Changing the Future, One Carbon Footprint at a Time

By: Rhyan Given

Everyday, we hear the words, “Children are the future.”  It is not like this is a foreign subject to us. It’s a chain reaction — as kids grow, the things that they are taught change them and how they approach issues, personally, locally, and globally.  This is why the argument for child education has never wavered — it is unarguable. Education is easily the most important impact that we, as members of the community, can have on today’s generation, despite how we are today’s generation.  It is time for us to take this education into our own hands. This is why AP Environmental Science students Matthew Gillespie, Emily Phoebus, Kathryn Poulsen, Gabriella Dupuy, Sarah Kermon, and I chose to visit three classes at Heritage Elementary School to teach them about how they can impact the environment and biodiversity.

Have you ever tried to teach a kindergartener or a fourth grader what a word as big and complex as “biodiversity” or “carbon footprint” means?  It’s not easy. Luckily, the kindergarteners of Mrs. Poulsen’s class and the fourth graders of Mrs. May and Mrs. Ellenberger’s classes were extremely intelligent and well-behaved students of science for this group to work with.  The group members used games, crafts, and questions to keep kids interested and to explain what these “high school” words mean. It’s not easy to tell kids what these words mean without distraction, but it is easy (and extremely important) to explain to them the importance of how they can make change.

In each class, we began by explaining what biodiversity means to the kids by comparing an ecosystem to a machine — everything works together to make sure that every aspect of the machine is doing its job correctly to make the machine work, and, without all of the “parts” (or species), the machine will no longer work.  Simply having the kids understand this topic was easy, it was making sure the kids would remember the word that was much more troubling. After several attempts to get each class to repeat the word biodiversity, we were mostly successful, even if a certain group of kindergarteners may not have the exact pronunciation down.  Then, since the kids understood what the word “biodiversity” means, we asked them what they thought people could do to hurt biodiversity, and we received some sophisticated answers for classes of elementary schoolers. From littering, to smoking, to cutting down trees, these kids were very aware of some of the negative impacts that people can have on biodiversity. That is, until we told the kids about one of the strangest phrases they may have ever heard, “carbon footprint.”  Each time we brought up this word, we got strange looks, questions, and several giggles. We explained that carbon footprints are one of the main ways that people can hurt biodiversity because of changes in temperature, precipitation, and food sources. To make this concept more understandable, each student received a paper footprint, a pad of stickers, and a set of questions such as “do you ride the bus or in a car to school?” and “did you eat dinner in a restaurant last night?” to which they answered yes or no.  By the end, each student had the number of stickers that corresponded to their own carbon footprint so they could see exactly what they were doing to hurt the environment around them. Then, the kids were asked how they thought people could positively impact the environment, to which there were some mixed results. Although one student told the group that the best way to stop hurting the environment was to yell at their parents to stop smoking and cut any cigarette they saw with scissors, most of the kids were very receptive to these positive impacts.  The most important of these was the support of the World Wildlife Fund. Before doing crafts, each student received a flyer telling them about the World Wildlife Fund and how to get involved, encouraging each student to tell their friends, family, and fellow students about what they could do to change the way people can impact our environment

It is extremely important that students are taught about nationwide and global issues such as biodiversity loss because each person must make an effort to create change if change is to be created at all.  Educating kids on this subject should not be voluntary — it should be required.  Educational service such as the seminars that these Heritage High students gave the students of Heritage Elementary must become more widespread — the education of young students on global issues must be more widely influenced, especially because environmental security is something that everyone must work together to achieve.  That is what we wanted our project to do: educate kids on what it is that they do to make change, negatively or positively, and ask them to take charge by making these positive changes, especially through supporting the World Wildlife Fund.

 

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