Ann Faris: What motivates a 10-year-old?
As one of the teachers at MEMS who is working closely with fifth graders on the plastic bag ban, I feel compelled to respond to Perry Green's letter of March 29.
This movement among these students actually began over a year ago when they were in fourth grade. One day "Ban the Bag" posters started appearing all around the school. Out of curiosity, I went to the students' teacher and inquired about the unit they were doing on the environment. I was told that there was no unit. These students had asked for permission to make these posters on their own during their recess time.
What motivates a group of 10-year olds to give up recess time in order to make posters about the environment? Perhaps they saw disturbing images of animals entangled in plastic.
Perhaps their parents or grandparents are environmentalists. Maybe they overheard or read news reports about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Last September, when I read that some BBA students and members of Earth Matters were planning to go before the Manchester Selectboard to propose a town-wide ban on single-use plastic bags, I thought about those posters. I went to the fifth-grade teacher, Anna Nicholson, and together we asked these same students if they wanted to get involved. The answer was a resounding yes.
Ms. Nicholson had the class spend a few social studies periods investigating the impact of plastic bags on the environment as well as the effectiveness of plastic bag bans currently in place. The students did compare the environmental damage done by both paper and plastic bags. They do not advocate the use of either. Rather, they want people to use reusable, recycled plastic bags or better yet reusable canvas bags. To that point, the students are currently working with BBA to write a grant for monies to purchase canvas bags which they plan to distribute freely in the community. In doing this they hope to educate people about the importance of making choices that are beneficial to our environment.
I think investigating and writing about plastic bags and paper bags and their impact on our environment has been a tremendous educational experience for all fifth-grade students at MEMS. That being said, there is a varying degree of engagement around the plastic bag ban movement within the fifth grade.
There is a core group of 15 students who are passionate about this issue. These fifth graders have worked diligently to help create the change they want to see. They have used their own
words to write the letters which they read to the Selectboard and at Town Meeting. Two of them spoke unscripted in a committee hearing at the Vermont State Legislature. Several of them
wrote short statements about the importance of a bag ban and went individually before the Selectboard last week.
To suggest that the position these students hold has somehow been imposed upon them diminishes the power of their voices. Their words are their own. Whether you agree with them or not, they have a right to be heard and should be commended for taking such an active role in local and state politics.
Ann Faris is a Spanish teacher and supervisor of the MEMS Recycling Squad and Manchester Elementary Middle School.
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