Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School extends Earth Day a week

One day a year was not enough for Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School. Students spent an entire week honoring the good earth.

Between April 19-23, visitors to the school would have found in the foyer a sign instructing them to "follow the footprints," more specifically the paper footprints leading through the building's five pods. Following the paper trail, visitors would have found a series of educational posters about the environment, about human impacts on the environment and simple yet effective conservation methods.

"We only have one Earth," said 13-year-old seventh-grader Morgan Gunnell. "It's not like we have a backup."

Morgan was one of 28 students in Dana Kyle's leadership class who spent a month researching Mother Earth and putting together the murals.

"Middle school students can be a little resistant to change," Kyle said. "This is a good experience. One thing they learned, that was shocking to me, is that if everyone on the planet consumed the way America does, we would need five more planets to support us."

"All this might affect me a little," Kyle said, nodding in the direction of her students, "but we'll run out of resources for them if we don't do anything."

Seventh-grader Jason Graham, 12, explained the strange characters displayed throughout the school. Both the Lorax and the Once-ler came from Dr. Seuss' environmental fable "The Lorax," in which the greedy Once-ler destroys the environment despite the warnings of the tree-friendly creature known as the Lorax.

"The Once-ler gets the whole environment dirty," Jason said. "Following our footprints represent how we can make it better."

To kick off the tour, classmate Montrashay Worley, 12, said every human leaves a carbon footprint.

"It's the impact we have on the planet as humans, practically anything we do," she said.

Morgan and 12-year-old Amy Westre pointed out that the average person in the world produces 4.5 tons of carbon dioxide a year, versus the average American's 20 tons.

"We need to be responsible for the Earth and the environment," said Amy. "Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 mature trees. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a 100-watt light bulb for 20 hours, a computer for three hours or a TV for two hours."

Eating fresh foods instead of processed foods, Montrashay said, not only makes people healthier, but it also cuts down on waste.

"If you eat an apple, its core is biodegradable, and you can use the seeds to plant trees," she said. "If you eat a Twinkie, the cardboard inside and the plastic outside just end up in a landfill."

Morgan said cars emit 20 percent of all carbon dioxide in the United States. She and Montrashay, both athletes, said they carpool with teammates to various sporting events.

"I didn't really know about carpooling," said Montrashay. "When I learned about it, I told my friends, and they were amazed."

Environmental awareness through education was only part of Pau-Wa-Lu's Earth Week. Another part was taking steps toward action.

On Tuesday, while ninth-grade leadership students were performing a recycling relay race in the gym, picking recyclables out of trash bins as fast as they could, the seventh-grade leadership students were performing a test in the school cafeteria.

Each day at lunch, students weighed how much food waste was being thrown away. Before lunch even ended on Tuesday, seventh- and eight-grade students were already close to 30 pounds of food waste.

"The ultimate goal is to compost and have a garden here," said Kyle. "In my mind, this is the first annual event, and next year we'll build upon what we've done this year."

As if to exemplify how things come full-circle, the footprints students had made finally trailed through the A-pod and back to the foyer. The last poster on the tour was about animal life and species preservation.

When asked why endangered species like the Komodo dragon or Siberian tiger should be preserved, Jason said he'd learned in science how animals sustain the ecosystem in unseen ways. He gave the example of bee-driven pollination.

"Some animals, like bees, help us," he said.

"It's a whole circle of life," added Amy. "If one animal dies, then those things eaten by the animal get overpopulated, and those things that used to eat the animal also die."

The students said their month of research and week of celebration have taught them a lot about the world.

"I'm a lot more conscious," said Morgan. "Now, when I see my mom about to throw out a water bottle, I'll say, 'No, mom! Recycle it.'"


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