STRIVE Preparatory Schools’ Sunnyside students have some diverse interests. They’re interested in trash, dead fish (see below), what makes something “food,” and whether or not video games can provide solutions for cleaning up the environment. Over the four week mini-CAP course and camping trip, students explored issues of trash both in their communities and on a global scale. Students spent a 45-minute period at the end of the school day Mondays through Thursdays in September exploring the environment and thinking about issues of interest. At the end of the classroom component, students headed for Lake Wellington, Colorado for an overnight camping trip.
In the classroom, students had a big goal: pick an issue in their community that affects them, and do something about it. Sunnyside students opted to look at trash, both what we do with it and how we create it. Several groups formed to take on different aspects of the issue of waste. One group talked to the principal and the cafeteria staff about the possibilities of creating a compost system for their school, while another tried to find ways to make a trash vacuum depicted in a Mario video game a viable option for large scale clean-up. Yet another group looked at trash found in community parks after parties and holiday weekends. Over the winter, the students will be presenting their projects at community meetings at Sunnyside to involve students who did not participate in the course. Some of these projects will be implemented within the school or the wider community.
During the camping trip, students were able to explore an environment totally different from what they see every day. The campsite was on a marshy area of the lake, and near several hiking trails. The group spent the first day exploring, climbing up rocks, hiking the trails, and meandering along the lake. Students tested themselves and their limits by scrambling up step slopes, and crossing small streams created by the recent heavy rains. They worked through concerns about getting wet or dirty, and by the end of the first day, happily squished in the clay-like mud at the edge of the lake. At every turn, someone was calling for the others to “Come look at this!” or “Whoa, look at that mushroom!” They also hit the books to identify tracks, wildflowers, and other plants they found while hiking in and around the campsite. When night fell, students wanted to play hide and seek in the dark within the campsite, using their other senses to find each other. They embraced a world without artificial light, using only the campfire, stars, and moon to guide them. Of course, to warm everyone back up after the game, there were s’mores around the campfire.
The second day, students broke down the campsite and did some area clean-up. They had noticed the day before that some of the areas around the lake had a lot of trash and dead fish. They weren’t sure if the trash was linked to the dead fish, or if the south side of the lake just happened to be where everything washed up, but either way, the students felt the area could use some cleaning. So out they went with a trash bag and a recycling bag and picked up everything that wasn’t supposed to be there. Once clean up was done, there was time for one last hike. This time, they opted for a rarely used trail, and were amazed at the difference from the heavy-use trail they had hiked the day before. This lead to questions about trail use, forest maintenance, and why so many more animal signs could be found on the lesser used trail. On this trail, the students were given the opportunity for a bit more self-guided exploration, and they wandered around at their own pace within hearing distance. Some opted to sit on a log or a rock and listen, while others quietly walked around to see if they could spot some local wildlife or an interesting plant.
On the car ride home, students continued a conversation that they had been having throughout the course around the question of “what makes something food?” During the research phase of their projects, someone had stumbled upon a video of a hamburger that did not decompose. This sparked a several week conversation about fast food, and whether or not it qualifies as food or filler. A continued debate, as well as a ranking of which fast food restaurants are the “best,” occupied the bulk of the car ride home. With these thoughts and their projects fresh in their minds these students are changing the world simply by asking questions and keeping the conversation going!
Click here to see more pictures from their trip.
Written by Jessi Burg, Cottonwood Institute Instructor