School notebook: Breaking up with plastic

  • Panelists speak at Fort River Elementary on Tuesday.  SUBMITTED PHOTO/TIM AUSTIN

Staff Writer
Published: 4/27/2019 12:26:07 AM

AMHERST — Eighth graders Tessa Kawall, Lucy Smith and April Schilling are on a mission to get plastic water bottles out of Amherst-Pelham Regional Middle School.

Their plan: raise funds to buy reusable water bottles to sell to students for a dollar. They’re also hoping to install a new water bottle filling station with filtered water outside the cafeteria.

Right now, a lot of plastic water bottles are sold in the lunchroom, Smith said.

“Recently, we’ve seen a lot of plastic bottles littered around the school and community,” Kawall said.

And on social media, Kawall said she hears about plastic hurting the environment.

Smith said they learn about climate change in the classroom, but don’t always put it into action.

“This just gave us a chance to make a change and take it outside the classroom,” Smith said.

They’re starting small in their own area, Kawall said, but “imagine all schools going plastic bottle free.”

School administrators, they said, have been supportive so far.

A bottle-filling station and 150 re-useable bottles will cost about $2,500. So far, they’ve raised almost $400 through bake sales and their GoFundMe.

Students are holding a volleyball fundraiser tournament on May 1 from 4 to 6 p.m. in the middle school gym, pitting students against school staff. Admission is $3 for students and kids and $5 for adults. Food from downtown Amherst businesses will be sold.

Funding for Amherst futures

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education awarded the district $24,810 for Amherst Futures, a program that gives black and Latino paraprofessionals a path to get their license to be a classroom teacher.

Grant funds will go toward tuition, license exam fees and paying substitutes so that people in the program can do some of their work during the day, according to a release from the district.

Principal search

The district has interviewed three candidates for the open principal position at Amherst-Pelham Regional High School: Alan Strauss, Shannon Magee and Gene Jones. Superintendent Michael Morris said that the district expects to announce the new principal by the end of next week.

Strauss is the current principal of Weymouth High School in Weymouth, Massachusetts; Magee, a former principal at the British International School in Ghana, is the interim dean at Amherst Regional High School; and Jones, a former principal in Syracuse and Philadelphia public schools, and most recently an education consultant in Virginia, according to biographies and resume information posted on the school’s website.

Youth activism panel

On Tuesday, Fort River Elementary sixth graders held a panel discussion on youth activism. U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, radio host Monte Belmonte and youth climate leaders, such as Northampton High School student and climate strike organizer Saraphina Forman, spoke at the event. Students wrote and asked the panelists questions about organizing, said sixth grade teacher Tim Austin.

The event was part of the curriculum on civic literacy, supported by a grant from “Teaching Tolerance,” a magazine from the Southern Poverty Law Center. That allowed two “organizers in residence,” Lindsey Peterson and Stephanie Jo Kent, to come work with students through the unit, Austin explained. Fort River students are working on campaigns including those on adopting a new state flag and seal and preventing deforestation.

“These are the nuts and bolts of organizing that they’re learning, to have some experts, especially some young experts, was a powerful thing,” Austin said of the panel.

Greta Jochem can be reached at
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