5th Grades’ Marine Debris Project Draws National Attention

Written by Leigh Ann Clifton  
Monday, 24 May 2010

“Haven’t you always wanted to help save the planet?” asked 5th grader Nathan Vince. Vince’s comment came following a class beach cleanup in Santa Cruz last fall. The fifth grade had already selected coastal cleanup and the problem of marine debris as a focus of study… but had no idea that their efforts would launch them into the national spotlight!

What started out as a presentation by a locally-based environmental organization on the dangers of marine debris has, for Mount Madonna School’s (MMS) 5th grade class, turned into an elaborate project producing: an educational DVD; a Waste Fact coloring book; a city council petition to ban single-use plastic bags; letters to members of the United States Congress; presentations of their project at other local schools—and first place awards in several local, state and national contests!

“This project is one of the most powerful teaching tools I’ve ever used,” explains Jessica Cambell, MMS elementary science teacher and project mentor. “It is cross-curricular and allows for the children to utilize the standards in a ‘real-life’ situation where they can change the world. It empowers and shows the students the value of their education. Through our project we explored language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, public speaking, technology, and art.”

The class entered its project in two local Earth Day celebrations and two national challenges—and each time came out a top winner! Awards for the project include:

• 1st Place nationally, Siemens “We Can Change the World” Elementary School Challenge. Prizes include a $5,000 cash award, an on-site video shoot for the class to be turned into a spot airing on one of Discovery’s networks, and a chance for the team to be featured on a JumboTron in New York’s Times Square.

• 1st Place in California, Disney “Planet Challenge.” Three California schools tied for the top state prize, including MMS, and schools in Sonoma and South Lake Tahoe. Prizes include a $1,000 cash award, and gift packs for each 5th grader.

• 1st Place, elementary division; Special Teachers’ Award; Best-in-Show, Morgan Hill’s Earth Day Art & Science Fair. The project received $550 for their efforts and special recognition by Morgan Hill Mayor Steve Tate.

• 1st Place, Santa Cruz County, 2010 Earth Day Festival, $350 cash prize awarded by Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin. In addition, the project is on display for a month at the Santa Cruz Natural History Museum, culminating in a public reception and presentation of the project on May 25th from 4 to 6 pm.

The DVD, titled “Our Big Blue Landfill and What We Can Do About It,” was written, acted, filmed, edited, marketed and sold by the students. With its humorous script and appealing delivery, the students successfully took on very serious subject matter, and showed how trash impacts the marine habitat and how each individual can help to better preserve the ocean environment. To date, more than 100 copies of the $15 DVD have been sold. The class is planning to use proceeds from the DVD sales to make microloans to people in developing countries through www.Kiva.org.

“There are several reasons that I so value this project,” explains fifth grade teacher Sri Gyan James McCaughan. “The first is that it articulates an approach to education involving the whole school community: students, parents, and teachers, to invoke change in the greater community. The genius of the project is that it is collaborative; by the time we were finished, we all understood that together we all became more intelligent.

Second, we are a school of learners, and, instead of the old model of a teacher dispensing knowledge, everyone both teaches and learns from one another. I am humbled when I see the generosity of my students instructing me on some aspect of computer software or hardware. On the other hand, they honor me in valuing the wisdom of age and experience that I contribute. Finally, although winning prizes is a primary consideration at the beginning of the project, by the end students realize that the prize is the learning itself.”


Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, Media & Public Relations, e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

PreK-12th grade independent school for families seeking academic excellence, positive character development, and creative self-expression • Accredited by CAIS and WASC • Non-religious •  355 acres on the summit of Mount Madonna    • 20 minutes from Gilroy or Watsonville • Established 1979

Last Updated ( Monday, 24 May 2010 )