Awareness at a Young Age
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, a group of middle school children from Georgetown gathered in Southwestern’s community garden to watch a controlled combustion reaction in a water bottle. In the demonstration, three types of alcohol were used to show how a combustion engine emits carbon dioxide.
“The explosion shows how cars produce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and produce a greenhouse effect,” explained first-year student Vanessa Toro. “Many children hear that driving is bad for the environment but they don’t know why. The demonstration provides what is missing from education by making the connection between knowledge and life-style.”
The combustion reaction was one of four activities that Toro and other students from Southwestern offered that day to raise awareness and create enthusiasm among the children for the protecting the environment. The other stations provided demonstrations about water conservation, composting and recycling.
“Kids idolize college students so it’s good to emulate for them what you value as important,” Toro said.
Toro and the other Southwestern students who put on the demonstrations are members of the Education/Outreach Committee of Students for Environmental Activism and Knowledge (SEAK), a campus organization committed to improving sustainability locally and nationally. The eight member team is co-chaired by junior Lorena Saenz and first-year student Julia Von Alexander. Other committee members include Katie Gibson, Kimberly Griffin, Alexis Kropf and Zoe Martin.
“We all feel that educating kids about the consequences of their actions and everyday lifestyles can make a world of difference,” Saenz said. “Our committee hopes to empower children by first teaching them what we know about how the world works so they will have the knowledge to live sustainably. Kids can inspire others to strive to live sustainably as well. If they become aware at a young age they can have just as much influence as anyone else!”
At the end of the demonstrations, Kropf handed pamphlets to each student with the opening question “What can YOU do for the environment?” As well as providing advice about energy use, water conservation, recycling and information about local farmers markets and recycling centers, it suggests questions to ask parents. For example, “Ask your parents about… Carpooling to school with your friends… Starting your own garden… Composting” and more.
“Parents really listen to kids,” Kropf said. “When I was little I gave my parents a hard time about recycling and they listened to me. We hope the same thing will happen with the students we work with. We want them to take the knowledge and pamphlets home and get their parents on board with conservation.”
SEAK has reached out to many local middle school and elementary school children through various programs. At Dell Pickett Elementary School, SEAK demonstrated a program on the three stages of compost in the school’s garden. Last semester, they performed “I Am Sam” at Cooper Elementary School along with the students from Southwestern’s Theater for Social Justice group. “I Am Sam” is a student-written and directed play for young audiences that demonstrates conservation and explains why the green movement is important.
Von Alexander explained that their demonstrations and outreach focuses on little differences and lifestyle changes. “Where we are today is the result of mistakes made in the past,” she said. We can stop this snowball effect by making changes in our generation that will affect future generations.”
SEAK’s future plans for outreach include working with the Boys and Girls Club and initiating dialogue with local public officials about how Georgetown can become more energy-efficient.