CT Environmental Action Day empowers middle schoolers to make environmental change at home


Ellington Middle School students wear their CT Environmental Action Day T-shirts. (Photo courtesy of Heidi Bailey)

Ellington Middle School students wear their CT Environmental Action Day T-shirts. (Photo courtesy of Heidi Bailey)

Though the day might have seemed like just a field trip to many middle school students, Connecticut Environmental Action Day gave them lessons that will last a lifetime. UConn Extension, in partnership with many presenters, volunteers and a hardworking group of marketing students, made sure that lessons students learned Friday could be taken home and easily implemented.  

With a choice of seven workshops covering diverse environmental topics including soil erosion, the carbon cycle and problems with plastic, over 100 middle schoolers and their teachers visited different rooms in the Student Union and the School of Business to learn about how they can reduce their impact on the environment. The workshops engaged students with interactive lesson plans and interesting subject matter.  

In a workshop called “Capture the Carbon,” students were split into two groups and participated in different activities before switching halfway through. A group of students who work at Spring Valley Farm, UConn’s sustainable student-run farm, encouraged students to draw what a healthy environment looks like on chart paper. Meanwhile, farm manager Julia Cartabiano spoke to the other group about the organisms in soil that allow plants to grow and let students play with small toy tractors and other farm-related toys on a tabletop. At the end of the session, Cartabiano and her UConn students handed out orange slices to the middle schoolers. Once they had eaten the fruit, the middle schoolers deposited the peels into a bucket with some wood chips to begin a compost pile. 

Cartabiano and her UConn students enjoyed interacting with the middle schoolers and getting the chance to teach them about the carbon cycle, compost and soil.  

“Children are our hope for the future,” Cartabiano said. “I love working with the students. They were very attentive and respectful and thoughtful.” 

In another session led by fourth-semester ACES student and Take Back the Tap member Adam Giroux, middle schoolers played a Kahoot! game to learn about plastic pollution and its consequences. Giroux and Take Back the Tap treasurer Daria Larson expressed excitement at the middle schoolers’ enthusiastic participation as well as surprise at their already extensive knowledge of environmental issues. 

“[Giroux] was like, ‘What can you do?’ and everyone had all these solutions,” Larson said. “Some kid was talking about carbon tax, and I don’t even know where he got that from, but it’s just cool to see kids so young care about our world so much.” 

Others at the event agreed that the middle schoolers had a lot to say about the environment. Eleanor Ouimet, an environmental anthropologist and anthropology professor whose students were running workshops, took it a step further, noting that the middle schoolers should be given a chance to demonstrate their knowledge and put it into practice.  

“They have a huge amount of information, and they themselves are really passionate, and so it’s really cool to also get them in a collegiate setting and let them realize that they know something, and they have some important data, and they can do some important work,” Ouimet said. “I think middle school is the great age to do this particular event.” 

After eating lunch, the middle schoolers discussed what they had learned with the students from their respective schools. This dialogue led students to create their own environmental action plans to bring back to their homes, schools and communities. As students left at the end of the event, they also signed an environmental pledge.  

“And then at the end of the day, the culmination is to take their pledge and make their plan to take climate change into their own hands and change their own lives and then change the lives of their family too,” Rebecca DeMaio, a member of the group of senior marketing students who helped to publicize and organize the event, said. 

The presentations, planning and pledging were clearly effective in guiding students towards a more environmentally friendly way of life. Ava, a student at Ellington Middle School, had already developed some ideas for helping the environment and her community after learning about soil erosion.  

“I was already kind of thinking about that,” Ava said. “I was thinking maybe we could make like a local garden of some sort, because it’s good for the environment and the soil.”  

Stephanie Santillo is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.santillo@uconn.edu.  

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