Little Actions, Big Effects

Changing the world begins with small steps even a third grader can manage

Since starting to upcycle Capri Sun packs four years ago, Vicki Dabrowka estimates that her Eagle Cove School third graders have saved more than 25,000 of the empty juice packages from entering landfills.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

  1. –Dr. Seuss: The Lorax
  2.  
  3. Sitting on the floor of her classroom at Eagle Cove School, surrounded by third graders, Vicki Dabrowka doesn’t look like the green warrior she is. Her campaign begins with deceptively small steps.    

    Every Friday, her third graders collect empty Capri Sun packages from the other classrooms in the elementary school, clean them and prepare them for mailing to TerraCycle. The juice boxes return to useful life as backpacks and pencil cases.
    Upcycling is the lesson Dabrowka’s students learn from their routine, plus math as they chart each week’s collection.
    Dabrowka’s classroom radiates with environmental awareness.
    “We try to use natural light as much as possible, so the students chart the days that we don’t use lights,” she says. “By the end of the year, we have an analysis of how much electricity we have saved over an entire year. The kids don’t realize they’re also learning math while we’re working on these graphs.”
    Before moving to Maryland five years ago, Dabrowka was far from green. “I didn’t recycle, I didn’t reuse and I wasn’t as aware of the impact that we make. Where we lived in Florida, it wasn’t convenient,” she confessed. Her awakening came when she started teaching at Eagle Cove School.
    Situated on the Magothy River, the school has been a Green School for over six years. Students recycle everything. They have a section of green roof (partially funded by Family & Friends of Bill Burton Memorial donations), a green house where they grow vegetables and herbs and an environmental curriculum.
    Each year the school celebrates Earth Week. Kids bring trash-free lunches. Each grade works on a project to help the environment: They study Bay grasses, raise oyster spat, release baby terrapins that they have nurtured from birth and study the Chesapeake.
    Thrown into this green environment, Dabrowka realized that there was much more that she could do, both in her classroom and in her life. Her students compost all leftover food from lunch. Now she brings her home compost to the school to add to the compost bin. She switched from plastic bags to more reusable containers for lunches. She turned off lights when rooms were empty. Small steps became a path.
    Searching environmental websites for things she could do in her classroom and at home, Dabrowka remembered advice offered by her younger brother when she told him she wanted to be a writer: If you want to write, start writing about something you know.
    She took his advice and created The Green Team Gazette, www.greenteamgazette.blogspot.com.
    In February, 2010, The Green Team Gazette went on-line. Geared toward “teachers, a parent or just someone who firmly believes that every tiny bit helps,” the blog suggests resources. Dabrowka shares videos, websites, teacher resources and lesson plans, classroom activities, iPad and EdTech links to eco-education, environmental news, children’s books with eco themes, and items about environmental days such as World Water Day, Earth Hour and Earth Day.
    Interspersed are examples from Dabrowka’s growing personal environmentalism and many family activities in support of No Child Left Indoors. Her family has joined Maryland’s Park Quest, and she blogged about their experience.
    Her small blog has taken off, recording over 62,000 hits, coming from every continent except Antarctica. Her most memorable moment was David de Rothschild retweeting of one of her blog entries. De Rothschild was expedition leader of the Plastiki, the boat made entirely of recycled material that cruised from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia, to bring awareness to the issue of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
    “Little actions by individuals add up to big effects over time and with momentum,” Dabrowka says. Her hope is that by using even one of her many suggestions, people will institute change — which will eventually add up to a healthier planet for all.
    In the meantime, she estimates that her third-grade students have saved over 25,000 packages from entering our landfills since she started upcycling Capri Sun packs four years ago.
    Small steps grow into big strides.
    Here’s one: Just this week, Dabrowka won recognition as Anne Arundel County Private School Teacher of the Year.