"After this experience, the students are so conscious and so aware that they have the ability to change things for the better."
With the end of the school year on the horizon, teachers and students at Dalton Public Schools continue to adapt and adjust in and out of the classroom. Stacey Gante, third grade teacher at Westwood School, is one of our teachers that has had to make these adjustments.
Gante is a member of the curriculum team for virtual learning with Blue Ridge School teacher, Rocio Maldonado. The pair got together to discuss ways in which they could get their students who are learning on a virtual platform more active and involved.
"Our virtual students have only been staring at a screen and learning through videos and other online platforms," said Gante. "We wanted to come up with something that would get them more engaged."
When brainstorming activities for their pollution unit, the two landed on an interesting idea. Gante and Maldonado instructed their virtual students to take something from their trash and to turn it into something new. Gante liked the idea so much that she decided to implement this with her in-person students as well.
"Our students are taking something that would have normally been thrown away or recycled and they are turning it into something new," said Gante.
This process of turning trash into a usable product is a term that is called "upcycling." Upcycling falls into the category of "reuse" if you have ever heard of the popular phrase, "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle."
A third grade standard that is held in high regard is teaching the effects of pollution. One of the areas in that standard highlights the exploration of solutions for pollution in the environment. Some of these solutions include the conservation of resources, recycling materials and upcycling materials.
"A small talk we had about pollution and its effects on the earth in our class has stemmed into the students in the classroom wanting to do more to make the environment a little bit better," said Gante.
What really resonated with Gante's students was when they watched a video on the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." This video highlights a huge patch of garbage the size of Texas floating around the ocean today.
"Once my students heard that it was almost the size of Texas, they were flabbergasted," said Gante.
Gante said her students then started asking, "Well, how can we stop this?"
A brainstorming effort took place between Gante's students as to what they could potentially do to help bring about this change when it came to cleaning up the planet. The class unanimously decided to take the leftover plastic that would normally be thrown away at their homes and bring it to school for a special project.
"I was not expecting the overwhelming amount of plastic that my students brought," said Gante.
The plastic included items such as water gallons, milk jugs and even shampoo bottles. After most of the supplies were in Gante's classroom, the students began sorting the plastic.
Gante planned on only keeping only the materials that they could upcycle, which happened to be mostly milk jugs. After recycling the rest of the plastic, her class is now using the milk jugs they have upcycled as planters and planting pots that host an assortment of plants, herbs and flowers.
"Taking something that would have been normally thrown away or filtered into the ocean or a landfill and reusing/upcycling that into something the students will use is really beneficial for the students to see and be a part of," said Gante.
Other third grade teachers caught on to what Gante was doing in her classroom and wanted to take part in this upcycling project. The entire grade gathered up plastic milk jugs and had a chance to get up on the bus ramp at Westwood to plant flowers, herbs and other plants. Until the weather warms up enough to let the plants grow in the Westwood courtyard, the plants will reside and be nurtured in each of the third grade classrooms.
"This whole experience was student-led," said Gante. "I was the facilitator, but the students were the ones researching what kind of seeds they wanted, writing down how many days it would take to germinate, and investigating to see when their plants would sprout. These research skills they are building while they are nine years old will be used for the rest of their lives."
Westwood students are being inspired to bring upcycling into their own homes. One student in Gante's class cut off the plastic that circles the top of his soda can bottles before he threw it away so it would not filter back out to the ocean. Another student told Gante she is taking her soda bottles and cutting them in half to see if she can grow flowers out of them at home.
"After this experience, the students are so conscious and so aware that they have the ability to change things for the better," said Gante.