Interactive STJ Environmental Earth Day Fair Keeps Students Busy

Students from St. John Christian Academy line up to leave at the end of the fair. (Amy Roberts photo)
Students from St. John Christian Academy line up to leave at the end of the fair. (Amy Roberts photo)

There was not enough time to sample all of the hands-on activities offered at the STJ Environmental Earth Day Fair coordinated by the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park. The Wednesday morning event, held for the first time at the site of the old Lumberyard Complex in Cruz Bay, drew on the expertise of a dozen community groups and educational programs.

At a table sponsored by several programs within the University of the Virgin Islands, participants could put on virtual reality glasses and gaze at scenes of underwater life. They were invited to touch a turtle shell (which, in the wild, could result in a $15,000 fine) and compare the jaws of two species of sea turtle – hawksbills that chomp on sponges, and green turtles that graze on sea grass. Young students, even pre-schoolers who couldn’t yet write their names, could take a pledge to protect the earth by tracing an outline of their hand.

To learn about Coastal Zone Management, children sprinkled “dirt” and then “rainwater” on a 3-D model of Virgin Islands terrain. As the children watched their “dirt” run into the “sea” on the model, CZM Education and Outreach Coordinator Kitty Edwards explained how sediment running off island hills ends up polluting our bays.

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Towards one end of the fair, National Park Ranger Laurel Brannick explained how an estimated one million seabirds are endangered by eating plastic.

National Park Ranger Laurel Brannick has children throw bottles at a target to show how angry the birds are about plastic in the environment. (Photo by Gail Karlsson)
National Park Ranger Laurel Brannick has children throw bottles at a target to show how angry the birds are about plastic in the environment. (Photo by Gail Karlsson)

“The birds are angry,” she said, encouraging the children to throw single use plastic bottles though holes in a giant board game.

When it comes to teaching children about the environment, what could be better than having young people guide each other? That’s what the Gifft Hill School community thought. Their students decided to be presenters as well as participants, producing three tables of activities to share Earth Day activities extending from their classroom programs.

Seventh graders from GHS taught children from the Julius E. Sprauve School and the St. John Christian Academy how to make pinwheels, then showed them their own experimental wind generators. The GHS students had been reading ”The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” and mirrored the steps to build a wind generator discovered by the main character, a boy in Malawi.

“The kids experimented with blade design to get the most voltage and light the most bulbs. It wasn’t meant to be a contest, but it kind of became one,” said GHS Curriculum Director Liz Kinsella.

Gifft Hill senior Cheyanne Donnelly charts the presence of bacteria in water samples. (Amy Roberts photo)
Gifft Hill senior Cheyanne Donnelly charts the presence of bacteria in water samples. (Amy Roberts photo)

At the next table, 11th and 12th grade students helped younger students test water samples drawn from two Cruz Bay sites – near the ferry dock, and by the creek near the Virgin Islands National Park Visitor Center. Youngsters mixed in a chemical that revealed the presence of coliform bacteria, a sign of animal or human waste, then charted the results.

Environmental Science teacher Melissa Wilson asked the youngsters to guess why the bacteria was present near the ferry dock, but not by the creek. Perhaps it had to do with the efficiency of sewage treatment facilities, or perhaps with the presence of boaters, she suggested.

At a third table, Iowa State students who are involved in an ongoing partnership at GHS, helped younger children plant seeds in recycled water bottles that they carried home for further care. Throughout the morning, children cradled their future seedlings as they moved excitedly from table to table.

Joseph Townsend, president of UVI's Sea Turtle Club, teaches students about turtles.
Joseph Townsend, president of UVI’s Sea Turtle Club, teaches students about turtles.

Some of the displays were of more interest to adults. The St. John Eco Station, which sells organic cleaning products in highly concentrated form, opened its doors in the solar-powered container to the public for the first time. Eco-Station plans to remain open at the Lumberyard from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturday.

Karen Hauer from Solarize St. John introduced the group’s program to lower the cost of solar energy. When children wandered over, they were asked to name things they could do to save energy. She couldn’t convince everyone, however. One youngster said he would not turn out lights, even when he went to sleep, because he just was afraid of the dark.

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