Registered: December 2014
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As environmental ethicist Aldo Leopold once said, “Conservation is a state of harmony between humans and the land.” In the spirit of this quotation, I’d like to share with you why I believe I am uniquely qualified for The Young Apprentice Ecologist Scholarship.
In the spring of 2012 during my sophomore year, a good friend and I decided to start an environmental club at our high school shortly after a devastating oil spill destroyed part of the Kalamazoo River and its surrounding ecosystem. There were only a few other active clubs at the time, so we were a little unsure of how to get our club started. We asked our biology teacher, Mrs. Robinson, if she could help us, and she agreed to be our advisor. After a meeting with the principal, some poster making, and planning, we had our first meeting. The club is now in its third year and engaged in a variety of dynamic activities. We have approximately twenty active members and have organized everything from our school’s current recycling program to seasonal after-school grounds cleanups.
A specific project I organized within the Marshall High School Environmental Club involved one of the district’s elementary schools. My mother teaches kindergarten there, and I thought it would be enjoyable and rewarding for the high school eco-club members to work with the younger students to promote green habits and environmental awareness within the community. After all, the future of our planet lies not only in our hands, but significantly in the hands of the younger generations.
As the eco-club leader, I organized a lesson plan and activity for the seventy kindergarten students at Walters Elementary. Our lesson involved an interactive story in which we had a fish tank, various pollutants like oil, plastics, and cleaning products, and a cut-out sponge fish. We let the students name our fish with each lesson; some days he was Bob, others he was Max or Angel. I came up with a script for the high school volunteers to narrate the fish’s story with. We told the story of a very content fish, happily spending his days in the Kalamazoo River just down the road. One of us would hold the sponge fish in the clean tank at the beginning of the story. We asked the kindergarteners how they thought Bob or Angel was feeling at this point; the usual answers were happy or excited or safe.
As the story continued, we dumped each pollutant into the tank and asked the children questions about the fish’s safety, health, and quality of life. By the end of the story, the river was filled with oil, plastics, aluminum cans, and cleaning products. The kindergarten students all agreed that the fish’s world - its ecosystem - had been compromised. It didn’t have anything to eat, and could barely breathe or see. We then fostered a discussion of ideas that could prevent the fish from feeling this way, and the tank from becoming so polluted. Although simple, the children’s ideas were thoughtful and important. They shared ideas of recycling the cans, not dumping oil, refraining from littering, and using greener cleaning products.
In the next part of the lesson we worked with the students to plant native grass seeds in recycled egg cartons, so that they could take them home and plant them when the grasses matured. We made caterpillars out of the cartons for the kids to decorate and take care of. The kindergarteners were shown how to water their caterpillars, keep them in the sunlight, and nurture them. At the end, we taught the kids a nature-centered song and sung it with them.
In the following weeks, we visited two more groups of elementary students, taught our fish lesson, brainstormed ideas for a greener community, talked about clean energy, and even picked up trash on the playground with the fourth grade students.
Our project was very successful in reaching its goal of promoting environmental consciousness in the younger generation. Elementary students are at an impressionable age in their development, so by introducing them to habits and ideas of conservation and respect for the earth, we can foster a long-lasting environmental mindfulness throughout their lives. I feel that we have done something by helping the future leaders of the world understand the importance of conservation.
I hope to to visit even more classrooms and neighboring elementary schools this year to continue to work with the younger students and instill in them, as future stewards of the earth, a sense of environmentalism. As an admitted student at the University of Michigan next fall, the Young Apprentice Ecologist Scholarship would help me reach my goal of attaining a degree in environmental sciences so that I could continue to be an advocate for our planet and work toward the state of harmony that Leopold desired.
END OF ESSAY
Post-project Interview with NWP:
What are your educational, career, and life goals?
In the fall, I plan to attend the University of Michigan to study pre-medicine and plant biology. I hope to be actively involved on campus in environmental initiatives, community activism, and social justice issues. After graduating, I hope to go on to medical school and to one day become a practicing naturopathic physician. Throughout my lifetime, I plan to be a dedicated contributor to environmental research and activism.
What do you think are the benefits of the Apprentice Ecologist Award Initiative and how has your Apprentice Ecologist Project enriched you life?
The Apprentice Ecologist Award will assist me in furthering my education so that I can continue to cultivate environmental activism in my community, as well as receive an education to practice my many other passions in the STEM fields. The Apprentice Ecologist Project has given me a better understanding of young students’ attitudes towards environmental issues as well as a perspective on the importance of environmental education for younger generations. More importantly, I hope that my project had as great of an impact on the elementary students involved who will one day be facing many of the same environmental issues that we are today.
Why do you feel it is important to be an active steward in the environment and in the future?
Since a young age, I have had a passion to be involved in protecting the natural world around me, as well as an interest in activism. Together, these have inspired me to become a dedicated member of the environmental movement. I strongly believe that we owe our Earth a tremendous amount of respect for what it offers us, and hope to cultivate this respect through projects such as my Apprentice Ecologist activity. In addition, I believe that this generation owes it to the next that we do everything in our power to ensure a safe and healthy world for everyone.