VOICE OF AMERICA
by Mike O'Sullivan
A California organization called Common Vision is taking a message of environmental protection to schools around the state. Two dozen young people have been on the road since February, traveling in buses powered by recycled cooking oil. At each stop, they teach students about conservation through music, dance and other fun activities and help them plant fruit trees in their schoolyards.
The non-profit organization was formed in 1999 to bring together environmentalists and gardeners with musicians and artists. The result was a two-pronged approach to conservation education: presenting skits and songs showing how waste harms the environment and greenhouse gases worsen global warming, and planting trees that produce oxygen to help the environment and provide fruit to help feed us.
Common Vision project director Megan Watson says the volunteers are bringing the children many messages "about the importance of local foods, the importance of working together with your community, and then, of course, how they can impact this crisis of climate change right here in their own schoolyards."
The students at Harmony Elementary School in Los Angeles are responding, according to third-grade teacher Salvador Sotelo.
"You can see that they are all enjoying themselves and getting to put their hands in the dirt and learn about the importance of growing trees and growing their own fruit."
The students say they are having fun and learning something, as well.
"We learned about how we plant trees," says one boy. His friend adds, "And recycle!"
Sotelo says those lessons are reinforced in the classroom.
"We talk about conservation and pollution. We have also a science unit that deals with life sciences and what they can do to promote conservation and protect the environment and their neighborhood."
Fellow teacher Mario Perez notes that many students already recycle.
"That is something they can relate to, something we try to promote here at school. So that's a connection that they can make. And it's important to introduce them to the idea that our planet is in danger, and I think they connect to that as well."
He says the visit by the Common Vision volunteers has been engaging and educational for the Harmony students.
"It's been so interactive. It's been so much fun. You can see it in their eyes. You can see it in the faces, in the smiles. They've been smiling all morning long."
Learning to cooperate to clean up the environment
While recycling plastics jugs to use as drums and planting trees that will bear fruit is fun, project director Megan Watson says the students will take away a serious message: Humans have contributed to environmental problems, and together we can solve them.
"It's going to take a community of people," she explains. "With a lot of the art and music that we bring to the students, the real focus on that is learning how to work together, celebrate together and cooperate."
As part of its annual Fruit Tree Tour, Common Vision has taken that message to 40,000 students and planted trees at 100 urban schools and community centers. It also conducts reforestation projects, creates community gardens and promotes the use of biofuels, like the vegetable oil that powers its buses.
Common Vision volunteers say students are learning that the environment is not something far away, only at the polar ice caps, in the mountains or the forest, but is all around them - in their schoolyard and in their neighborhoods, and they can play an important part in protecting it.