When Jane Millen organized a field trip for her Grade 6 class from Spring Creek Elementary School to pick up litter at Alpha Lake as part of the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup last September, she had no idea that this would set into motion a student-driven year-long quest to change the world.
Following in the wake of the cleanup buzz, her class yearned to learn more about the world’s plastic pollution problem. In the course of their research, they read an article on banning plastic bags in Toronto, which prompted them to question, if Toronto could do it, why not Whistler too? A letter was then written to the Whistler mayor and delivered in person by two of her students.
So, what sparked this revolution?
Millen points to the natural enthusiasm of the students.
“I think this is the age where kids are coming to be much more aware of the big picture of the world,” she said. “And now they’re looking beyond their community and seeing what is out there and they’re finding their place in the world.”
They have also learned some valuable life lessons along the way, noted Millen.
In December the class learned that their dream of a plastic bag-free Whistler was slipping away from them because in B.C. it is the jurisdiction of the provincial government, not the municipalities, to make such a decision and at the moment the province was not interested in banning plastic bags, she explained.
“So I said to my students, ‘Well, we tried, we did our best, maybe we should give up,’” recalled Millen.
But they were strongly opposed to that suggestion and instead brainstormed what else they could do to create a plastic free world. Soon they had developed projects and teamed up to get to work. In January they discovered that Science World holds an annual B.C. Green Games contest, which is designed to encourage kindergarten to Grade 12 students to share projects that make positive changes in their communities relating to sustainable development, greenhouse gas reduction or environmental stewardship. The deadline to submit their video is the end of February, with the winners announced in April.
The projects her students came up with are amazing, she added.
One group has created a website and blog on how plastic hurts the environment; another is making a stop-motion animated Lego video where the characters are picking up litter; and another group created a letter to parents with concrete suggestions on how families could reduce plastic use.
One project involves making a video for intermediate students on how to reduce plastic use, while another project consists of organizing two more shoreline cleanups.
Yet another group made brochures to hand out in the Village and another group is making a video on reducing plastic bag use. And finally, one group is focusing on distributing cloth bags in collaboration with a high school home economics teacher.
When Millen asked her students why reducing plastic is so important to them Emma Cronin wrote: “I want the world to be as amazing and beautiful as it is now for the next generation and to be able to say I made a difference in the world.”
“When we grow old and pass away I want my children and grandchildren to see how beautiful this world is and if we don’t stop reducing plastic it won’t stay this awesome,” added Eric Smith.
“Without plastic we will live on earth much longer and we would live in a much cleaner place. A green place is a happier place,” wrote Sophie Saint-Jacques.
Nikolas Rohde also wrote, “I think that we are such a small class, but we make a really big difference.”
“It’s been really great to see the students take ownership of it and really go with it,” said Millen. “They’re really excited about doing this work and seeing what impact they can have, which is what I want them to see. I want them to see that they have the power to make a change. I want them to go out into the world thinking that they have rights and responsibilities as citizens of the world and they can make a difference. And I think it’s working so far.”