On April 19, shrieks of joy filled the air during the mid-day recess at Theuerkauf. Children swung, hopped, bounced balls and darted about the sprawling playground. The entire school was engrossed in play — except for the small group of students gathered in Room 15.
It wasn't detention or study hall. It was the weekly meeting of the Green Team, led by volunteer Theuerkauf mom Sharon Gloster. Every Tuesday, nine fifth-graders willingly give up their lunch recess to learn about conservation and think up ways to get their fellow students, as well as Theuerkauf parents, to adopt more eco-friendly practices.
On this day, Gloster, along with fifth-grade teacher and Green Team co-chair Lynn Moorehead, were making plans for a special assembly to be held April 21, the day before Earth Day. The students were going over their role in the upcoming assembly and eating lunch.
Juan Arias, one of the Green Team fifth-graders, said he often reminds his friends to recycle and reuse what they can. Teaching his friends how to conserve, he said, makes him feel "good and warm inside."
"I wanted to help the school recycle and use less waste," said Sami Jones, another Green Team member. "I think that we need to get more people to start helping the earth and caring more."
These are exactly the types of sentiments Gloster wants to nurture in the Green Team. She hopes these children will spread their ideals to friends and family, she said.
"Reading, writing, bike riding, swimming and taking care of the Earth," Gloster said, lumping the conservationist ethos in with the other basic lessons of childhood. "If you get yourself programmed early on, you just don't think twice about it. We want their habits to be oriented toward saving and conserving right off the bat. This is their Earth."
At the April 21 assembly, students of every grade at Theuerkauf gathered to watch teachers dressed as polar bears act in a skit intended to show how climate change is disrupting the habitat of animals living in the Arctic. The students were also given yellow booklets filled with "Cool the Earth Action Coupons" that can be cashed in for rewards if they are brought back to school signed by a parent.
Each coupon represents the completion of a green task, like biking to school instead of driving, waiting until the dishwasher is full before running it, taking shorter showers and packing lunches with reusable containers.
Students win trading cards emblazoned with green-themed characters and occasionally a card that can be redeemed for a bigger prize. "The goal is to collect them all," Gloster said. Every coupon gets entered into the lottery drawing for the grand prize.
Because the tasks on the coupons often require a parent's supervision — elementary-aged students aren't generally in charge of running the washing machine or adjusting the thermostat, Gloster observed — parents inevitably get drawn in to the conservation game.
"That's the good thing about the coupons — it forces the families and the parents to get involved with the campaign," she said. "Really, kids can only do so much."
The coupon booklets, along with the trading cards and other prizes — even the script for the play and the polar bear costumes that the teachers wore at the assembly — were all provided for free by Cool the Earth, a Marin-based, non-profit organization founded in 2007.
Cool the Earth receives funding from public agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, as well as from other sustainability oriented organizations, like the Conservation Corps North Bay and The Climate Project.
Jenny Jedeikin, director of communications for Cool the Earth, said about 160 schools — most of them in the Bay Area — have implemented their Action Coupons program. In addition to developing school programming, Cool the Earth has worked with Wells Fargo and the Girl Scouts.
"We are inspiring kids and their families to take actions to decrease their carbon emissions to combat climate change," Jedeikin said. She seconded Gloster's observation that children are often the most effective catalyst of change in the behavior of parents. "When kids become inspired to make changes they are actually a very behavior-changing mechanism within a family."
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