By Daniel Schemer, August 2009
It was a veritable wealth of arts and crafts creativity in room 101 of UMass Dartmouth’s Dion Building; not one of the 46+ middle school-aged kids, divided into groups of 2 or 3, was sitting down, wasting a breath or texting on their cell phones on this sunny Friday, July 17. The floor was covered with scattered colored construction paper, writing utensils, fragments of corrugated cardboard, different shades of spilled paint, and plastic cups. Not a single kid wasn’t taping, gluing, writing, coloring, or cutting something— all within the careful supervision of adult instructors and college teaching assistants — or running around the slightly confined classroom area looking for the next component for their vision of utopia.
“Right now it’s pure controlled chaos,” said Ann Richard, a librarian at Hastings Middle School in Fairhaven, and one of the supervising adults. To say it was hectic is an understatement, but these kids were putting the finishing touches on their week-long projects: constructing their ideal “green” community centers with surrounding sustainable communities. This came after days of absorbing an education in environmental sustainability mixed with summertime recreation and field trips for balance.
Welcome to Sustainability Summer Camp. “These green developers are designing a future with totally sustainable communities,” said Caroline Goode, Programs Coordinator for the Southcoast STEM Network. “This week has been about understanding sustainability and how it is each of their responsibility to protect the Earth for the future.” As everyone marched out the doors once recess was proclaimed, a few of the really ambitious kids stayed behind, such as Matt Clarendon and Zachary Cox, whose project, dubbed Greenville Colonial Island Sector, included very detailed and well-drawn sketches of each individual building in their community. The colored-in map next to the display and drawings was even more detailed as it presents every “green” component associated within the community. “It’s designed to look like Manhattan,” said Mr. Cox who wants to be an architect someday.
Sponsored by the Southcoast Regional PreK-16 Network and UMass Dartmouth’s Offi ce of Campus and Community Sustainability—and funded through the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s STEM Pipeline Fund, which is geared towards science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) — the Sustainability Summer Camp, which occurred July 13-17, was designed to foster interest in environmental sustainability for middle school kids. Promotions went out to all New Bedford and surrounding Southcoast middle schools and the applications poured in. Because of the grant funding, a $10 registration fee was all it cost these kids for the whole week.
“Even though it’s summer, there was still plenty of stuff worth learning,” said Joe Yarmac, one of four adult instructors at the camp. The kids were divided into four groups for the whole week with each one passed throughout the day to the different instructors teaching key subjects of sustainability: Food, Transportation, Energy, and Community. Joe Yarmac handled energy. “I introduced them to renewable energy and all alternative, cleaner sources.” His time with each group included showing them solar panels and wind turbines. On one day, the groups went to see what a house with solar panels looks like. Tying in with alternative energy for cooking, every kid made a solar cooker and used them to cook pizza and toast marshmallows and bread.
Ann Richard handled Food, Water, and Waste. Her discussions included food production, organic, pesticide free growing, water conservation and filtration, and buying local. “In a sustainable community it is always better to buy and grow your own.” After having all the kids keep their trash on Monday, she had each group sift through the collections to show what could be reused or turned into food compost. Her group tasks also included making butter, brewing mint tea using solar-powered jugs, and taking a trip to a waste treatment plant; many of the kids were fascinated by the different kinds of toilets.
“We addressed how sustainability plays a key part in transportation,” said Nate Byrnes, a representative from the Office of Sustainability. Topics included Peak Oil, fuel-efficiency, public transportation, bike riding, biodiesel and other alternative energy sources for vehicles, and conserving air conditioners in favor of open windows. The highlight of the week according to many of the kids was making solar-powered race cars and competing with them.
“I’m sort of the philosophy major of the group because I’m bringing up how everything in the community affects them,” said Keli Gates, a Teaching Assistant at Cape Cod Community College, who dealt with community values, why sustainability is important, and how to connect them with their own community. In addition to taking the groups to the Community Gardens in Fairhaven, she also watched as one group helped create a Green Roof on top of the overpass of the covered walkway connecting the Campus Center with the Foster Administration building. Kids helped clean the dirt and worms off of various plants which were carried to the top of the overpass for planting in a nest of seashell and rockwool.
With all kids now divided into small groups of two or three, each of the 20 displays for the final presentations showcased different aspects of their education visualized with simple science-fair diorama techniques: the aluminum foil on their buildings’ roofs represented solar paneling; horizontal straws with Q-tips and Popsicle sticks glued became wind turbines; markered cardboard represented walkways and ramps for the handicapped; thimbles were rain barrels; and a community garden was assembled with various polyester and chenille ornaments resembling fruits and vegetables. “What I liked the most about this week was making friends and finding out people accept me and I don’t have to fake myself,” said Sierra Souza, who presented a sustainable radio tower composed of solar panels and recycled metals.
After recess games, the arrival of children’s parents, and lunch supplied by Sodexho, everyone gathered back into Dion 101 to see the final projects. Each of the 20 groups stood adjacent to their projects while their parents went around the room. All of the kids were quite enthusiastic and even seemed disappointed if you didn’t ask them any questions. “They had flyers up at my school, and building a community center sounded like fun,” said Nick Kontogiannis, a student at Dartmouth Middle School, on why he signed up for the summer camp. “I also wanted to see ideas for saving energy.” His final project was a floating boat community center fuelled by solar and hydroelectric power.
Because of the nature of the assignment many of the displays seemed very futuristic. One display, composed of silver-painted cardboard box and clear plastic, resembled a moon colony. Grace and Will Evans’ community center, with its towering architecture comprised of paper cups, coffee filters, egg and fruit cartons, packing foam, and plastic water bottles, looked like something out of Brave New World. A very ambitious design! Another display was a giant fortress named Dome City, Australia. The two kids who called themselves Penguin Buddies, Inc. even equipped their sustainable fortress with laser cannons; it was clear they had a lot of fun with their project.
Another group called themselves Helping Hands. Their motto, “Handing you the world,” came complete with a green hand shaped like a tree for their logo. Shelby-Lynn Goodman, Rashelle Gonsalves, and Kiana Gonsalves had their center come with a giant basketball court and community garden meant for all those who cared for it. “In our center homeless people can stay as long as they like, as long as they help with the community garden,” said one of them.