Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sprouts of Hope: Telling Our Stories to Adults

Speaking at the Massachusetts Environmental Education Society Conference

By Kaya

The Sprouts of Hope were extremely happy when Roots & Shoots New England told us we were invited to speak at the MEES conference. MEES stands for Massachusetts Environmental Education Society, and the organizers of its annual conference wanted us to talk about what we’d learned in trying to make our school, King Open in Cambridge, MA more “green” and also about some of our other environmental activities.

Learn more about MEES at:

Very early on Wednesday, March 4th (a school day!!) the seven Sprouts of Hope climbed into the car and we drove for about an hour to get to Holy Cross college in Worchester. The ride didn’t seem long because we were talking and listening to music on our Ipods, so it wasn’t a boring ride. We also got to miss the first half of the school day! This made the day even more fun.

There were lots of people who came to this conference, all of them adults; we were the only kids. Also Christine Ellersick, the program manager at the New England chapter of Roots & Shoots was there too, and she helped us provide information about Roots & Shoots to the people who came to hear us speak.

Here's Christine talking about Roots & Shoots -- and that us on the screen behind her.

We had our own room to do our presentation, and Maya and Mia were the Sprouts who talked that morning. [We take turns in speaking at events. ] About 25 adults came to listen because, as they told us, they were curious about how to make their schools greener by doing things like composting or starting a “green” club with the students. There were principals and teachers, even a Spanish teacher, and some who were students at universities. This made us excited and nervous! Principals! Wow!

We prepared a slideshow with pictures of a lot of our activities. We had pictures that show us speaking to the Cambridge School Committee about replacing our polystyrene lunch trays, and the Waste Free Lunch days we did at our school, our exhibit last year at the Cambridge Science festival about waste reduction, and our work in our school’s City Sprouts garden. The music we put with the pictures was from High School Musical; it’s called “We’re All In This Together.” At each seat we placed one of our “6 R’s” cards (you can see what the 6 R card we designed looks like below) and a couple of papers about Roots & Shoots that Christine had brought.
Our Talk

First Maya introduced all of us, and then she told the adults how we prepared for and organized our waste-free lunch days at our school and how we try to live by the six R’s – Rethink, Renew, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot – and teach others about how they can live with them, too. She told them about the survey we did in our school when we asked kids at King Open how they packed their lunch and what they did with the waste from it. Then, Maya let them know that normally our school produces 8 or 9 bags of trash per day and how on our waste free lunch days we were able to reduce that number by half. But, she told them, the number always went up again when the waste free lunch day was over. Our goal is to get kids to think about this every day so that the number of cafeteria trash bags can down to 3 each day.

Maya explained that our school can’t yet switch from using the polystyrene trays to using ones we can compost because they cost a lot more and we don't have composting in place. By the time we have our composting program in place, we hope the price of the other trays has dropped. We brought some trays with us – we call the polystyrene one the “bad” tray and the other one “good” – and we passed those around so everyone could see and feel the difference. Mia explained what happens when the trays are recycled. Amazingly, I had some of the little plastic pellets (the ones the polystyrene gets turned into) in my pocket, so we passed those around too. Mia told them that one big problem is that a lot of kids still throw their trays in with the trash so they don’t even get recycled. This means they go into landfills and end up giving off methane gas and that is really bad for global warming.

Mia talked about a lot of the activities that the Sprouts of Hope have done. She describe how each year we raise money so that we can give it away to support other groups doing good things in their communities. And she told them about the two times we’ve done an exhibit on opening day of the Cambridge Science Festival. We are going to another opening day exhibit about energy efficiency at this year’s Cambridge Science Festival on Saturday, April 25. Follow the link, below, to find out more about the festival. It's really fun, and we hope you’ll come to see our exhibit and the others on April 25th:

Maya talked about our current project with NStar. It involves each of us using a Power Cost Monitors and Kilo-watt meter at our home to measure our energy use. She also spoke about a school fundraising project we did with NStar when students like us sold fluorescent light bulbs. When she told a story about how one girl bought 100 bulbs for a “green wedding,” many people laughed and clapped their hands enthusiastically.

Mia then shared some important lessons we’ve learned in the two years we’ve been active in Roots & Shoots as the Sprouts of Hope.

  1. It's important kids understand they should try not to change everything all at the same time.
  2. Teach patience and persistence. It’s a winning combination!
  3. Don’t give up when something doesn’t work for the first time.
  4. Make good partners; include parents, teachers, staff, administrators and city employees.
  5. Help kids learn to document what they do – like this blog we do reminds us of what we’ve accomplished. And kids can use a blog to share their stories and communicate with others about what they’ve done.
  6. Celebrate your successes. Each year, the Sprouts go to an indoor rock climbing wall and we have fun helping each other to climb. And then we eat a cake and celebrate what we’ve done together.
  7. Evaluate how to best spent your limited time and energy.
  8. Be open to serendipity. Like this year when we went rock climbing, the guy who led us invited us to do one of our bake sales at MetroRock when they have a competition.

You can see our panel and listen to one of the teachers who was there talking about our talk on a short video we made:

Maya and Mia spoke wonderfully and answered questions at the end of their presentation. All the adults thanked us for doing such a good job in teaching them about what kids can do and how adults can encourage and support their efforts. Some of them didn’t know what they should do in their green clubs at their schools, so we offered advice. Others want to start a composting program at their school. Since our composting program is starting at our school on March 11th, we could tell them how we are preparing for that big event – with the pep rallies we are doing and how some of the other Cambridge departments, like the Department of Public Works which does the recycling and composting, are helping us to succeed.

When we drove to school, we were happy about how we'd shared what we’ve done and passed along some ideas and lessons learned that we think are helpful. Usually it’s the opposite, adults teach kids, but this time it was kids teaching adults. In the car, we were singing (at times yelling) along with the radio. It was fun to think that we'd taught others and learned a couple of things too at the event, so we were all extremely proud of ourselves. Go Sprouts of Hope!!!!!!

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