Fifth grade students smile while being presented the $200 check from the Cass County Community Foundation at Pioneer Elementary School in Royal Center on Tuesday.
Statt photo by Jonah Hinebaugh
Fifth grade students smile while being presented the $200 check from the Cass County Community Foundation at Pioneer Elementary School in Royal Center on Tuesday. Statt photo by Jonah Hinebaugh
ROYAL CENTER — It was just an average day. A group of fifth graders sat around the Pioneer Elementary cafeteria table, eating lunch and sharing stories about homework and families.

Laughter abounded and friendship flourished.

Then, something out of the ordinary burst forth. Kenley Jasmantas, 10, paused, critically eyeing the plastic spork in her hand, and glanced over at a trash can far from the girls’ table, watching as other students casually discarded their sporks, water bottles and milk cartons.

Suddenly, an idea sprang to life.

Jasmantas and her friends began brainstorming ways to help the environment.

“I had just been to the Indianapolis Zoo and watched a dolphin show,” she said, explaining that one of the presentations during the event chronicled the details of increased pollution in the oceans and how plastic harms aquatic life.

Yet, here “we were with plastic sporks, throwing them away in a trash can,” said 10-year-old Paytyn Dillman.

And that made each of the friends contemplate the situation. Everyone just tosses plastic into a can without realizing exactly how it impacts others, Dillman said. “People may not think how all of that plastic ends up in the oceans.”

But somehow, it ends up there, said Alexis Farrer, 11. “And it’s sad how many animals die” due to the pollution.

So, this group of eight friends set out to change a bit of the world.

“We wanted to make a big impact on the environment,” said Louie Glasson, 10, who wants to especially save the turtles from any future harm.

Whenever a person drops plastic items and cartons into a regular trash can, those products eventually hurt the environment, said Gyllean Holcomb, 10. And this group wants to put a stop to that, she said, explaining that their project is starting small, but they intend to grow it over time.

Once they thought of a solution, the fifth graders worked outside of class, strategizing and developing a recycling plan that could benefit the entire school.

Camilla Sandoval, 11, said they researched the oceans and became familiar with the different types of pollution that occur throughout the world. Their focus zeroed-in on the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as the trash that washes up on shorelines.

Whitney Reed, 10, said once the research was completed, they organized their data into a step-bystep analysis. “We figured out causes and exactly

how plastics damage the oceans and hurt the animals. Then we decided what we should do.”

The team put together 31 slides for a PowerPoint presentation, said Camryn Lowry, 10.

Par t of their work included showing Pioneer Elementary Principal Pat Quillen what they had come up with. And as Quillen sat through the group’s 10-minute report, “I was so impressed,” he said. “I think what they did was amazing. They took the initiative to do this on their own, and I think that any time youth decide on an issue and take the lead on something, it’s amazing.”

Their teacher, Tricia Kasten, fully supported their plan, acknowledging that the limited hours in a school day slowed down some progress. “They were trying to figure out organization and execution and talking about how to put it into motion … but there are only so many minutes in day. (Nevertheless,) they stayed focused and came up with a good process. These girls are amazing.”

The group even presented before the Cass County Community Foundation board.

“My grandma (Deanna Crispen) is the head of the foundation, and when I told her about our project, she told me that we should show our slides to see what they’d do,” said Lowry.

And on Tuesday, the group found out exactly what the board decided to do. The CCCF earmarked $200 in grant money for the students’ recycling project and presented them with a check to help fund their program.

Quillen said that within the next couple weeks, recycling bins will be placed in the cafeteria. Then, each of the team members will rotate throughout the day during their recess time to rinse milk cartons and water bottles before properly disposing of them.

“It’s a small closet with a sink” where they will work, said Dillman, explaining that custodian Steve Farrer and the cafeteria workers will be helping them.

The school and community support has been an integral part in the group’s success. And that’s part of the reason the CCCF wanted to offer monetary backing.

“We are just so inspired by their initiative and desire to tackle something beyond themselves for the good of others,” said Crispen. “Our hope is that by empowering them to chase their dream, we can help develop the next generation of community leadership. We hope to start a program or process for all elementary schools to submit student-led ideas, research and solutions to problems they see and care about at their schools.”

Vice chairman of the CCCF board, Tim Rich, agreed, telling the fifth graders during the check presentation that “all really good ideas start with one good idea. This is one good idea. Don’t stop here … Get the fourthgraders excited about this, so when you’re (in junior high), they can carry on your idea.”

After signing an agreement with the foundation, Crispen encouraged the students to attend an upcoming meeting to share what they’ve learned through this process. “You’ve set the bar high for other kids,” she said, adding later that “These young ladies were articulate, poised and passionate about what they saw, what they had learned and how they wanted to fix it.”

People can’t be ignorant about these issues, said Jasmantas. “We have to figure out ways to help our planet.”

And as each nodded her head, they recited their motto in unison: “Green, blue, it’s up to you. We make a difference; you can, too.”
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