By Daniel Schemer, September 2010
Middle School Summer Camp
It seemed less chaotic and more organized this year; there wasn’t a single piece of scrap paper, cardboard or bubble wrap on the floor. While kids were scrambling at the 11th hour last year to finish dioramas representing their ideal green communities, projects for this year were ready hours before presentations to their parents and teachers. This year’s theme: Greening Our Education and Beyond the Classroom. Now in its third year, what hasn’t changed at Sustainability Summer Camp is the sense of camaraderie and enthusiasm emanating from the kids’ voices and composure as they prepare to showcase their week-long projects: poster murals. “Seeing the energy these kids possess personally gives me a lot of hope for the future,” told Joe Yarmac, now in his third year of teaching at Sustainability Summer Camp. He is also a teacher at Fairhaven High School and Energy Director for Fairhaven Public Schools.
Proclaimed since its inception as a more enriching alternative to ordinary summer camps, from July 12 – 16, 50 registered kids entering grades 6, 7, and 8 were dedicated to creating a more sustainable world through the exploration of real-world sustainability challenges and solutions. “I signed up because I wanted to do something to help the world,” said Toshianna Pires, 11, from New Bedford. Divided into 4 teams, each was assigned to construct 2 murals, one positive and one negative. These 4 teams were further divided into 8 groups total. The positive murals represented all the good things being done in the world, and the negative murals showed where we’re heading and what needs to change. Each mural had its own identity and was constructed using whatever got the message across: paint, construction paper, stickers, magazine pictures of animals, cars, and current events, pieces of confiscated garbage, bottles and cans, leaves and twigs, etc.
So what was on their minds? It seemed unanimous that bottled water is a huge issue with these kids, as well as recycling, pollution, and green energy. Side by side were a compelling juxtaposition of light and dark, and hope and tragedy; loving animals, untouched nature, and wind turbines crossed with images of pollution, wildfires, and the apocalypse. There was a dangling, rotating, paper-mache Earth on one poster, and images of the BP oil spill and dead animals on another. A smiling sun, recycling symbols, and clear blue skies were on a poster next to one with pieces of trash, such as water bottles, styrofoam cups, cigarette butts, unrecycled plastic and aluminum, and candy wrappers, all of which were found on the beach, in the forest, or on walking trails. “Knowing this, we’ll try and recycle more, and convince our schools to recycle more,” said Mason Thibault, 13, from Fall River.
Many kids were repeats from prior years, while others signed up based on word-of-mouth of their peers. “I came back to learn more and because it sounded different from last year,” said Nicolas Perry, 12, from New Bedford. Like prior years, the classes were divided into 4 different modules: Food, Energy, Ethics, and Ecosystems. When kids weren’t indoors they were engaged in many outdoor activities. “There are lots more activities this year. Last year it was more of a classroom setting; this year it’s more about getting them out into the environment and seeing how they interact,” said Keli Gates, teacher at Cape Cod Community College, who taught the ethics module. Fieldtrips, swimming, nature walking, and playing sports were combined with educational activities such as tree identification, learning about food chains and food webs, seeing renewable energy technology, and picking up litter. A trip to Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay had everyone experience wind turbines, hydro electric power, geothermal energy, and solar panels. “This is a fun version of school, a better version of school not as strict as other camps,” said Shelby Lynn, 12, from Fall River.
“This one family told me that their kid got them to stop buying bottled water and start composting. It’s inspiring to see these kids passing around information,” said Megan Litke, a recent Graduate with a Master’s in Sustainability and Environmental Management from Harvard Extension School, who taught the ecology Module.
The Fairhaven Beach clean-up trip was considered the highlight of the week and an eye-opening experience by many of the kids because of what they found sticking out of the sand: medical supplies, syringes, and cigarettes. All of the vile human remains littering the beach and coming in from the tide, instantly connected these kids with what the sustainability movement is trying to do. “We saw syringes and we had to call an adult who came and picked them up with a hook,” said Laura Palmer, 11, Dartmouth. “We saw endless amounts of trash at the beach. There were even tires next to a BBQ,” said Austin Baird, 13, New Bedford. Seeing all this garbage and runoff from landfills dropped off on beaches by the ocean currents seriously affected these kids. “The trash might not be in your neighborhood, but it’s not going away. It’s going elsewhere.”
In past years the Sustainability Summer Camp was funded by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education’s STEM Pipeline Fund. Funding was cut this year, so Chancellor Jean McCormack pledged $12,000 of UMass funds out of sincere belief in the cause. Joe Yarmac concluded, “All the students were incredibly enthusiastic and had a really good sense that what they saw around them was not normal, and it doesn’t have to be this way.”
Adult Sustainability Camp
Based on success, demand, and ambition, this year the Office of Campus and Community Sustainability expanded efforts by offering separate summer camps for both kids and adults. Taking place July 19-22, Sustainability Adult Camp was sponsored by The Second Half: Life Long Learning Institute, which provides intellectual seminars, lectures, special events, and social interaction for adults, and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Retirees Association. Less physically strenuous than middle school camp, the week featured interactive, content-driven classes and special presentations led by sustainability experts and UMass Dartmouth faculty. Many of the adults were those already familiar with sustainability. “Sustainability is a hot topic; it’s very important and central to our existence,” said Ron DiPippo, Dartmouth, an attendee who works in the renewable energy sector. However, the general consensus was that the event wasn’t preaching to the choir, but a more comprehensive dissemination of information. Said Mr. DiPippo, “With this, there’s more uniformity in content. We’re all attracted to the subject matter, so it was more like inspiring the choir.”
The week began with a discussion on the principles of sustainability, systems thinking, full-cost accounting economics, and the intersection of environment, economy, and society. Local farmer Derek Christianson, from Brix Bounty Farm, discussed the Southeastern Massachusetts Agricultural Partnership, organic farming, and how food choices impact the sustainability of our food supply. There was also a garden and farm tour. “We all have gardens here so we’re interested in growing organically. I got more in-depth information here,” said Carol Munger, Dartmouth. Dean of the UMass Dartmouth School of Marine Sciences Dr. John Farrington led a discussion of the impacts of climate change on oceans, and what this will mean for SouthCoast fisheries and the local economy. This was followed up with a fieldtrip to the Ocean Explorium at the New Bedford Seaport and a harbor tour of New Bedford. UMass Dartmouth political science professor Rob Darst and University of New Hampshire Director of Campus Planning Douglas Bencks discussed sustainability politics and what is being done on campus and community levels. “This whole week opened me up to many ideas. I will highly recommend it to others,” said Mrs. Munger.
The week ended with something the kids’ camp couldn’t do: a catered lunch and tour at Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery. “There were so many different perspectives; I knew stuff, but it’s good to talk in groups like this. There’s power in groups…It’s encouraging to see other people concerned about the same things as you,” said Fred Gifun, Dartmouth, organizer for Second-Half.