Environmental Action: Middle School Challenge #3 in the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps

by Melissa Harding

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During the latest challenge of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps, 430 middle school students participated in a month-long sustainability challenge to take a closer look at their resource use. In this challenge, each student chose one positive environmental behavior to implement in their lives for a month; they also had to involve at least one family member. Many students involved their entire families in activities such as unplugging unused cell phone chargers, using both sides of a piece of paper, recycling, carpooling, and turning off the lights. Each school submitted a book of one-page essays by up to twenty students. Some schools had entire classes participate!

The winning school, Mellon Middle School, had 104 students complete the challenge. Their essays feature students who started vermicomposting and composting, walking to school and using reusable bags. One student convinced her mother to join her in timing their showers to a short five minutes each. She writes, “Never once had I thought about how my actions would affect the environment in, in fact, a negative way. I was wasting water without even taking a minute to ponder upon my procedures. Once taking charge in the act to help prevent water wasting, I established how truly wonderful it feels to be an assistance to the world”. Another student starting taking a lunchbox instead of using a paper lunch bag. She writes that her school uses 120 trash bags per week, a quarter of which are full of lunch bags. She convinced her three siblings to all use lunch bags, saving twenty bags a week! A third student, who won an honorable mention for his wonderful essay, decided with his father to eat organic, healthy food.  Not only did this make a change for the environment, but also for his father’s health. He writes, “A while ago, my dad was told that he had to be on a certain medication for the rest of his life. Amazingly, this wasn’t the case. After only a few months of eating no processed foods, no bread, no sugar and only organic foods, his symptoms began to disappear”.

The second place winner, Woodland Hills Middle School, also had some amazing essays. In one essay, entitled Turn Off Lights? Watt?, a student convinced her family to help her turn off the lights when leaving a room. She was so impressed by the results that she resolved in her essay to start making many small changes in all different areas of her life. Another student convinced his family to lower the thermostat by nine degrees at night and use blankets instead. A third started weighing his family’s trash every week! One student writes, after convincing her family to use reusable grocery bags, “My family actually realizes that it feels good to reduce, reuse, recycle. People should shop more at stores like Aldi where you have to reuse bags…If we all use reusable bags for even a week, we could keep thousands of bags out of landfills.”

Several other great essays featured limiting bottled water consumption, taking public transportation and reducing water use. Many of them connected their resource use to other parts of the world and social justice issues, like hunger and thirst. One student from Schaffer Elementary writes, “Kids in Africa could be using that water to drink, shower, etc., but we used it all up for ourselves. Half of the time we’re using it when there was no need to. So, therefore, I stopped doing things to hurt the environment.” Others found that their actions saved the family a measurable amount on their utility bills and instilled a sense of accomplishment. Most importantly, many of them committed to continuing their actions and even starting new ones!

While the judges picked the winning essays, it is clear that all of these students are winners because they made a hard change and stuck with it. Students from Mellon Middle School will be interviewed on the Saturday Light Brigade this Saturday, February 2, at 10:05am. The Saturday Light Brigade can be heard every Saturday morning on WRCT 88.3 FM. It also streams live at slbradio.org where the interview will be archived under Neighborhood Voices.

The above image was taken by Christie Lawry.

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