Middle School Students Tell LAUSD: No More Styrofoam!
It wasn't until they dissected an albatross stomach that Ann Holtzinger's sixth-grade students at Thomas Starr King Middle School truly understood what was happening with the trash they were throwing away every day at lunch. "We found bottle caps," a student named Sook says. "We learned not to litter plastic because fish might eat it. Once we eat it, we get the chemicals in our bodies." That is just one of the reasons the sixth grader is a vegetarian, she informs me.
The lesson in ocean-bound plastic was a transformative moment for most of the class at the Los Angeles school. "Everyone's concerned about how it's affecting animals like seagulls and sea animals," Marisol tells me. "We want to show how you can make a difference by volunteering or doing service." In their case, making a difference meant collecting the used Styrofoam trays from their cafeteria and stringing them up into 30-foot art installation in the center of campus that they hoped would get their school's—and their district's—attention.
The project is part of the curriculum at Farm King, the school's garden, where Holtzinger's students go every Tuesday for duties like harvesting cavolo nero kale and calculating the number of worms in a square foot of soil. Volunteer and garden manager Brian Miller, who runs a photography company when he's not elbow deep in compost, came up with the concept because he wanted to give ecology studies some real-world relevancy. "These students will be putting lessons into direct action," he says.
After carrying their trash around for a week, the students visited the Burbank Recycling Center, where they uncovered a horrific truth about one of the most prevalent materials in their school: Styrofoam. "They don't even recycle it!" a group of students answer in unison when I ask what's so bad about it. "They don't collect it because it turns into little bits," says Miya.
The students began camping out at the recycle bins after lunch to intercept the Styrofoam trays, which they cleaned, brought to the garden, and began stringing onto a rope, like a giant white necklace. The garden itself is positioned in the center of the school, so their highly-visible, large-scale craft project has been noticed by all students (and teachers) as they change classes. But to reinforce their message, the children spent weeks designing and painting signs to encourage their fellow 2,000 students to monitor their own waste. "Plastic is not fantastic!" one of the signs scolds.