Middle school students look at the big picture

Sequim Middle School students learned first-hand the concept of sustainability this spring in an elective course called "environmental problems."

Teacher Suzanne Gray proposed the class last spring because it was her dream to lead a student-driven environment course.

"I started each unit as a guide; explaining the environmental problems that we are facing as a society through lessons and activities. Then I turned the class over to the kids to develop projects that would be


About 20 seventh- and eighth-grade students studied a different environmental issue each week.

Gray said students were most surprised to learn:

Local orca whales are threatened; pesticides from lawns can end up in Puget Sound; the decreasing number of U.S. family farms; the amount of gases and fumes put into the air; and the distance food travels from the farm to a plate.

Students worked on various projects and reports throughout the semester detailing a solution to each problem.

For the food and agriculture unit, students grew a Victory Garden, compared organic and nonorganic fruit smoothies, made bread, cheese and yogurt from scratch and more.

"The projects always surprised and impressed me," Gray said,

"I loved watching where they took their own learning."

The class also visited the Community Organic Garden of Sequim. They tilled soil and planted vegetables.

As a result of the course, Gray said some students pledged to do the following:

Eat local foods to save on gas and air pollution; recycle more; grow gardens (four students, who never had gardened before, planted gardens at home already); compost (one student started a composting bin at home).

"Their radar is up and they have already started noticing local farms, clean energy, climate change issues and more," said Gray.

The class will not be offered next year because Gray will be leaving to take care of her newborn baby.

However, the middle school offers an engineering course with potential to address environmental issues and advanced high school students can take AP Environmental Science.

"When I work with these kids, I really feel as though everything is going to turn out OK," Gray said.

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