill It’

Student-Led Project at Independence Challenges Others to ‘Spill It Fill It’

What started as a simple extra credit challenge escalated into a full-fledged social media campaign led by room 209 at Independence Elementary School. Their goal: “To be the creators of the beginning of the end of littering.”

It was a class discussion on citizenship and civic participation during a social studies unit about “Rights and Responsibilities” that sparked what the class has since coined the “Spill It Fill It” movement. When the topic of littering elicited a large response during her class’s brainstorming, fifth grade teacher Kim Bryant challenged her students to clean up a public space by filling up a bag of trash. Next thing she knew, her students were voluntarily creating flyers, presentations, videos and logos to get others on board with the idea too.

“Everybody was fired up and Mrs. Bryant basically said if you’re going to talk the talk, you have to walk the walk,” recalled Independence fifth-grader George Culligan

That challenge set in motion the start of an unplanned, two-month project completed during her class’s daily enrichment time. They brainstormed campaign names and wrote their principal a letter to gain his support and land a spot on the school’s morning announcements. They created a logo, posters and a video. They presented their idea to other grade levels, setting it up similar to the infamous “Ice Bucket Challenge,” asking participants to nominate five others to follow suit. They even came up with a hashtag as a way to track their reach and a centralized bulletin board that the class continues to fill with new #SpillItFillIt social media posts. 

“I have a homeroom of go-getters this year,” Bryant said. “It was so much fun to plant a seed and then watch them take over and make it their own. The kids couldn’t wait for enrichment time each day to work on the project.”

The project’s element of spontaneity meant it didn’t necessarily count toward students’ grades. Even so, Bryant witnessed an incredible amount of growth in her students. From collaboration and project management skills to the application of technology and new communication skills, Bryant’s students managed the initiative from start to finish. 

Fifth-grader Nathan Lee appreciated the chance to spend time on something meaningful and without any attachment to his grade in a class. “It was different from other projects because we had the freedom to do anything. There were no grades and no stress and no consequences if the idea failed,” he said.

Lee and several other classmates admitted that they originally thought it was going to be difficult to find enough trash to fill an entire trash bag. The entire exercise opened their eyes to just how much trash surrounds them and how easy it is to make a difference.

“Once you’re thinking about it, you notice it more and more and it becomes second nature to pick something up if you see it,” said Sophie Rife

“Anybody can change the world,” reflected Lee, when asked about his biggest takeaway. “People think making a major change means you have to win the Nobel Peace Prize or something. All it takes is making small changes and not making excuses.”