By Nancy R. Elliott
The Herald Bulletin
PENDLETON, Ind. —
Planet Earth was the subject at hand Friday at East Elementary School in Pendleton during its annual Earth Day celebration.
“We want our kids to appreciate and love their world, their environment,” said East principal Gayle Gernand. The chilly weather forced the event inside this year, but it did nothing to deter the focus. Gernand noted, “It’s a chance to touch base with nature.”
Kids were doing just that over in Steve Thompson’s corner of the gym, as they enthusiastically engaged with the critters that Thompson brought along with him. Thompson is an interpretive naturalist at Mounds State Park.
A blue racer curled up Thompson’s arm as he noted how beautiful the snake is. And yet, Thompson told the kids, “They’re losing their habitat.”
Thompson encouraged the kids to think about ways to keep the snake’s habitat safe. He said that one thing they can do is to simply leave their habitat alone, by not disturbing the grasses.
“What sound does a bullfrog make?” Thompson asked the students. He hinted, “They do not say ribbit.”
The students piped up with bullfrog calls, and they had the opportunity to hear the real thing, too.
“I like how it sounds,” said first-grader Lucy Scott.
Nearby, Susan Eichhorn, education coordinator with the East Central Indiana Solid Waste District, talked to younger kids about the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. The children considered ways that recycled materials can be put when Eichhorn held up a T-shirt made from recycled materials.
The children’s faces turned toward the carpeted floor, and they thumped it wonderingly with their hands, when Eichhorn told them that almost all carpet now has recycled materials, like pop bottles, in it.
Fifth-grader Clare Townsend described one of the cool things she learned from Eichhorn’s presentation. ”You can make a compost pile with bananas.”
It works for Eichhorn. “I want to promote recycling. I want to have people create less trash.”
Eichhorn said the older kids are struck by how long things last in a landfill. “I want to empower them that recycling is easy and it can be fun.”
At the other side of the room, kids leaned forward, hands in the air, to answer Chanda Hiatt’s question about the two different types of trees. (Answer: deciduous and coniferous.)
The Madison County Water and Soil Conservation District coordinator wore a necklace fashioned from buckeye nuts. She touched on the ways Native Americans had used the buckeye nuts, and she cautioned the children not to eat them.
“I want to encourage the kids to plant trees,” said Hiatt.
A little hike down the hall, and kids discovered Peggy Lyons and Alicia Pitman from the Pendleton Community Library.
“Most people never thought they could hurt the earth because it was so large,” said Lyons.
“Ugh!” Kids recoiled when Pitman showed a photo of manufacturing residue being dumped into a river, and asked, “Would you like to drink from a river like that?”
Pitman explained how Earth Day got its start in 1970, inspired by then U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson.
“We threw away so many things, even the oceans were getting polluted,” said Pitman. She explained that Nelson realized that we couldn’t keep doing this.
“He started a movement called Earth Day.”
Pitman told the kids, “You have to learn how to take care of the earth better and better — you’re going to be the country’s leaders.” She challenged the children to try not to throw so much stuff away, to turn off the water while brushing teeth, to turn off the lights when not using them.
If the looks on their faces were any indication, the kids left prepared to take her up on it.