June 8, 2007

Sweetwater Students Take Up the Cause to End Global Warming

It’s not often that the environment takes on rock-star status, but in assemblies across 12 schools in the Sweetwater Union High School District recently, polar ice caps, stranded penguins and greenhouse gasses were the stars of the show.

In a kick-off assembly at San Ysidro High, all of the school’s 2,400 students packed the gymnasium to hear a presentation of former Vice President Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

Since the airing of the movie, Gore has created the Climate Project, a non-profit organization to train 1,000 volunteer climate change “messengers” to discuss global warming and what can be undertaken to make a positive difference on the issue.

Two of those messengers landed at San Ysidro High to help students think differently about how they use the earth’s resources.

Retired graphic designer and lifelong Republican Gary Dunham, an unlikely crusader, began the assembly by telling everybody that this wasn’t intended to be a political message.

“I’m not a political person,” Dunham told the students. “I am a human being and I live on this planet. That gives me the right to protect the planet in time of peril.”

To get to the nitty gritty of the presentation, Dunham turned over the program to Southwestern College biology professor Valerie Pennington. Using props, such as a hand-held globe, and a PowerPoint presentation with animation, Pennington enthralled the gym full of students for nearly an hour.

But it was the former vice president’s call to Dunham on his cell phone that grabbed the students’ attention. With screams and yells, the students gave a “shout out” to Gore, whom they hoped would have been able to break away from his conference at USD to join their presentation.

“I heard you in my ears and in my hearts,” Gore said over the phone.

Then it was back to Pennington’s presentation. There was lots of science to be understood—formulas showing the amount of greenhouse gas and its effect on the polar ice cap. The presentation then showed the how the ice was melting in nearly every region of the world.

It wasn’t until students saw the pictures of real cities and real people and the effects of record numbers of hurricanes, typhoons and flooding that they began to really take notice. They saw the digital overlays of cities that would be submerged if the polar cap continues melting and therefore raising the levels of the world’s oceans.

“Seeing the visuals is the most important for the kids,” said San Ysidro High teacher Heather Gastil, who helped organize the presentations throughout the district.

The presentation was just the first half of the project, Gastil said. Students at all the schools will now be part of community service projects that have a direct effect on the environment. It could be setting up recycling and composting programs at the school, like San Ysidro High is doing, or planting trees and doing beach cleanups like other schools are doing, she said.

“The kids have been really excited,” Gastil said. “And it’s been giving a boost to science and environment clubs throughout the district.”

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