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First Prize High School Category, "Making a Difference" Essay Contest, 2010

By Jacqueline Dufalla

February 9, 2011

Greenhouse. Credit: moustache (CC)

Jacqueline Dufalla, age 17, is a senior at the Ellis School in Pittsburgh, PA.

Essay Question: How would you improve your school so that it prepares future leaders to protect the planet?

It is too easy to feel pessimistic about the future of Earth. Whether pelted with images of a stranded polar bear on a melting ice cap or the oil spill in the Gulf, students, parents, teachers, and citizens alike are often susceptible to an ever-present feeling of doom about the future planet and generation. However, power to change this predicted gloomy future coincides with the power of education and knowledge. By changing our educational system to encourage cooperation between the environment, businesses, and society, there will be tremendous and encouraging opportunities for the future leaders of our planet.

At the Ellis School, we have recently instituted a comprehensive recycling and compost program. We also began to use silverware instead of plastic utensils. Our lights are mainly fluorescent and energy efficient. However, despite these initiatives, students are still startlingly unaware of the final destination and the origins of their waste. Students at Ellis had an Environmental Day last year where they explored various areas, such as a garbage dump, an organic farm, and Alcosan, the Alleghany County sewage treatment plant. Despite the informative nature of the field trips, it hardly scratched the surface of understanding in the mind of an urban school student. Without a more profound and long-lasting impact from the visit, many students forgot about the true message and instead joked about the more olfactory parts of the day. If students do not realize where their compost, plates, cups, and other garbage ends up, they will do nothing to attempt to reduce or reuse, which are the preferred conservation techniques over recycling. A teacher who understands the dynamics of the student body and can better relate and inform students would be a great addition to the tour guide. Many students find tour guides too serious, too knowledgeable, or too quiet.

Additionally, site pictures from the field trips should become posters and placed around the school. They would act as a reminder to students about the beginning and end of their waste. Most importantly, students should be given a way to notice their contribution. For instance, if the Ellis students visit a recycling plant, they should then see how many recyclables they send to the plant and attempt to increase the amount for next year. They could then revisit the recycling plant later and physically see their contribution. Nothing is as resonating in a young mind than a real-life example.

Thus, the presence of a partially guiding faculty member for field trips, as well as a continuing connection to a facility, and a real-life example of one's impact on the environment would all assist in the education of future leaders of the world.

The Ellis School, and hopefully other educational facilities, could also begin a "Day without Power." This day would restrict students' use of electrical power, such as their laptops and phones, and classes would instead use natural light. Students from the Ellis chapter of Students for a Greener Pittsburgh Club would also give a presentation that would describe the obvious need for electricity in everyday life and encourage students to reflect upon 'green' fuel alternatives. A possible field trip at the end of the day to an electrical plant would summarize the day.

This day would act as a physical demonstration to students about the rising necessity of a more sustainable energy source while also pragmatically showing the unarguable need for electricity. This event would display the financial qualms about different energy sources through the lessening of Ellis's electrical bill for the day. The presentation would also touch upon the fiscal aspect of 'green' alternatives. By involving the entire Ellis community during the day and encouraging students to discuss their feelings towards this dilemma, different aspects of society would be shown as well. The "Day without Power" would further educate students about the essential balance between the environment, businesses, and society needed to arrive at a successful future.

In addition to field trips that are more instructive and a "Day without Power," a supplementary elective class would greatly benefit the Ellis School curriculum. Currently, the Ellis School High School does not offer any course on specific environmental issues. The Freshmen are required to take a 'Global Issues' course which touches on climate issue, but again, it lacks the depth of an entire course focused on the environment. The biology class has weekly 'Current Events' where two students bring in news articles about new scientific happenings, yet this hardly comes close to the necessary intensity that a full course would offer. With the option of an elective that solely deals with environmental issues, future leaders would learn how to protect the planet as well as appreciate the delicate equilibrium of business and society as well.

Classes, field trips, and a special day are all beneficial additions to the educational prowess of the future generation. However, students often forget these improvements. Therefore, the Ellis School must build a physical reminder to students, a greenhouse. This would clearly be advantageous in the science curriculum, as it would facilitate learning about plants and genetics through hands-on testing.

It would also allow students to attempt independent experiments, for either personal knowledge or the Pittsburgh Science Fair. A greenhouse would also encourage members of the Ellis community to work together in order for the construction and maintenance of the greenhouse. This collaboration would create a 'think-tank' of ideas and opinions that would represent all aspects of society. Through time, the efforts of all members would result in a more environmentally conscious group. Finally, a club and faculty advisor would work on the finances of this project. This would involve balancing the assets, creating fundraisers, and filling out grant forms. Thus, for the more business-oriented students, they would learn the importance of balancing finances and 'green' initiatives from an early age.

Lastly, and most importantly, the greenhouse's location would be a place that is convenient to view and act as a reminder to students about the positive factors of 'green' projects. The greenhouse would stand as a tangible reminder unlike a field trip, class, or special day. It would act as a symbol to students of the benefit of cooperation between positive ecological practices, businesses, and societal interests.

Robert Heinlein once stated, "By cultivating the beautiful, we scatter the seeds of heavenly flowers, as by doing good, we cultivate those that belong to humanity." This quote effectively demonstrates the need to cultivate the beautiful acts of humanity through wisely educating the next generation.

By having more impactful field trips, experiencing a 'Day without Power', getting the option of an environmental elective, and installing the physical symbol and reminder of a greenhouse, the Ellis School will be able to reaffirm the innate goodness of the world by encouraging young leaders in the ways of cooperation among the environment, businesses, and society. For that reason, these small improvements will not only change the face of the "Ellis girl," but also the face of the planet.

 This contest was part of the Council's second annual SEPTEMBER SUSTAINABILITY MONTH, which kicked off a year of events and resources on sustainability. Generous funding of the Carnegie Council's 2010-2011 sustainability programming has been provided by Hewlett-Packard and by Booz & Company.

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