Millions of people around the world are celebrating Earth Day 2018, with a specific emphasis on ending plastic pollution. As recently as last month, the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” a floating island of plastics, measured three times the size of France. Several years ago, FFT Fellow Megan de Ritter used her grant to raise student awareness about management of inorganic trash, widely regarded as the most significant environmental problem facing our planet.
Student inquiry inspired Megan’s fellowship. A pen pal relationship with peers in Nebaj, Guatemala, introduced her third graders to the environmental issue of waste management in that country. To address her students’ quest for more information and opportunities to make a difference, Megan designed a fellowship to research Guatemala’s recycling and trash management systems, as well as how schools there address environmental education. She returned to Glen Burnie, MD, with a concept her students could get behind – ecobricks.
“As my students learned about a different country and new culture, I saw a wave of comprehension and empathy wash over them,” said Megan. “Our school was particularly inspired by Guatemalans’ use of “ecobricks” – plastic bottles stuffed with inorganic material to create building blocks used for construction of schools, fences and buildings. Together, we undertook a school-wide initiative to build an eco-brick fence around Monarch Academy’s butterfly and rain garden.”
Initially, the school’s Environmental Club researched America’s landfills and decomposition in comparison to Guatemala’s waste management solutions. Student-designed posters and presentations then filled classrooms and encouraged school families to collect plastic waste to make eco-bricks. When plastic trash piled in classroom corners and lined cafeteria walls, it was time to begin stuffing the collected water bottles. Every student and teacher volunteered, stuffing at least one bottle.
Parallel to this school-wide project, third graders also compared/contrasted waste management in their local community and Guatemala. They subsequently wrote letters to the principal proposing a reduction in the number of plastic bags passed out in the breakfast line. To support their proposal, students collected and analyzed data, interviewed peers and teachers, and designed reusable canvas bags in which students could carry their breakfasts instead. With the use of these reusable bags, they reduced Monarch Academy’s contribution to Glen Burnie’s landfill by 175 bags, or approximately three ecobricks, per school day. When spring rolled around and the ground thawed, every student participated in construction of the ecobrick wall (pictured below).
“The power of Fund for Teachers is beyond the immediate impact on the individual teacher,” said Megan. “It is the ripple effect that reaches the students and their families, the entire faculty and two communities thousands of miles apart. I am inspired to continue the momentum and use my experiences as a catalyst for continued change.”