After witnessing how impassioned her students were about global issues such as climate change, deforestation and endangered species, Hopi Elementary teacher Whitney Keeler decided to take a more proactive approach to educating kids about the many environmental problems facing the world.
From that decision, Keeler formed the Environmental Leaders club at Hopi, with the assistance of fellow third grade teachers Jacqueline Comerford and Kelsey Wolf.
“I decided to start an after-school club to make it a learning opportunity where the kids could be part of the solution,” Keeler said.
Environmental Leaders is open to students in the fourth and fifth grades. Interested students must compose an essay expressing why they care about the environment. A highly anticipated project among students is a school-wide fundraiser called Penny Wars.
For a week during the month of April, each Hopi classroom in kindergarten through fifth grade gathered pennies with the objective of collecting as many as possible to earn the most points.
One of Keeler’s students suggested the club use Penny Wars as a way to raise money and awareness for the rainforest, which Keeler said was a particularly popular cause for her students.
“The club started three years ago,” Keeler said, “and last year was our first Penny Wars. We made $3,400, which is an insane amount of money to make only in change, and we donated it all to The Rainforest Trust. Some parents really got into it and gave their kids rolls of pennies. The money was going to such a good cause that people really supported it.”
On the last day of the competition, each classroom placed their jug of pennies outside their door, and students from any grade could drop silver coins into whatever jugs they liked. Silver coins subtracted from the total points earned.
“The students and teachers got really pumped,” Keeler said. “Penny Wars is an exciting way to raise money. It’s a fun competition, and kids get behind competitions. Students in every grade wanted to participate.”
When it came to selecting their Penny Wars beneficiary, the adults and students researched a number of organizations, and they learned about The Rainforest Trust that focuses on protecting the rainforest.
After the initial Penny Wars, The Rainforest Trust sent personal emails saying how proud the organization was of the kids. The Trust kept in touch with Hopi, and for this year’s Penny Wars, it sent the students stickers and t-shirts.
“Given there were a bunch of different activities going on at school this year,” Keeler said, “our second Penny Wars only netted us $2,404. That’s still a mind-blowing amount of money, and it’s more than many adults could raise for a fundraiser like this.”
The Environmental Leaders mission is to educate the Hopi family about environmental concerns. Recently, the entire school participated in Earth Hour, an international event sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, which focuses on climate change and how each person can make a valuable difference.
“The kids are so passionate,” Keeler said. “They know this world is their future, and they care about the animals and the planet.”