International students and schools do their part for the earth
After Claire Belilos watched An Inconvenient Truth (Al Gore’s documentary on global warming) in her 9th grade science class at the Western Academy of Beijing, she couldn’t wait to take action. Her response was the WAB Green Committee, the student group she created with the goal of discovering ways to reduce energy consumption and waste production at her school.
“If WAB can set an example by being as environmentally friendly as possible, other international schools will realize they can do the same,”Belilos says. “If schools are setting a good example, students attending the schools will learn what to do at home and teach other students around them.”
Belilos is just one of the many students and teachers at international schools throughout Beijing who are working on environmental issues and making an impact. As ESL teacher Lynn Hammond can attest, helping the environment isn’t just for big kids. Beijing students of all ages are going green.
Hammond helps coordinate extracurricular environmental activities for primary school students as young as 5 at Dulwich College Beijing. Children at her school help organize classroom recycling and are in charge of initiating their own environmental projects, such as sending food waste to a pig farmer or promoting the use of bamboo over wood.
“Parents say that students are really aware of the three Rs,” Hammond says, referring to the popular “reduce, reuse, and recycle” slogan. “Children are very impressionable at that age, and it’s a positive idea for them to take with them."
The group Hammond runs at Dulwich is part of the Roots & Shoots program. A non-profit environmental and community education initiative for youth founded by Jane Goodall, Roots & Shoots empowers young people to take action and make positive changes for the environment, animals, and the human community. More than 2,000 Roots & Shoots chapters exist throughout the world, of which over 300 are in China. Five international schools in Beijing have chapters, and many more exist at Chinese schools in town.
Cat Munro, a high school junior at WAB, is a member of her school’s Roots & Shoots chapter. Originally, Munro confesses, joining the group was just a way to fill her lunch hour, but later her interest in the program started to grow and she began to give it more and more of her time. She likes that Roots & Shoots is student led. “We take it where we want to go,” she explains. Lately, the group has focused on the environment, and is investigating how recycling works in Beijing. They’re also making efforts to sell coffee beans grown organically in Yunnan at their school.
Enea Koxhioni, another WAB junior, is tackling the problem of water access in China. Koxhioni learned of China’s water shortage problem through a United Nations Day presentation at his school given by Ryan Hreljac, a Canadian boy who has been fundraising to pay for well construction in Africa since he was 6. “It was a really powerful presentation,” Koxhioni explains. “I decided to do something.”
When he learned that not a single person in China had donated to Ryan’s Well Foundation, Koxhioni contacted WAB English teacher Sheila Burch for help getting a fundraising project underway. Along with other students and teachers at WAB, Koxhioni was able to raise more than USD 2,000 through a PTA-sponsored fashion show. The money will go towards building a water transport and storage system in a village in Hubei province, identified by the World Bank as a community in dire need of clean water.
Not all the environmental initiatives in Beijing schools are extracurricular. Beijing City International School, for example, has plans to incorporate an Eco Education Garden in their curriculum. The garden will be used not only in science classes at BCIS, but also as a stimulus for student poetry and artwork.
The owners of BCIS have purchased a 6,600-square-meter lot 20 minutes from the school campus and are turning it into a hands-on outdoor classroom. The plans for the garden include the creation of different ecosystems housing various species of plants and insects, and the inclusion of a greenhouse and stable. In keeping with BCIS’s commitment to environmental sustainability, the school will strive to use organic planting methods.
Lotty Cole, a BCIS teacher involved in planning the garden, is excited to be extending learning beyond the classroom walls. “We can ensure kids have an experience that helps them in their way of looking at life,” Cole says. “For students in a city, having a garden or a pet is very difficult,” she points out. She hopes that the garden can be an introduction to nature for city-bound kids and teach them some environmental lessons they can use to inform their everyday life decisions.
In their many different ways, Beijing’s international students and schools are tackling environmental issues with creativity, energy and focus. “One person can make a difference,” WAB’s water warrior Enea Koxhioni reminds us. “You can make a difference if you really want to.” That’s a lesson any teacher would be proud of.