Kutztown Middle School science teacher Jennifer Wyland challenged her 7th graders to solve environmental problems, locally and beyond.

The 7th grade science class completed a unit on environmental issues dealing specifically with overpopulation, depletion of resources and pollution. Wyland decided this year to take the unit a step further, encouraging her students to become citizen scientists. Students were tasked with finding a problem to solve to live a more sustainable life.

“I’m flabbergasted at the fact that they have completely done this on their own parameters,” said Wyland. “I’ve given them some insights and heads up as to where to go. My room is chaos but it’s controlled chaos where each group knows exactly what is expected of them. I am awestruck at the work progress that they have come through.”

The entire 7th grade participated which is 107 students. For about three to four weeks, they worked individually, in pairs or in small groups of three. In total there were about 65 projects. With the freedom to pick their own problems, project topics included recycling, litter prevention, reducing trash along Sacony Creek, recycling bins at local township buildings, batteries, straw pollution, alternative energies, reducing deforestation, going paperless, discouraging e-waste and more.

As part of their projects, students contacted local businesses, company CEOs, municipal officials, school districts and organizations. Their hope is to raise public awareness by educating, campaigning, writing petitions, creating websites and having conversations to change people’s perspectives on living more environmentally and eco-friendly lives, said Wyland.

Seventh graders Jordan Keller, Cloie Hayward, and Lismarie Burgos teamed up to research about plastic bags and how they adversely affect marine life.

“Plastic bags are killing turtles and other marine life,” they wrote to local media in hopes of raising awareness of this problem. “We are working towards making the environment a better place to live and grow, thus encouraging a brighter future for humans, turtles and all marine life.”

Addison Ott, Katelyn Heckman and Grace Rice decided to tackle a local problem by petitioning for recycling bins to once again be available for residents to drop off their recyclable items at the Greenwich and Albany township buildings.

“We always relied on them to put recyclables in there. Since they’ve taken them away, our family doesn’t really have a place to bring our recyclables,” said Ott.

Their concern is that not having the bins at the township buildings will affect the number of people putting their recycling in the trash. Rice said throwing away recycling doubles the amount of trash put into landfills which affects the environment.

“My grandmother said she had to hire a service to start taking it but she said it was so much easier just to drop it off somewhere,” said Heckman. “We hope that we can somehow bring them back so people can recycle easier and we can get more people to recycle instead of just throwing it away.”

Aspen Delp and Dashia Toure’s project looked at how landfills can be controlled. For their project, they want to start a compost pile at the school and share the soil it produces with residents of Kutztown.

“We had a lot of ideas that were bigger but then we realized we can start here at school,” said Toure. “While we were doing our research we realized how much you can actually compost and how much compostable and recyclable material goes into landfills that could be reused.”

Delp said one benefit is that this offers composted soil to residents free of charge. Everything put on the compost pile, such as food scraps, will decompose and become pesticide free soil which is beneficial for gardening.

“Also, getting rid of some of this material, it can make the landfills not as overflowing,” added Toure.

While class time to work on their projects concluded on Dec. 20, many are continuing to work on their own time for the rest of the school year.

Wyland said that the main goal is for the students to look at an environmental problem and create a solution. While there might not be a solution reached by every group, the goal was to work through the process, conduct research and reach out to people in the community.

“They have come far in regard to their capabilities and comfort levels to what has come to fruition,” said Wyland. “I’m impressed. I’m inspired. I think this world is now going to become a better place just because of these kids.”

Her hope is that this project encourages a future in which people live more sustainably. She said these 7th graders have big ideas that will actually make the world a better place.

“They’re doing. They’re creating. They’re changing. They’re the ones who are inspired to make a difference. They can read it out of a book but it’s not nearly as meaningful and it’s not going to make changes the way they currently are today,” said Wyland. “The whole idea of sitting at a desk and teaching the way we used to teach is kind of out the door. They’re the ones creating, changing, making and doing.”

As 12 year olds they are making a difference now, both locally and globally, she said.

“That’s only going to continue as a citizen in this world.”

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Lisa Mitchell is an editor for Berks-Mont Newspapers, covering news and events in the Northeast Berks County area.

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