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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Harlingen High School, Harlingen, Texas, USA

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Harlingen High School, Harlingen, Texas, USA
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Registered: December 2012
City/Town/Province: Harlingen
Posts: 1
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Currently a junior at Harlingen High School, I was born and raised in Harlingen, Texas which is located in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. For my Apprentice Ecologist project, I decided to use my artistic talents to create environmentally themed sculptures out of recycled material. With these sculptures, I hoped to spread awareness of ecological issues in my community. Little did I know that my desire to make a difference would take me down an incredible journey of sea turtles, dumpster diving and detective work which ultimately led me to launch multiple litter cleanup events at our high school, plan many more events in the future and create a aluminum recycling program in the process.

At the beginning of the school year in August, while brainstorming ideas for my Apprentice Ecologist Project – I was reminded that I needed a theme for my AP Art portfolio. After a brief period of frustration, it finally hit me to create a collection of sculptures made out litter and trash I found lying in the hallways. Though I had never done sculptures before, my excitement was fueled by my passion of recycling and protecting the environment. Over the course of two months (and thereafter) I collected various pieces of trash such as candy wrappers, cans, and plastic bottles which were littered throughout the school. Instead of just picking up the litter that I thought would be good to use for my sculptures, I picked up all the litter I saw during my “scavenging.” It was really nice to collect materials and at the same time help clean up my school, so I decided to recruit help from my friends in Key Club. Being a member of a highly student led organization – I was able to create my own event to get others involved in actively cleaning up our school. Averaging at about 5-8 members participating in each session, I was glad people were also interested in cleaning up the school.

After I collected enough materials, it wasn’t hard to find inspiration for my first sculpture:

When I was in the fourth grade, I went on a field trip to “Sea Turtles Inc.” – a sea turtle refuge in South Padre Island, Texas. There I was able run my hands across the cool and bumpy shell of a Kemp Ridley turtle injured by a boating accident; even then I felt a strong connection to the animals and environmental protection. During the seminar, I was told the Kemp Ridley Turtle, which is native to the Rio Grande Valley coast, is considered one of the most endangered sea turtles in the world. I also learned that trash, such as plastic bottles, dumped into the ocean plays a major hazard to marine wildlife. Drifting across the sea, it takes mere days for plastic bottles to “decompose” under the scorching sun. Yet unlike regular biological decomposition, petroleum based plastic bottles only decompose into small and toxic plastic fragment that are lethally ingested by marine life. Moreover, plastic soda rings prove to be a choking hazard for many marine animals including turtles. This information has always resonated with me and I knew I had to create public awareness.

During the month of October, I completed my first sculpture depicting three Sea Turtles made completely out of the plastic bottles to represent the terrible link that connects plastic litter and the vulnerable marine life. Furthermore, as Secretary of my school’s Key Club, I played a major role in developing an end of the year service project in which our members will travel to South Padre Island and participate in the annual beach cleanup event. As mentioned I think this project will largely benefit the environment by reducing the amount of litter carried away into our oceans and spread awareness through active participation.

In November I had to make a self-portrait for my portfolio, so I completed a self-portrait using the shape of a shadow cast by a pile of trash to outline my silhouette. When I showed this image to my friends, teachers, and family it proved to be shocking and very interesting; they all wanted to know more about my project and I was glad to share information.

Most of the materials I used were collected during the school clean up events I started at the beginning of the year – but some pieces of trash I had to “dive into the dumpsters” for:

Tugging at the latches on a gray capped trash can, wiping mash potatoes off my white latex gloves, and searching through massive piles of uneaten food was my typical day for the two weeks when I “dumpster-dived” after school. Most of the trash was from lunch so I usually only dealt with milk and juice cartons, plastic utensils, Styrofoam trays and plenty of (sometimes completely untouched) food. In this experience I worked with terrible smells, yet by dumpster-diving I was able to see the mass amounts of food and plastic waste thrown by my school.

Thus, in December I began working on my sculpture “Dinospork,” a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton made out of the plastic utensils I found in the trash cans and in the hallways. My art stems from my knowledge of sustainability and I wanted to create a large scale sculpture to show how much we waste every day.

I saw tons of plastic utensils thrown into the trash. These utensils: a fork, spoon, straw and a napkin are bundle together using unrecyclable cellophane for “convenience” – my study of the dumpsters in our school however, showed that this bundling proved to be the opposite. I discovered that many plastic spoons and forks are thrown away completely unused because the students are forced to take the entire packet of utensils when they only needed a napkin or straw. If our cafeteria provided a simple napkin and straw dispenser, then students would be able to greatly reduce their plastic waste.

In the future, my Apprentice Ecologist Project has inspired me to create a petition and present a proposal to the school administrators to prove that napkin and straw dispensers should be available during lunch.

During my dumpster diving I also noticed cardboard boxes next to the trash containers where students had been throwing there aluminum cans. I have always assumed that these boxes were put out by the school administration to recycle aluminum but wondered why this project was never fully publicized. Spending time after-school I was able to speak with multiple janitors who told me they were unaware of any recycling campaign and had been throwing out the aluminum cans all this time!

Doing research I learned that recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy used to make a can from new materials, and unlike plastic or paper, aluminum never wears out – so it can be recycled over and over again. These facts were startling, so I decided to take immediate action: As part of the Science Club I decided to start an Aluminum recycling program at my school. In the first week, we collected about 200 cans from the boxes that would have been thrown out.

I hope to continue my Apprentice Ecologist project by making more sculptures out of trash; I’m also inspired to extend my Apprentice Ecologist project and create artistic posters around the school to create environmental awareness in the community.

The Apprentice Ecologist Project has enriched my life tremendously in that I learned to take action and leadership when I see a problem. When my sculptures spark in my audience the same curiosity I had as a kid, I understand how spreading environmental awareness is crucial to fostering a hands-on impact on the environment.

What started out as a simple sculpture collection has developed into the many environmental projects I created along the way: cleaning up the litter in my high school’s hallways, reducing plastic waste, and an aluminum recycling campaign. I don’t know what journeys my sculptures will take me on next, but I’m eager to see what in store for me in the future.
Date: December 31, 2012 Views: 7979 File size: 11.1kb, 2100.6kb : 3253 x 1500
Hours Volunteered: 51
Volunteers: 16
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 17 & 14 to 18
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