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Spencer Ave. students’ Litterati campaign puts town on the map

December 7, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Pickford

A group of dedicated elementary school students ‘litter-ally’ put Orangeville on the map earlier this year, embracing the now-global Litterati movement and helping to clean up the local community all at the same time.

Introduced to Grade 7 and 8 students at Spencer Avenue Elementary School this year as part of a new inquiry-based learning initiative called The Global Innovation Exchange Project, the program encourages students to “think outside the box”, while also presenting an opportunity to learn in a format other than a classroom.

“We started looking into project-based learning programs a little bit last year, but the kids have bought in in a big way so far this year,” said teacher Tracy Gray. “The Global Exchange Innovation Project is basically a weekly challenge that pushes people to explore different things, set goals and work to achieve them. The first thing we had to do was come up with a problem we could focus our attentions on. When I asked students what bothered them in the community, there was one resounding answer.”

Littering has been a problem around the globe for as long as humans have occupied it. With that said, the issue has intensified as years have gone by and there has been an increased focus from most of the developed world over the past few decades to cut down on littering.

In their first field trip of the year, students visited Island Lake Conservation Area. It was there that they first learned about Litterati.

“It happened completely by chance,” Ms. Gray explained. “We were doing a water study out at Island Lake and somebody mentioned the Litterati app. We immediately got back to the classroom and started researching.”

While it is categorized as an internet application, most of the students in Ms. Gray’s class will testify now that Litterati is more of an ideology than anything else. In its mission statement, Litterati claims to be tackling what has become a worldwide problem one piece of litter at a time. In a special assembly held at Spencer Avenue ES on Nov. 23, students explained exactly how Litterati works.

“Litterati is a really simple, easy program to use. Basically, all you have to do is go out into your community ready to pick up litter,” said Grade 8 student Mason Colton. “You take a picture of every piece of litter you find on the ground, add a tag describing whatever the litter is and upload it to Litterati.”

So, pretty much, Litterati has become a global library for litter. As of press time, 963,699 pieces of litter have been documented through the online “litter bank”. The United States, the most active country on the Litterati app thus far, has registered 492,059 pieces of litter. Canada is currently in fifth place, behind the Netherlands, UK and Australia, with 18,384 pieces of litter collected. Almost 16 percent of that total has been picked right here in Orangeville, with Spencer Avenue students accounting for 2,902 pieces of litter picked and documented. The group picked litter at Island Lake Conservation Area and in the neighbourhood surrounding the school. Some of what they found was “quite shocking”.

“We saw some pretty crazy things, things you would never think people would just throw out in public,” said Nick Farmer. “Most shocking to me probably were all the alcohol bottles and cans. It’s illegal to drink out in public, yet there were bottles all over Island Lake. It was horrible.”

Ms. Gray noted that students also found shopping carts, couch cushions and a lawnmower – mostly out in the forest near the local school.

“Some people clearly have no regard for what they are throwing out and where they’re throwing it,” said Joey Norwich.

Following the clean-up day, students spent several days compiling the information and uploading it to Litterati. By far the most common items picked up were cigarettes. According to Peter Morneau, there have been more cigarettes picked up in Orangeville than in Toronto.

While the initiative has taught the students valuable skills in teamwork and IT literacy, Ms. Gray is happiest about what Litterati has done to their opinions on littering.

“I think it was pretty clear to see from the assembly how passionate these kids are about this now. Each and every one of these students have been engaged throughout this process, it’s incredible how hard they’ve worked to bring Litterati to Orangeville,” Ms. Gray said.

Nick Farmer admitted he was a frequent litterer before he participated in this project. Now, he’s just focused on preventing as many locals as possible from littering.

“The biggest thing for me through all of this is that I’ve learned what littering does to the environment. I don’t litter anymore, but I think back to all the times that I have and consider what I’ve been doing to the environment. Now, I make sure to throw any garbage I have away properly,” Nick said. “You don’t understand or think about the impact it has until you see it up close. What it does to the environment and what it does to wildlife is horrible.”

While their big cleanup is now behind them, the students will continue embrace Litterati. Ms. Gray noted her class had prepared letters that they will be sending out to nearby businesses to offer suggestions on how they can help to reduce littering in the area. They will continue watching the Litterati app in the hopes of seeing the worldwide litter count reach the big million.

“I knew when we got into this that the students would enjoy it and would get a lot out of it, but I couldn’t have imagined just how much,” Ms. Gray said. “They’ve learned several new skills – group work, collaboration, team work. I’m so proud of what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished. All of the prep work, all of the follow up work and the assembly itself, the kids pretty much did themselves. They’re really showing the rest of the school what it is to be positive leaders, while at the same time they’re trying to make a real difference in our community. It’s been a great experience.”

For more on Litterati, visit literati.org. To follow the Spencer Avenue students’ journey, visit their social media platforms – @graylitterati on Twitter, and @ms.grayslitteratiproject on Instagram.

         

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