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Fifth-graders were inspired by learning about the environment to push for change at their own school.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Echo Shaw Elementary 5th graders Jocelyn Chavez, Sofia Ramos and Danny Cervantes, left to right, toss forks and spoons in a bin so they can be washed and reused. The students recently advocated for the school to do away with disposable utensils in the cafeteria.A trio of fifth-graders at Echo Shaw Elementary School were recently inspired by a classroom conversation to advocate for change, and their efforts have already produced results.

Jocelyn Chavez, Danny Cervantes and Sofia Ramos came into class one day and were excited to hear they would be learning about something different.

"We were learning about Greta (Thunberg) and we were learning about climate change and what that actually is, and it sparked a lot of questions," said their teacher, Tisa Meador. "And Jocelyn asked this really great question that none of us knew the answer to."

Chavez was interested in how waste impacts the environment, and she wanted to know why the school cafeteria was using disposable plastic forks and spoons for breakfast and lunch. She learned that about 1,000 forks and spoons were being thrown away every day.

Since then, Chavez and her classmates have successfully advocated for the school to do away with disposable utensils in exchange for reusable ones.

Meador said they've learned that fighting for change requires hard work.

"When I was in kindergarten, I remembered that we had reusable plastic spoons and forks," Chavez said.

Chavez's teacher told her that she could send their principal, Perla Rodriguez, an email to ask why the school switched to disposable utensils a few years ago.

The school switched because students were throwing away the reuseable utensils, Chavez said. But her principal had a proposition for her.

"Dr. Rodriguez said, 'OK,' if we can do this, if we can change this for our school, it has to be done not just for changing it, but it has to come along with a lesson," Meador said. "She told me to tell the kids they have to create a lesson plan and a presentation and teach the students."

In a few days, Chaves, Cervantes and Ramos created a lesson plan, talked to cafeteria employees about whether they could wash new reusable utensils, and taught 21 classes of elementary schoolers how to sort the forks and spoons.

They taught students in both English and Spanish, because Echo Shaw is a bilingual school, using posters that explained why it's important to reduce waste.

They drew a girl from the future on the poster to show that it's future generations that will have to deal with the consequences of waste.

"We say that this is a girl from the future saying that we don't want to destroy our Earth, right?" Chavez said.

Meador said the students' ability to change the language of their lessons for different grade levels was "brilliant."

"For the littler kids, we told them about superheroes and how we should be strong like eagles, and that's when they started asking a lot more questions," Ramos said.

Cervantes said they had to be careful to sound hopeful, especially for the younger kids who became sad when thinking about animals being impacted by trash.

After the three students taught the entire school, every fifth-grader signed up to monitor the trash and remind students not to throw the reusable utensils away during the first week.

Chavez, Cervantes and Ramos said they hope their efforts can help ecosystems in a small way. They said places like the oceans need their help the most.

A few weeks before they watched a Bill Nye video about climate change and talked about Greta Thunberg, the class took a field trip to Cannon Beach. Meador said the students were talking around Haystack Rock and saw buckets filled with little pieces of plastic that had been collected from the tidepools.

She said that connection to a real ecosystem is important. She tried to empower her students to act on big issues in a small way, she said.

"Greta and climate change, it's so big, it's such a big concept," Meador said. "A lot of times you hear about this, you see it on TV, but then that's all you do."

Her students are using that message and continuing to build on it by asking new questions.

"Something I was thinking about the other night was how are we supposed to make everyone change, because not everyone is going to change," Ramos said.

The students have already identified other aspects of the school that could be made more sustainable, such as their "pride tickets," which are little pieces of paper students get for accomplishments.

They said they've also been talking to their families about ways to use produce less waste.

"We're hoping to be able to go out to other schools," Cervantes said. He added the three students have become good friends and want to start a climate change club at Echo Shaw.

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