Taking Action to Address Marine Debris: Youth-Led Social Change at BDJMS

Willie Barber
February 26, 2016

The highly motivated 7th grade LEAD students at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School (BDJMS) are making a difference! For the past few weeks, they have been diligently creating a proposal to take action and bring environmental awareness to the people of New London and its greater community.

  The LEAD program is comprised of   30 BDJMS students who are working with their school teachers, NESS, and the NESS SEA AmeriCorps members at their Ocean Beach location every Monday and Tuesday this semester. Together, students have developed a project that targets environmental issues like marine debris and recycling.

The ultimate goal of their project is to build a bench in New London comprised of Eco-Bricks. An Eco-Brick is created by just two materials: a used plastic bottle and large quantities of dry trash. Trash is packed into a plastic bottle to make it hard like a brick, which can then be used to make a variety of structures, like a bench. The students’ goal is to make 1000 bottle-bricks to engineer into a bench that can be utilized for the city of New London.

What has been done so far?

  Students are currently in the collecting phase of the project. Both plastic bottles and dry trash need to be collected in order to create the Eco-Bricks. The students have already placed a receptacle at Stop & Shop in Waterford to collect bottles along with a poster to spread awareness of their project. In just one week, over 50 bottles were collected there. In addition to Stop & Shop, there are several other places around New London where the students are looking to place more receptacles, including Shop Rite, the City Hall of New London, and other New London Public Schools. As for the trash inside the bottles, students have been collecting trash from school after breakfast is served, and through beach clean-ups around Ocean Beach Park.

Students have also been drafting, writing and revising official proposals, and asking the school janitor and principal of BDJMS to get involved with their project and give permission to collect materials at the school. Over a dozen bottle bricks have already been created by the students with most of the trash being picked up from around Ocean Beach.

Ms. Erin Arzamarski and Ms. Amanda Illinger, two of the LEAD program teachers at BDJMS, have also been assisting the group with this project.

Erin Arzamarski said, “It is extremely exciting to see our students becoming advocates of change within their local community. They have identified an issue that needed to be addressed, made proposals for how to enact change, and now they are putting their plan into action. Our students are leading conversations with the building principal, superintendent, and the mayor about how to help build awareness around environmental sustainability. These students are practicing skills during the traditional school day that will allow them to become active citizens and responsible members of their community.”

Amanda Illinger added, "It has been very rewarding to see the grade 7 LEAD students get excited and take ownership of the Eco-Brick project. This is a perfect project for the students to put to use and showcase the leadership skills we have been developing throughout the year.”

What’s next?

  After meeting with the BDJMS principal Dr. Alison Burdick to ask for assistance from the rest of the community with this project, Principal Burdick told us, “The LEAD program continues to seek out new opportunities for students to make a difference in our community. They have thoughtfully incorporated community partners and are tackling problems that impact each of us.”

Now that Dr. Burdick and the entire school on board, students are planning to meet with other local officials such as the Mayor of New London and Superintendent of New London Public Schools for support with their project. The students look forward to contacting the mayor to discuss the possibility of putting a receptacle in the city hall as well as speaking with the superintendent to collect materials for their project from other New London schools. In addition to meeting with New London officials, the students are also planning a meeting with the owner of Ocean Beach Park, Dave Sugrue, in order to discuss building the bench on their property.

The 7th Grade LEAD students have an exciting project planned for their spring semester and are demonstrating so much growth and creating positive impacts in themselves and in their community. Stay tuned as they continue to create change!