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MUSKEGO — They're only 9 years old. In a dozen more years, look out world.

Lakeview Elementary School fourth-graders, along with enthusiastic third-graders, thought about how they could make a difference right now. The result was the Make a Change Science Fair held last week.

The kids are so enthusiastic about researching the problem they chose, their teachers never saw anything like it.

Fourth-graders do science projects every year, however throwing down the gauntlet to the youngsters to think about world problems and what they — 9-year-olds — could do about them sparked a rush to research that left their teachers marveling.

"They would go above and beyond, extending their research after discovering something new," said fourth-grade teacher Heather Goldberg.

The science fair  "raises the ceiling on learning," said Goldberg, one of three fourth-grade teachers and fair organizers.

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"It's neat to get them to think they'll actually have an impact on the world," principal Alyson Eisch said.

Teachers tied the Make a Change challenge to the children's science and persuasive writing units. The kids looked around their world for problems to solve and didn't have to look any farther than their school cafeteria. Plastic sporks and milk cartons were going into the trash, along with uneaten food scraped off of plates.

First step

Now with a problem to solve, they were off and running, first to see just how much Lakeview contributes to the landfill problem, and second to try to do something about it.

To get the hang of research, the three fourth-grade classes worked on three cafeteria recycling projects. In the sporks project, children in Joanna Wachula's class found that on an average day, the school tossed out about 180 sporks (combination spoons and forks). That added up to 32,400 sporks for the school year.

More surprising was the poundage all those little sporks represented. The annual sporks used added up to 324 pounds of plastic to landfills each year, the youngsters calculated.

Similarly, fourth-graders in Maryann Sander's class found the school goes through 44,280 cartons of milk in a year. Goldberg's class calculated 5,822 pounds of uneaten food lands in cafeteria garbage cans each year.

Making a difference

So, now we know, what do we do?

We talk to the school custodian about increasing recycling. One youngster created a video and will hold a Clean Plate Challenge in April.

Perhaps the most dramatic upshot is in the area of composting all that wasted cafeteria food. Goldberg wrote for a $1,000 grant to buy a composting container for the school. Her grant request went to the paint company PPG that has given grants to the school for other projects. One or two more grants would be needed to compost all the waste, she acknowledged.

That's for later. For now, she's not stopping at the composting grant request. Goldberg is writing for a second grant from PPG that could get a raised garden going at Lakeview. After all, you gotta have someplace for all that rich compost, she said.

If all this happens, it would be energizing and perhaps inspiring for Lakeview students, even if they have long gone off to middle school, Goldberg said.

'Fingerprints on society'

Sometime they'll come back and see the fruits of their labor and, "They'll see their fingerprints on society."

For the science fair, the students could do projects by themselves or with friends.

Young Zachary Laumann wrote to Director of Operations Jeremiah Johnson saying in part: "Do you know how much paper towel we throw out at Lakeview school? In 36 weeks, 1,512 pounds of paper towel goes in the garbage..." He knows this because he weighed a sample and calculated it out. Zachary suggested to Johnson that hand driers be used instead.

Young Zach was appalled that some student strung out 20 feet of paper towel and just tossed it all into the trash unused.

The principal happily remembers what happened next.

"He said we're going to put signs in the bathroom not to waste paper towels," she said. "It's great they can see how they can have an impact."

T's to bags

Two little girls decided they could have an impact by figuring out how old T-shirts could be transformed into grocery bags, to cut down on the use of plastic bags.

When Olivia Perez and Riley Krupa cut the arms off and widened the necks of old T-shirts, the result was a halter top-type design that made perfect handles. Then they frayed and closed the bottoms of the T-shirts and decorated them. All was done without sewing a single stitch, Goldberg said.

Hunting for a problem to solve, young Jillian Kneisler looked around her and saw unwelcome algae floating on a lake near her home. She dived into algae exploration, coming up with an essay all about algae problems and what to do about them.

It reads in part: "After reading my essay, I hope you know how bad our algae problem is getting, since the algae blooms keep growing. I also hope you want to do something about it, like not use so much fertilizer. If we stop causing algae to grow, you will not only save our lake, we will save animals' lives." She goes on to give three tips on how to combat algae in lakes, concluding with: "I am going to talk to my friends and family and tell them to stop adding too much fertilizer to their lawn and I hope you do too."

Chalk it up

The energetic, hopeful thrust of the Change the World science fair is in the same vein as the school's how I want to change the world chalk board where the kids are invited to write down their thoughts on that.

A fourth-grader wrote that she wants  to be police officer to make the world safer. The mission of a third-grader is to keep animals safe by keeping the environment clean.

Another student wrote: "I want to be a teacher but I want to teach children whose parents don't have a lot of money so they can get a good education."

A budding environmentalist in the second grade wrote, "I want to clean up after everybody."


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