While teachers teach students, sometimes students can be the teachers.
A group of approximately 25 Grade 5 and 6 students at Spring Street Academy came together this week, along with other students at the Amherst school, to complete a mural in the gymnasium.
It’s not your typical mural. The nautical theme – including two Orcas, a lighthouse and sea birds – is made entirely from plastic shopping bags that you’d get from major retailers.
While the mural is coming down and the bags set to be recycled, the message is clear.
“I’ve learned now how important it is to keep plastic out of the ocean,” Grade 6 student Mya Fisher said. “Just one plastic bag can kill marine life. The whole school knows more about this now.”
Phoebe Smith, who is also a member of the school sustainability committee and a Grade 5 students, said she wanted to be part of the group to learn more about the environment.
“It really makes me sad that we are harming the earth with plastic,” she said. “I think we can do better.”
Teacher Mary-Lynn Brinson proposed the creation of an environmental action committee among students and the school. She is amazed with the results.
“There was nothing here at the school for the kids, looking at environmental issues. I was looking for something that would be empowering – especially for the Grade 5 and 6 students,” Brinson said. “I put it out to them about forming an environmental group and I quickly had about 20 who signed on.”
The group met every Wednesday at noon and came up with its name, the Spring Street Academy Sustainability Squad, and participated in the national plastic bag grab.
“We wanted to do something more than simply collect the bags,” Brinson said. “When I was doing my education degree, a friend and me developed this lesson about trash art and doing power posters that raise awareness of the effects of plastics on marine life.”
The group swelled to 25 and they developed the posters to put around the school to raise awareness amongst students and staff about the importance of recycling plastic bags or using alternatives.
“From there we wanted to do trash art by creating a poignant statement about the impact of plastic – the amount of it and how we can work collectively and think outside the box,” she said.
It didn’t take long for her to involve phys ed teacher and well known Amherst entertainer and artist Daren White. He helped the group design the mural and worked with Brinson and the students attending phys ed classes to put it together by using several thousand plastic bags.
The students, in face, collected more than 20,000 bags. One student, who is not a member of the sustainability group, went door-to-door collecting bags in the community.
“Every student in the school had a hand in that mural,” she said. “That’s really special. I can’t say enough about the students in the sustainability group, and all the students, I’m so proud of them. It gives me goosebumps to think about what they’ve accomplished.”
The group, she said, is already thinking about its next project – getting rid of the straws and Styrofoam in the cafeteria.
“It’s great that we’re making a stand about what is right - trying to get the anti-straw campaign going, our posters, the bag grab and all the things we are planning,” group member and Grade 5 student Maddison Holt said.
While many of the bags collected will be recycled, the students are working with another teacher to make plastic bag creations.
“In effect, they’ll be reused instead of being recycled to a lower grade plastic,” she said.