South Surrey students say small gestures can achieve big goals

“All these little things, they do such a big difference”

Semiahmoo Trail Elementary global leadership students (from left) William Wang, Sehej Kocher, Simrit Mangat and Kaitlyn Wilson-Kurenoff with a box of unusable pens and markers that will be recycled through Staples; the most recent of many initiatives the club has undertaken with the environment in mind. (Tracy Holmes photo)

Taken individually, efforts underway at Semiahmoo Trail Elementary to make a difference to the environment aren’t earth-shattering.

There’s a movement to collect and recycle expired pens and markers; some classrooms have moved away from using paper towels; students are encouraged to bring “litterless lunches”; and more.

But the steps, say Grade 6 and 7 global-leadership students, aren’t about making a grand, overnight change. They’re small gestures and new habits, that – combined and implemented over the long-term – could change the world.

“All these little things, they do such a big difference,” said William Wang, one of four leadership students who met with Peace Arch News Thursday to share their club’s ideas and successes.

“It still does so much even if you’re just sacrificing 15 minutes (to go for a walk to pick up garbage).”

The leadership club has been active at the school for more than eight years. It’s not mandatory to sign up, but teacher co-sponsor Jacqueline St. Cyr said student interest has been growing.

This year, about 60 kids are involved, and some of the lunch-hour meetings are “standing-room-only,” she said.

The writing-utensil recycling initiative, launched about six weeks ago, is the newest addition to the club’s activities.

Wang and fellow leaders Simrit Mangat, Sehej Kocher and Kaitlyn Wilson-Kurenoff explained that boxes have been placed in each of the school’s 16 classrooms for students and staff to put pens and markers that are no longer usable. Once full, the boxes are emptied into a larger box in the school lobby; and once that box is full, it’s taken to the Staples Recycling Program.

St. Cyr delivered the first full box – hundreds of writing utensils that would otherwise go into the garbage – to Staples on Friday.

Wilson-Kurenoff said it makes sense keep the implements out of the landfills.

“We have all these pens and markers that aren’t usable,” the Grade 6 student said. “They turn the plastic into things like chairs.”

The students pointed to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch as a driving reason behind their motivation to do better environmentally and encourage others to do the same.

“It’s twice the size of Texas, and it affects marine life drastically,” Mangat said of the vortex of marine debris – most of it plastics – swirling in the North Pacific Ocean. “It’s going to affect generations to come if we don’t do something about it.”

According to the National Geographic Society, the GPGP is the largest of the world’s known marine-trash vortexes. Comprised largely of “microplastics,” it’s estimated that about 80 per cent of the debris comes from North America and Asia.

When fish ingest the microplastics, or the toxins that leach from the products, it’s not a one-off impact to the fish, the students noted.

They “make the animals sick,” Kocher said.

“These fish may end up on your dinner plate,” Wang added. “So, in turn, we’re harming ourselves.”

Other social actions the leadership team has taken include a sock-collection effort to benefit the homeless, food drives, fundraisers to benefit an impoverished village in Kenya and endeavouring to not waste paper. In addition to collecting their unusable pens and markers, every class has also been challenged to set an environmental goal for themselves.

The leadership students post the goals in a school hallway, and follow-up with the classes every month to check their progress, offer assistance and celebrate successes.

“The (Grade) 6s and 7s give many opportunities for other grades to do things,” St. Cyr said.

All four of the students agreed that wanting to help make a difference both at school and for the environment were key reasons for getting involved in the leadership club.

St. Cyr said the students are also “learning how to be more responsible consumers.”

“We always say, when we know better, we do better,” she said.

“We’re just trying to be mindful of all of our actions.

“I love that the kids are having conversations about this.”

 

William Wang, Sehej Kocher, Kaitlyn Wilson-Kurenoff and Simrit Mangat with the pledge wall at Semiahmoo Trail Elementary, where a environmental goal from each division is posted. (Tracy Holmes photo)

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