MONTPELIER — Four students from Burr and Burton Academy and two fifth-graders from Manchester Elementary Middle School took their single-use bag ban message to Montpelier on March 13.
They came home with a better understanding of the political process and a fire to create change.
Ann Faris, a teacher at MEMS, went with fifth-graders Peyton Sheldon and Malayla Greene, who were selected to represent their class on the trip.
The MEMS fifth-graders have been pursuing a single-use plastic bag ban since asking the Manchester Select Board to pass a ban. When the board chose to wait and see what the state would do, the students collected signatures to get the ban on the ballot as an advisory question for Town Meeting Day.
Voters overwhelmingly approved the measure on a voice vote.
But the Statehouse in Montpelier wasn't as kind to the students. There, they ran into lobbyists for the plastic bag industry and
legislators who didn't agree with the ban called for in Senate Bill 113.
According to a report by Burlington-based weekly Seven Days, State Sen. John Rodgers of Essex/Orleans asked the students if they had cell phones, informed them that their phones contained rare earth elements that were more damaging to the planet than plastic bags, and suggested the fifth-graders look into that issue.
That didn't stop Greene from taking the opportunity to testify when given the chance.
She was quoted by Seven Days as telling the committee, "If we don't ban these now, plastic bags will still be around by the time our great, great grandkids die. Plastic will still be in the ocean, it'll still be all over our land if we don't do anything. But if we do, we can stop that."
The students also ran into some friendly faces. State Sen. Brian Campion of Bennington was on the committee and Manchester Rep. Kathleen James took time to meet the students and take their photo for her Facebook page.
They were also popular, with dozens of people stopping to congratulate them for their work and effort on the bill and for being engaged in the process.
With their committee work done for the day, the students joined a press conference with a group seeking to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used in the state, and watched the full House conduct business from the floor.
And, after returning to Manchester, the students learned a couple of days later that the bill they were supporting, S.113, had passed out of the committee and was moving to the floor for a vote by the full House of Representatives.
Faris said the fifth-graders plan to join BBA students and local environmentalists in asking the Manchester Select Board to ban bags as voters supported and will continue to work at the local level and state level in pursuit of their agenda.
"We would also like to urge the Select Board to send a recommendation in support of S.113, which is now moving through the Vermont State Legislature," Faris said.
Students will also be writing letters to local and state representatives urging to support the legislation.
"This is the first time that a bill for a ban on the use of plastic bags and straws has gotten out of committee at the State Legislature," Faris said. "We feel that this is because our representatives are listening to the voices of people. We are proud to be one of those voices."
Faris said the students have gone from hanging posters about the issue to going before the Select Board, collecting signatures on a petition to call for a vote, reading a letter at Town Meeting and speaking in committee at the Legislature.
"They have worked really hard researching the impact of plastic bags on the environment so that they can speak from an informed perspective in defense of the stand they are taking," Faris said.
BBA civics students also traveled to the Statehouse with social studies teacher Jillian Joyce.
Making the trip were senior Sage Lalor, junior Evelyn Seidner, sophomore Cole Hadlock, and BBA alumni Brendan Sullivan, who is now a freshman at the University of Vermont.
Contact Darren Marcy at email@example.com or by cell at 802-681-6534.