Registered: December 2009
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Environmental Outreach Initiative: Spreading Awareness
Eighty percent of the world’s original forests have been depleted from our Earth through a process known as deforestation, according to Greenpeace International. Furthermore, the rate of deforestation continues to sharply increase, as a result of destructive human activity. Society has forever been dependent on the gifts that Mother Nature has provided to us: the food we eat, the land we live on, and the air we breathe, and we must be thankful for these gifts. However, a culture of environmental irresponsibility has developed overtime, resulting in the creation of a mind unconscious of the gifts we have been bestowed upon, as well as the practice of harmful ecological tendencies. This culture has been reflected, not only by the aforementioned deforestation, but also by other effects of environmental irresponsibility, including erosion, soil exhaustion, and global warming. These harmful consequences of irresponsibility will continue to proliferate if citizens do not take actions for their environment. If proper responsibilities are not taken into consideration and action, our world will inevitably succumb to environmental failure. My name is Andrew Kim, a freshman at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia and a recent graduate of Cedar Shoals High School in Athens, Georgia, where I conducted my Apprentice Ecological Initiative.
I first became interested in the environment and the measures necessary to save our environment after volunteering at my local botanical garden’s student day camp, where my experienced led to two realizations: 1) an invested appreciation for the environment, after having to teach classes about the earth, and 2) a career in daycare is definitely not for me. Despite my exasperating yet rewarding experience with the campers, I knew that environmental change would be most effective if implemented within our future leaders, the youth, particularly pre-college, young adults, or teenagers. This realization came complementary with my entrance into my senior year of high school, a time at which my school lacked an organized recycling program for bottles and cans as well as a formal environmental education curriculum. As my last year in high school, I hoped to leave a positive impact and give back to my school after four years of receiving an education, and to initiate a culture of environmental awareness would fulfill my goal. As a result, as my Apprentice Ecological Initiative, I chose to create a culture of environmental awareness at Cedar Shoals High School and Clarke County School District through an educational approach. My project was to organize a weeklong environmental education campaign at my school to increase environmental awareness, by providing opportunities for leadership and volunteering to students, both general and at-risk/socioeconomic, by taking action through service-learning opportunities, and by fostering a group of future leaders to continue the efforts of the week. The initiative was titled the “Environmental Outreach Initiative (EOI).”
The Environmental Outreach Initiative (EOI) took place during the fourth week of April, beginning on the 18th and ending on the 22nd, or Earth Day. Originally planned as a one-day activity, EOI was extended to one week, in order to consolidate as many aspects of the environment within a focused period of time, in order to effectively and efficiently showcase the different aspects of the environment. I was involved in a number of campus clean-up and beautification events in my past high school years, however I believed that it would best to group all the efforts into one week, to optimize the visualization of our environment. Each day of EOI educated the students on a different environmental concern and was planned to effectively utilize what the students learned by volunteering and leading, through service learning. The week ended with the school’s first Environmental Fair, where local environmental education organizations were recruited to speak about their services and educate the student body about the environment. Eight months prior to EOI, the first month of my senior year, because of the lack of an environmental student group on campus, I recruited a small group of interested students and teachers to create a taskforce to help plan and provide opinion for the event. A proposal was drafted and presented to the school administration for approval six months prior. Upon approval, small community and school grants and donations were acquired for basic materials, including printing, t-shirts, food, and custodial and security services, which were mandated by the school system. A logistical schedule of the event was finalized four months prior to EOI and six local environmental education organizations were contacted to speak at the final day’s Environmental Fair. One month prior to the event, the taskforce began advertising for the week of EOI.
The Environmental Outreach Initiative opened with Awareness Day on Monday, where the school was decorated with recyclables as both an advertisement and educational method, that recyclables could be used as art. In conjunction with the Cedar Shoals Visual Arts Department, art students decorated the grand commons area with creations made from bottles, cardboard, and in essence, anything from the landfill. Slips of environmental facts were distributed to students, printed by the school library on previously one-sided-printed paper, and daily announcements included uncommon facts about the environment. Monday was visually distinguished by our “Green-Out” initiative, where students were encouraged to wear green clothing.
Tuesday followed with the first day of environmental education, where teachers were encouraged to hold class outside in the school’s rain garden, a depression in the ground used to collect runoff water, to prevent pollution of drainages and stream ways. Tables, chairs, blackboards, and canopies were placed in the rain garden. A teacher’s guide was created and distributed to educate teachers about the necessary steps to become a “green” classroom, mainly through the process of teaching materials. The first countywide meeting on the implementation of environmental education was also held on Tuesday at Cedar Shoals, where Clarke County School District curriculum representatives, Cedar Shoals science teachers, Keep Athens-Clarke County Beautiful director, a local environmental organization, and members of the taskforce discussed the need to create environmental educational coursework in the curriculum. Current statewide teaching standards and low test scores have prohibited funding for environmental education in the state standards (Georgia Performance Standards), however, the school district possesses the authority to revise county-specific standards for certain subject areas, specifically vocational studies and science. An afterschool training session for recruited volunteers and volunteer-leaders was conducted, to confirm the roles of every volunteer. This was a step I believed to be imperative during my planning process, as this effort of delegation would allow students to take leadership roles and responsibilities, learn through the experiences, and continue the efforts of EOI. Teachers were asked to solicit and recommend students, particularly at-risk students, who displayed leadership skills. Due to extraneous socioeconomic forces uncontrollable by the student, at-risk students are oftentimes limited of a number of experiences due to certain circumstances individual to each child’s case; however, this does not disprove their character as a future leader. It is important to provide these students with these opportunities, as their personal life may hinder them from pursuing different activities within school and may be limited of certain experiences.
Wednesday marked the school’s first-ever recycling program for bottles and cans, in conjunction with Clarke County School District’s Custodial Services and Athens-Clarke County Recycling. A weekly pickup schedule of bottles, cans, and paper was agreed upon, and students of Cedar Shoals’ special education program would collect the recyclables, in order to teach task completion and skill-based learning. This activity was one of the most enriching of all the experiences in EOI, as the students of the special education program enjoyed the responsibility of collecting the recyclables. A school-wide competition was created to identity the homeroom class with the greatest weight of recyclables, with the incentive of a pizza party.
Thursday was EOI’s Beautification Day, where the most volunteering work hours were done. Throughout the school period, volunteer classes helped clear invasive species, spread mulch, and planted at the school’s rain garden and memory garden, a garden created to commemorate faculty and staff who have passed away. The road outside the school was also adopted through the “Adopt-a-Highway” program, and with copious amounts of fluorescent clothing, students picked up trash from the road. Shrubs were donated from local nurseries and planted in front of the school’s marquee and entryway as an afterschool project with the Boys and Girls Club of Athens. The help of student volunteers came to immense help on this day, as much of the week was led on an individual basis.
Friday saw the last day of EOI, with the culminating event of the Environmental Fair. Throughout the day, classes rotated within the rain garden to each environmental organization’s booth, led by a group of student volunteers. A total of 746 students participated in the Environmental Fair as exhibitors, with 20 volunteers at the whole-day event. After school, the school’s first recycling program extended to the school’s first sports recycling program, where students collected cans and bottles at the school’s football game. Over 50 filled garbage bags of recyclables were collected, and exchanged for cash to be donated to the school’s Habitat for Humanity club.
As a result of EOI, a number of programs continue today: the special education recycling program, the creation of a school environmental club, the implementation of the school’s first recycling program, and a new agricultural science class under the environmental science department. Personally, I gained invaluable leadership and volunteer experience through EOI, and I was introduced to a new area of the environment, environmental policy. I was invited to join the school district’s sustainability group to mandate recycling at Clarke County School District, where I have presented data and research on the Environmental Outreach Initiative and other efforts of the sustainability group. Eventually, I hope to help Cedar Shoals High School and Clarke County School District become a model school system to help influence other systems to follow and spread their knowledge on the environment, and ultimately, create a ripple effect. Moreover, through the efforts of recruiting youth volunteers, I hope the students who participated in EOI spread their environmental knowledge and newly acquired leadership skills to implement similar efforts to whichever community they will live in one day.
The Apprentice Ecologist Initiative has provided me the invaluable experience and opportunity to pursue my interest in the environment and support a cause that I feel strongly about. I hope to have opened the eyes of others to the benefits of the environment, and ultimately, create a culture of environmental awareness, to each individual that participated in the Environmental Outreach Initiative.
Mother Nature provides the land for shelter, the fruit for nourishment, as well as the necessities for life. Not only does she tend for our needs, she provides us the luxuries of life: breathtaking scenery, outdoor escapes, and a home to live in. The Earth is a gift to humanity and should be accepted with full gratitude and complete respect. Through preservation, caretaking, and stewardship, the human race can give thanks to Mother Nature and responsibly take in what her Earth has to offer.
END OF ESSAY
Post-project Interview with NWP:
WHERE DO YOU ATTEND OR PLAN TO ATTEND COLLEGE AND WHAT IS YOUR FIELD OF STUDY/INTEREST?
I am attending Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, majoring in Anthropology & Human Biology with a minor in Predictive Health & Society.
HOW WILL YOU USE THIS SCHOLARSHIP TOWARD YOUR EDUCATION?
This scholarship will help pay for textbook fees.
HOW ELSE WILL YOU BE PAYING FOR YOUR ACADEMIC AND RELATED EXPENSES WHILE IN COLLEGE?
Aside from government- and institutional-based financial aid, I have received academic merit scholarship from Emory, as well as additional private scholarships to help pay for my college expenses. I am extremely grateful for these outside scholarships to help subside the costs of college fees.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE EDUCATIONAL, CAREER, AND LIFE GOALS?
I hope to become a practicing neuropsychiatrist, with an emphasis in environmental public health. My passions and interests in closing the healthcare disparity gap and providing care for all, particularly underrepresented regions and populations, as well as in preventative medicine and the environment will fuel my long but fruitful life endeavors. I also hope to motivate others to become active in giving back to the community and Mother Nature, as our scarce resources must be sustained and replenished.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE LONG-TERM BENEFITS TO YOUTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT MADE POSSIBLE BY THE APPRENTICE ECOLOGIST INITIATIVE?
The Apprentice Ecologist Initiative provides youth the opportunity and motivation to continue their efforts in helping the environment through means of citizenship, leadership, and creativity. The Initiative also recognizes youth for their hard work and passion towards the environment, fostering a group of future leaders to sustain today’s natural resources.
HOW HAS YOUR APPRENTICE ECOLOGIST INITIATIVE PROJECT ENRICHED YOUR LIFE?
My project has allowed me to create a lasting impact on my community and hopefully influence others to explore their interests and take action. Having the satisfaction and confidence that the future generation of leaders will take initiative provides relief and joy to me, and I hope that other youth will be able to take back from their experience just as I have.
WHY DO YOU FEEL IT IS IMPORTANT TO BE AN ACTIVE STEWARD OF THE ENVIRONMENT NOW AND IN THE FUTURE?
Due to the past global culture, the environment has taken an extreme toll due to poor and ignorant practices. By acting as a steward for our environment, I hope to be able to replenish and recover the damage done to our environment and create plans to prevent any additional injury to Mother Nature, through efforts of awareness and action. It is important to act as an active steward as our resources are scare and the possibility that the future generation will not bear the fruits of Mother Nature’s labor lingers. Moreover, we must show appreciation and gratitude for the resources we have been presented to sustain life.