Some clever students at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School are doing their part to make the environment a little cleaner and greener — and maybe to win an award for their idea.
After hearing about an environmental competition hosted by the Philadelphia Zoo, teacher Marla Moore’s asked her 1st graders if they wanted to take part. The Zoo’s UNLESS contest requires that students come up with a project that supports conservation issues affecting wildlife.
They bounced around several ideas involving recycled bottles and plastics — a concept they have been studying in school — and ultimately decided to build a plastic bottle greenhouse around one of the eight existing soil beds in the school’s garden. The greenhouse would extend the growing season for the vegetables and herbs.
Moore says kids have learned that plastic pollution is bad for the environment. Student Logan Stewart said, “I think we should try to reduce the amount of plastic that goes into the landfills. I hope this project helps.”
The class of 19 students started collecting plastic bottles in November. While every student chipped in with heaps of plastic bottles, first grader Benjamin Lassiter managed to collect 1,300 plastic water bottles, and fellow classmate Aine Hopkins supplied enough Pure Leaf Tea bottles for one entire wall of the project.
After collecting nearly 3,000 bottles, teachers and students began cutting the bottoms and lids off the bottles and removing all of the labels. (Kids were tasked with cutting only the very lightweight bottles.) Moore and her husband spent time on the weekends cutting down slim bamboo strips that she trimmed to six-foot lengths to act as rods for the structure.
For much of March, the students threaded the bamboo strips through bottle after bottle until finally, they had enough columns to assemble the structure. Working with adults, kids completed construction on March 31.
The greenhouse will have radishes, lettuce and other vegetables. But Mrs. Moore’s class also planted Maple tree seedlings today inside their greenhouse today with the hopes that small trees will grow, which could, in theory, allow a visit from the now extinct Panamanian golden frogs. That’s part of their hook with the Philadelphia Zoo’s UNLESS contest — that their trees, grown inside a plastic bottle greenhouse — would support wildlife.
Student Megha Tripathy said, “Me and my friends actually got all the bottles and helped put Gatorade bottles upside down on the frame of the greenhouse. I feel good about the project because we want to help save Panamanian golden frogs.”
Mrs. Moore’s class took their conservation and wildlife initiative one step further. To encourage all of the kids in the school to stop using disposable water bottles, they decided to give them their very own reusable water bottle. So they held fundraisers to raise the money for those bottles.
“We just reached our goal to provide all 735 students with a reusable water bottle in our school that says ‘Save the Panamanian Golden Frog’ on it,” said Moore. “While the Panamanian golden frogs are extinct in the wild — they live in the zoos — the kids have learned that if we make our planet cleaner, safer and our climate better, then the animals that are extinct in the wild might someday be able to be re-released into the wild.”