In Lawrence elementary schools, environmental awareness is catching on.
Witness the students in Dianne Merz' fifth-grade class at Woodlawn School. On a recent afternoon, they talked about the environment and helping the Earth.
If some of their ideas about conservation aren't really new, they still make it clear that concern for the environment is filtering down to the younger generation.
Their environmental brain-storming session produced a range of suggestions:
Don't drive as much. Car pool or ride a bike.
Don't throw away trash at a picnic.
Make companies reduce pollution.
Buy products that have less plastic and cardboard packaging.
Avoid buying aerosal cans.
Don't use plastic foam.
THE STUDENT concerns expressed in Merz' class aren't unique to Woodlawn, where a volunteer environmental club meets weekly. Students all across the Lawrence school district are becoming more environmentally aware.
The Youth in Action group at Cordley School is currently involved in a landscaping project. Joy Lominska, a second-grade teacher at Cordley and co-sponsor of the school's environmental club, said the students have worked diligently on the project.
"They're very hard-working," Lominska said during a recent interview at the school. "They learned how to use a shovel. They've moved four or five tons of gravel. They're learning how to plant things."
The students have taken over the southeast section of the school's grounds, where they are planting flowers and making walkways from the gravel they hauled.
Lominska said the students are so proud of the project that they make sure other students don't walk on the grass in that area.
Both Lominska and Merz believe that children may be the best advocates for the environment because they're energetic and naturally curious.
"I think children want to change things," Lominska said. "This is their chance to have an impact. . . . We're trying to get kids in the habit of recycling and attached to nature."
IT SEEMS TO be working.
Many of the students at Woodlawn said they have pressured their parents to get into the habit of recycling.
Helen Tuley, gifted coordinator for West Junior High and Hillcrest School, said she overheard a young boy in a grocery store telling his father that he shouldn't buy plastic foam products.
"He said, `Dad, are you really going to take that Styrofoam?'" Tuley recalled. "He was teaching his father. Children can be excellent teachers."
Young in Action was founded at Hillcrest, where Tuley said students have two major projects. They donate the money they raise from recycling soft drink cans to the Cheyenne Bottoms, a wetlands area in Barton County, and they've adopted a whale that lives off the coast of California.
Tuley, one of the group's sponsors, said the children also are interested in purchasing part of a rainforest because the land would then be protected from cutting.
"IT'S REALLY neat to listen to them," Tuley said.
Faith Clifford, a reading instructor at Woodlawn, said students there are gearing up for a schoolwide clean-up of North Lawrence.
"We want to give something back to the neighborhood," she explained. "I think it will mean a lot to the kids."
At Lawrence High School, students involved in the Biology Club are in charge of recycling efforts there.
Stan Roth, an LHS biology teacher, said the recycling project began 16 years ago as a way for students to raise money for a trip to Hawaii.
"It started as one of several fund-raisers," Roth explained. "But we saw worth in continuing the project with educational motives in mind."
Today, money raised from collected recyclables is used for field trips, books and other educational materials, Roth said.
Roth, as well as the elementary school teachers, said environmental education has become common at the schools.
"Almost all of us in our science and social science classes try to alert students in our various lessons and by our actions about how people fit in the world, how people should be participants in the natural world," Roth said.
"This thread of philosophy tends to purview everything we do."