Monday, January 26, 2009

Our Day of Community Service: On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Volunteering in Room 206

By Lilly

On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in January, The Sprouts of Hope decided to participate in a community service project arranged by the Roots & Shoots group at Northeastern University in Boston. (Sadly, Eliza, Mia and Kaya couldn't join me, Jane, Risa and Maya in this activity.) We were inspired to do this, in part, by a video message Michelle Obama recorded to urge people to get involved in their community by helping others on this special day. You can listen to her message by clicking on this link:

This national holiday was happening on the day before she became First Lady and she asked people around the country to do something for the community in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., just like she and her husband were planning to do in their new city of Washington, D.C.. So The several members of the Sprouts of Hope, along with other Roots & Shoots members, volunteered at the Mission Hill School in Boston.

When we got to the Mission Hill School, we found out that there were many jobs to be done: making posters encouraging the kids to conserve water, cleaning out classrooms, organizing the library. We chose to clean a combined fourth and fifth grade classroom, and when we first entered the classroom, Room 206, there was a list of things to do.

1. Clean out the work bins
2. Wash down the tables
3. Clean library bins

As it turned out, there were around 30 work bins! So there was a lot of work for us to do.

When the Sprouts had finished the three items on the checklist, we didn't really see very much of a difference. Sure, the room was cleaner, but unless somebody told you we’d been cleaning, if you happened to walk into the room, you might not have noticed the difference. So we kept on cleaning.

I vacuumed the two rugs where we imagined kids sat and read and talked. And we took pillows outside and shook them as a way of cleaning them in the fresh air.

We also organized the really messy coatroom, where it looked like everything that did not have another home ended up being tossed. And we washed some of the windows and the whiteboard, and we swept the hardwood floors with a broom and cleaned things out from underneath tables.

When our work was done, even we were shocked at how different the classroom looked. We wished we could be there to see the teacher’s and students’ reaction when they walked in the next morning.
Want to see us cleaning the classroom? Click on this YouTube link and you can watch.

Just as we were preparing to leave, a man walked into the classroom, and then walked back out. Then, with a confused expression, he walked back in. It turns out that this man is the teacher in Room 206. He introduced himself as Nakia, and told us when he first walked in, he thought it was the wrong classroom... that’s how different it looked! It was a really special moment, and seeing his reaction and meeting him made all of our effort worth all our time we’d devoted to doing such a good job.
All of us hope that someday soon we can return to the Mission Hill School and help out again.

Other Projects at Mission Hill School

It was also a lot of fun to meet other Roots & Shoots kids who were there that day. All of us had a chance to eat lunch together and we went around in a circle and each of talked about what we liked about being involved with community service. Everyone talked about how much fun they were having and how good it felt to be helping other people.

We also had a chance to see some of the other projects -- like the ones where kids were making signs about conserving water to be put in the restrooms throughout the school. Some other kids were writing short messages about ways kids can easily -- in 5 minutes -- make a real difference in saving the planet's resources and energy.
You can see some examples of the pictures and signs they were making in the photographs, below, and listen to a video (click on the link that follows) of the Northeastern students who organized the day talking about some of the cool projects that happened at the school.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Sprouts of Hope: Getting Rid of Wasteful Energy Use

Tracking Energy – So We Use Less of It

The Sprouts of Hope welcomed 2009 with a new project, one that we will feature at the Cambridge Science Festival in our presentation on Saturday, April 25. This will be the third year the Sprouts will have had an exhibit as part of the festival's opening day activities. Plan on coming that day and visiting with us and seeing all of the other cool exhibits, too.

Our project is about using in-the-home digital technology to tell us how much energy we are using. These simple-to-use tools can show us not only how much power we are using but how much it is costing us --and by knowing this information we can figure out ways to reduce both. We are doing this project in partnership with NStar; this is the first time that NStar has trained any kids in how to use the combination of Power Cost Monitors – we like to call them “Smart Meters” -- and Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitors. (If we do a good job using these tools, then they hope to do a lot of other trainings with kids, so we really hope this works so everyone can learn more about energy use and have fun doing it.)

We learned how to do this when we went to NStar on January 2nd – a visit arranged for us by Mary McCarthy, NStar’s Residential Program Manager, and David MacLellan, who is the technical expert.
He explained how to use the tools they were giving us. Listen to our training on this YouTube video.
He and Mary also gave us good suggestions about
various things we can do in our homes to try to reduce the amount of energy we use. For example, do you know that it ALWAYS makes sense to turn lights off when you leave a room, no matter how long you are going to be away from it? And shutting down computers when you are through using them is a good idea, too.
Here is a link to a short video that tells you how to install and use a Power Cost Monitor:

One of the Sprouts decided to write about the ways her family is planning to make small changes in their home so, as a family, they can be more energy efficient. And they will use these tools we got from NStar to see if their changes make a positive difference.

By Eliza

My family is taking part in the Sprouts Energy Efficiency project. This means that we will have to make changes in our daily lives to conserve energy. First we set up the two meters. Part of the Smart Meter goes around our electric meter outside and the other part, which tells us what is happening with our energy use, stays inside. (I'm showing you pictures of the two parts of the Smart Meter here.) The Kill A Watt one always stays inside and we plug things into it to get readings on energy use. After we did this, my mom and dad and two brothers and I had a meeting about all the different ways we could conserve energy.

I found out that we already had Energy Star kitchen appliances, such as our dishwasher, which meant we are conserving a lot of energy in our kitchen. We also have a basement freezer and it wastes a lot of energy. My parents will be looking into ways to either get rid of our basement freezer or use it in a more energy efficient way. Same with our dehumidifier that is in the basement too. Even though it is a crucial device to prevent things like mold, it consumes a lot of energy. Most dehumidifiers are turned on 24 hours a day, every day, and the cost really adds up on our energy bill. We will be looking into Energy Star dehumidifiers because we’d like to save all that energy!

Washing machines and dryers also use a lot of energy. When we tested our dryer using the tools we’d been given, we found out we are paying $0.04 each hour on our energy bill (just to have it plugged in), which is still a lot. When my dad turned on the dryer, the cost went up to 32 cents per hour. As a family of five, we do laundry a lot and use both the washing machine and dryer. I know there are many families out there that wash as many clothes and even more than we do, which means everyone is using all that energy and paying all that money, too.

At the NSTAR meeting, I learned it is most energy efficient when you use settings for laundry load sizes on your washing machine and dryer. So now we always use the different settings. The best option would be to get an Energy Star (or some other eco-friendly) washing machine/dryer but since they are very expensive most families won’t be able to make that change right away.

But there is one change every family can make with light bulbs. My family is changing all of our incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). One incandescent bulb costs between $1.44 and $2.40 on each month’s energy bill; a CFL that provides the same amount of light costs between $0.38 and $0.67. I am guessing that in my house we use around 100 lights, and only some are fluorescent. Changing to CFL’s will cut down the energy we use by a lot.

Another thing we’re going to do that will make a huge impact on our energy consumption and on our monthly bill is to use power strips to plug in big energy users like TVs and computers. When you don’t use a power strip, and therefore you JUST press the “off” button on the TV or computer, it still uses electricity. For instance, without power strips the average energy bill will be almost $11.00 for the average TV and in between $5.00 and $22.00 for computers, depending on whether they are in sleep mode or not.

The Sprouts’ goal for this project is to cut down on the energy we use in our homes. This way, we can do our part in conserving the precious energy that humans waste every day and reduce our impact on harming the earth. Hopefully after my family and the rest of Sprouts of Hope try this, we’ll be able to tell others about it and they will try it, too. That is what we are planning to do at the Cambridge Science Festival, and hopefully in other ways, too. Maybe, one day, people throughout the world will be using Smart Meters and everyone will be able to easily find out how much energy they are using and then find ways to reduce. This will help protect the earth and conserve energy, things the Sprouts of Hope – and many, many others – are trying so hard to do. It only takes a few small changes to make a big difference.

Join us at the Cambridge Science Festival – in Kresge Auditorium at MIT -- on Saturday, April 25th from noon until 4:00 and find out what we learned and what you can do in your house to reduce wasteful energy use.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Flying Peace Dove

Sprouts of Hope and Boston's First Night Activities and Parade

By Mia

On New Year’s Eve, some of the Sprouts of Hope participated in First Night activities in Boston with Roots & Shoots - New England. In the afternoon, we volunteered at the Roots & Shoots craft table inside the Hynes Auditorium, where a lot of First Night events happen for families during the day. There we helped kids make Peace Doves and write or draw cards with messages of peace for children in Baghdad, Iraq and Nairobi, Kenya. We also cut out the two sides of each Peace Dove after the kids colored them and a paper olive branch and then we assembled the doves on wooden sticks. All the cutting was a little tiring, but it was fun seeing how happy the kids were with their finished Peace Doves or “birds on a stick,” as somebody called them.

You can watch a video of us and the kids making Peace Doves by clicking here:
What we did in the afternoon led up to what we were hoping to do in the big annual First Night parade that Roots & Shoots was going to be a part of. In the parade, we’d carry two giant Peace Doves that others Roots & Shoots kids had helped to make. But with lots of snow and gusty winds and a really cold temperature, we weren’t sure there would be a parade. By late afternoon, the decision was made to go ahead with the parade, and so we put on the layers of clothing we’d brought and got ready to head outside.

We had a banner with the words “Roots & Shoots” and the two big Peace Doves with wings that normally would flap in the wind. I was very excited as we stood getting ready to walk in the parade that would take us up Boylston Street to the Boston Common. A Procession Marshal put Roots & Shoots - New England between a marching band, playing songs like Yankee Doodle real loudly, and kids and grown-ups in an open air circus who were dressed in crazy costumes. Though it was freezing, really cold, and snowing, we could see lots of people looking down from windows of the Hynes Auditorium and waving to us, and ahead of us the streets were lined with people dancing, cheering and blowing horns.

We started marching and the doves looked great blowing in the wind with our banner in front of them. But pretty soon I looked next to me and saw the dove head flying in the wind without the body. We paused to try to put it back on, but the wind was just too strong.
If you want to watch the Peace Dove's head fly off and follow us as we continue marching in the parade, you can watch us on YouTube at

By the time we’d walked a few blocks, the wind had broken both doves and all we had left was the Roots & Shoots banner and the poles and sheets used to make the doves.

And we had the wire basket shaped like a dove’s head that had once been its face. Kaya carried all of this for the rest of the parade. This was all that was left of the doves. But we marched on, holding on to our banner that also blew in the wind. And we had lots of fun anyway. It was a great New Years Eve!