By Giselle Serafin
Instilling environmental principles in a class of students who all have different relationships with the environment is challenging. Madison Niesyn, Environmental Leadership teacher at Del Mar Middle School, was looking for ways to engage her students, some of whom were passionate about caring for the environment and others who had not yet made the connection between environmental protection and their own lives. Madison saw zero waste as an area of common ground, a place where she could start a pathway to advocacy for students at any level of familiarity with environmental stewardship. To bring education on waste to her students Madison reached out to Zero Waste Marin(ZWM).
To kick off this partnership, Zero Waste Schools Program (ZWSP) staff held an instructional planning meeting with Madison to discuss waste topics that interested her students, and how to best incorporate these themes in her virtual classroom. ZWSP staff and Madison decided to focus on what zero waste means, why the waste sorting rules are important, and where waste goes. Students were particularly interested in plastic pollution, a locally important issue in the San Francisco Bay.
ZWSP staff developed a plan for two classroom presentations on zero waste with Madison’s 7th grade class. For the first presentation, the ZWSP team joined Madison and her class virtually on Zoom. Students asked insightful questions about zero waste careers, the role of zero waste in other environmental fields, and how to take action in their communities. After the presentation, one student reflected, “Something that I’ve learned from the ZWM presentations is that if one cares about a topic, they can find outlets to pursue their interest and make our world a better place simply by educating others!”
After the first virtual presentation, Del Mar transitioned to a hybrid learning model where students attended school in-person in small cohorts. The ZWSP team went on to give multiple presentations on food waste and composting on Zoom to each student cohort, who joined the virtual presentation from individual tablets (in order to be able to “chat” live questions) while in the classroom together.
Hearing about the importance of compost inspired students to take action, as one student reported: “I learned that composting not only helps the environment but helps the human race itself. I enjoyed that the group from Zero Waste Marin was able to educate us through a fun and interactive slideshow. Since the presentation really kept me focused and interested, I even took the time to educate my family on composting. Now, my family has begun a composting system where we use our yard waste and leftover food scraps to be put into a composting bag, where we dump it into the compost bin and throw away the bag."
On her experience working with the ZWSP team Madison shared, “I am so fortunate to have had Jessica and Giselle present to my Environmental Leadership class twice this year over Zoom. I also appreciate that Jessica and Giselle made a point to meet with me before the presentation day to make sure they know what content to present on. They also consistently follow up their presentations by sending me information and materials that I use for follow up lessons in my class.”
Overall, presentations from the ZWSP team provided students with an in-depth exploration of waste through a local lens, empowering students to become zero waste advocates in their homes and communities.
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