By Allison Friedman,
E.J. Pattern Elementary School Teacher
I believe, as a teacher, it is my responsibility to prepare my students to become active citizens in our world. They have the power to create both social and environmental change. This project and our school garden help build awareness, responsibility, and action about our school’s cleanliness and its relationship with the environment.
“Hands Are for Helping, Not Hurting” is a student driven project to raise awareness and give recognition to our accomplishments. We painted a peace sign outside our cafeteria wall. Now, any student that is observed helping to clean our school environment or reducing waste receives a helping hand to place on the peace sign outside the cafeteria. When students are able to visually see the hands placed on the peace sign and read what other students have done to receive that helping hand, it creates awareness and motivation to engage in environmentally friendly behavior around the school and possibly in their homes and other communities.
We introduced the program at a school wide “Helping Hands Assembly”. I dressed up as the ‘Bag Monster’, given to us by Chico Bags Company, and we showed videos about landfills and pollution and related it to our school. The students were excited to start taking action and receive a ‘hand’ to place on the peace sign as a reward for helping. I could tell how proud the students were of their actions, especially when they placed their hand up themselves. Students who receive a helping hand are also featured on the school’s morning T.V. announcements every Friday.
Since the wall was first created, The Green Team has decided to make our criteria more specific, placing a little more thought around how to receive a hand. Overall, the message has been received and exemplified in our school’s collective actions and attitudes. I have noticed a willingness to learn more about environmental sustainability from staff members. More conversations have taken place and other staff members have shown interest in working on future projects with The Green Team. Our principal always sends links and information to help me in my efforts. Additionally, our vice principal went to the Terra Cycle store in Princeton and brought back items to show The Green Team and our students. This enthusiasm and participation supports my goal of applying for grants to support our future garden project.
My larger vision of Educating for Sustainability- true social and environmental change begins within the walls of our schools and inside our classrooms- has been a focus point in this project.
“Hands Are for Helping, Not Hurting” is a fantastic school wide initiative that brings environmental awareness to a school body, especially in elementary school. Given our time constraints and other aspects of education that make up our day, this project is student friendly and student driven with little time needed from teachers other than support and the environmental consciousness they spread in their classrooms.