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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Stonewall Jackson High School, Manassas, Virginia, USA

Stonewall Jackson High School, Manassas, Virginia, USA
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Registered: December 2019
City/Town/Province: Bristow
Posts: 1
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My name is Alex and I am a freshman at the University of Virginia. I conducted my Apprentice Ecologist project as a senior at Stonewall Jackson High School this past spring. I chose to do an Apprentice Ecologist project on behalf of the Nicodemus Wilderness Project because I live close to and our waterways connect to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Spreading awareness for the conservation of this major ecosystem has always been important to me. Many of my friends, peers, and family members were unaware of how much of an impact our daily actions can have on this watershed and the environment around our homes, schools, and malls. I believe that the first step in making a difference for an area of land is educating the public about why it is necessary to conserve and preserve it. Therefore, my Apprentice Ecologist project consisted of an Anti-Single-Use Plastic Straw Challenge and an "I Pledge To..." poster.
The first part of my project involved spreading awareness for microplastics and single-use plastics that pollute our waterways and how we can reduce our negative impact on these problems. The second part of my project involved creating a poster to compile the many small efforts that my peers can take to make their lives more sustainable. Not very many of my community members knew about the microplastic problem, as a lot of attention is placed on macroplastics, the big pieces of trash that litter consists of. These microplastics have an even bigger impact on the environment than their macro counterparts due to their ability to go undetected by the naked eye, be ingested by fauna, and accumulate dangerous chemicals. I wanted to make a difference on this problem by spreading awareness for the small actions that my community members can take to make a more positive impact on our Bay. While my poster project was conducted primarily at Stonewall Jackson High School, my straw challenge was conducted with other members of the Prince William County community. Special emphasis was put on conserving the Chesapeake Bay Watershed in my educational talks, even though my project did not directly involve cleaning the Bay or visiting it.
Some people might think that they don't need to care about the microplastic issue because they are only one person and therefore can't make change, or that they won't be around to see what the future is like, so they don't have to care about it. In reality, our actions today will affect our lives in as soon as the next 10 years. My goal for my challenge was to spread awareness for this global issue and to make my peers and community members more consciously aware of their actions on the environment. I challenged them to eliminate plastic straws from their daily lives. By doing this, I hoped to show them that the actions that take the least effort to do are the ones that will make the most difference to our planet. I provided each of my volunteers a chart equipped with columns and rows to fill their information in. The columns contained questions like the date; location (house, restaurant, drive thru, etc.); type of drink (fountain, coffee, water, etc.); if you could have, did you use a disposable plastic straw; did you use a straw other than a disposable plastic one (metal, paper, etc.); did you specifically say, "No Straw Please"; and were you given a straw even if you said you didn't want one. I had them document every instance that they could have, did, or did not use a single-use, disposable, plastic straw from March 1st through the 31st. If they just had a drink of water at home and didn't use a straw, I did not have them document that, but if they ordered a glass of water at a restaurant and used/could have used a straw, they must document that, even if they didn't use one. I told them that I would not think any different of them for their data, as this is for educational purposes only, and a challenge for themselves.
Through this project I was successful in challenging my peers to lessen their single use plastic impact by simply not using disposable plastic straws. When I compiled the data, I found that 25 of the 30 people I challenged successfully did not use a single disposable straw for the entire month. I also found that 50% of them attempted to use a reusable straw during this challenge, and that 20 of them said "No Straw Please" when they ordered at restaurants every time. Assuming that all the data was honest, I was very pleased with these numbers. However, I wanted to educate a broader range of my peers with my Apprentice Ecologist project, so I created a large 2.5x3 foot poster that said "I Pledge To..." at the top. Below this title, I drew a large outline of a heart. For one week, I visited different lunch periods everyday at my high school, carrying blue and green sticky notes and pens. I walked around to each table, asking my peers if they would write one sustainable action that they pledge to change in their lives to make a more positive impact. A lot of them did not know what to write, so they brainstormed a bunch of ideas together, signing their names and jotting down their favorite actions to stick onto the poster. Some of my favorites were, "I pledge to shop more at thrift shops and other second hand stores for clothes", "I pledge to use more Tupperware and less plastic sandwich bags", and "I pledge to use more cloth towels and less paper towels in my kitchen". When they were finished writing down their pledges, I had them place their sticky notes respectively where land and water would go on a generic map of the globe, to make the heart look like it was the Earth.
Through my plastic straw challenge, I wanted to spread microplastic and single use plastic awareness throughout my community. After assessing the data, I can confirm that the challenge was a success and that my participants were informed about the microplastic problem and how easy it is to reduce their single use plastic impact. Through my Pledge poster, I wanted to encourage my peers to make a variety of impacts by pledging to make some small, reasonable, and sustainable change to their daily lives. From the amount of people who sent me pictures of them actually fulfilling their pledges to the number of students who told me during lunchtime that they had no idea there were so many things they could do differently, I can confidently confirm that I made an educational impact on my peers through my project.
I think it is important to protect the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and the environment around my community because the Bay leads directly into the ocean and our storm drains and rivers lead directly into the Bay. These systems are connected to one another, so by preserving one of them, it will positively impact the others. Making my community aware of its actions and aware of the small changes it can make to positively impact our waterways is just as important as actually cleaning plastics out of them. Both components of my project served to educate and motivate my community to practice more environmentally friendly habits in their daily lives. Without this awareness, they may not know that they are doing anything wrong. While pointing out the bad habits that they practice does not make them feel inclined to change their ways, making general and informative statements about the common ones benefits the attitudes and actions of my community. In turn, my peers felt motivated and encouraged to look at their own practices and change them for the better, thus benefiting the environment around them overall. Additionally, by challenging my friends and community to make one small effort toward the health of the planet, they can see just how easy it is to make more of these positive impacts. At the end of my challenge sheet I attached a mini questionnaire for my participants to answer once they had completed the chart. Two of the questions were, "Do you feel more aware of the straw epidemic and your impact by challenging yourself not to use them?", and "Did you feel embarrassed or burdened by choosing not to use a straw?". Over 95% of my participants answered an enthusiastic yes to the first question, describing how much they enjoyed being challenged and how they will continue to make this small change to their lives. For the second question, all of my participants said they were not burdened and did not feel embarrassed at all by not using a straw, with over half even saying they felt silly using a straw at restaurants for simple beverages like water now that they knew using them was causing an unnecessary burden to the planet.
My Apprentice Ecologist Project has helped me become more knowledgeable about how to get other people as enthusiastic and willing to preserve our environment, and our Bay, as I am. Seeing the responses of everyone's questionnaires and hearing my friends tell me that they thought they couldn't make an impact before participating in my project made me even more passionate about conservation. My project inspired me to join environment-based action clubs that spread the word around my university and seek to make an impact for the greater good rather than just for our university community. However, it also inspired me to join the more locally based clubs because I wanted to see that same reaction on my new peers' faces when they realized that there are so many things that they could start doing to get involved and to see them genuinely happy doing them. The last thing I would want anyone to feel as a result of my project is forced, burdened, or pressured to make any of the small changes to their lives that I encouraged them to do; I wanted them to be completely voluntary, but to the extent that they felt happy and important doing them. I used to hear people say that my generation is good at "complaining" about our environment being damaged, and not so good at actually doing anything about it. My Apprentice Ecologist project inspired me to be the change that we want to see in the world, to be the one who does something about it and encourages others to do the same. We will never see change if we complain, critique, and chastise each other and other generations. I hope that my project enriched my peers' lives and inspired my community to make their futures more sustainable, for the good of our Chesapeake Bay and our planet.
Date: December 30, 2019 Views: 4201 File size: 6.6kb, 118.1kb : 825 x 1754
Hours Volunteered: 36
Volunteers: 33
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 18 & 14 to 50
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