A Lifetime of Good Work
Communities flourish when people come together to make necessary change happen. This can be done on many levels, but often when children learn how to influence their community through positive change, it can mean a lifetime of good work.
Students across the nation have learned how to be environmentally conscious through the work of Earth Force, a nonprofit focused on educating teachers on how to build environmental community projects with their students.
“We target fifth to 10th grade students because that’s the age people start to develop their personality, belief systems, value systems, and where environmental work needs to happen to build environmentally educated people,” says Justin Zakoren, Earth Force program manager for the Denver, Colo., area.
Earth Force works with teachers to give them a framework for their classroom work, which guides students to ask questions, identify issues and create solutions.
“Service learning is the best way to learn because you learn by doing,” says Earth Force President and CEO Vince Meldrum. “We’re encouraging students to do things in their community and they come away with a base knowledge of how to influence their community. They create a skillset inside and outside the classroom.”
“We’re creating environmental citizens, but also creating students who can independently research issues and understand the distinction between policy and practice,” Justin adds.
One class of sixth graders from Rooney Ranch Elementary School put the Earth Force curriculum to work. Students took an inventory of their school grounds and surrounding community and found the storm water outlet behind their school was littered with garbage and graffiti. The students focused their energy on how to clean up the area and keep it clean.
“They wrote to the city to help cover up the graffiti and secured a trash can for the litter. In that process, they spoke to the mayor, invited the city’s public works department to the storm water outlet and made an agreement that they’d let the city know when the trash can needed to be emptied,” Justin says.
The following school year, the students came back and noticed the trash can was being used, but the graffiti was back, so they created another task force and decided to cover up the graffiti with a mural that would be covered with a clear coat of special paint that is graffiti-resistant.
“I liked this because a lot of times you come into situations where you have the issue, but the solutions are simplistic, and here they’ve thought it through with a solution that will stop it,” Justin adds. “The students have also reached out to the fourth-graders to ensure the work is continued next year.”
“We work with educators who are under so much pressure to train them on our model and help them translate that to middle school kids,” Vince says. “I have teachers who tell me learning the Earth Force model has kept them in teaching. It makes education what teachers hope it will be – fun. We evaluate our programs and find teachers do more projects and we see kids as assets to the community.”
State Farm® has supported Earth Force programs since 2008, allowing youth to complete tangible environmental programs and supporting teachers with education and project support.
“State Farm has been a big partner of ours. The grants we’ve received have allowed us to innovate and add another angle to the program and our State Farm partners have helped us identify community resources, volunteers and where we need to expand next,” Vince says. “There’s a credibility having an ongoing relationship with a company like State Farm.”