It was easy to pick out the kindergarten class at Dillon Valley Elementary's assembly Feb. 11. Each student wore a headband with a cutout of a sea creature on it. Sharks, turtles, octopi and fish bobbed about as the children stood in a line in front of the student body and performed a song about the ocean.
At the end of the song, they presented the entire school with 400 reusable grocery bags to take home and use in lieu of the usual throwaway plastic bags. This action came about as part of the students' current unit, which deals with the importance and health of the ocean and environmental impacts of human waste and litter.
The bags were a donation from Vitamin Cottage in Dillon, which is part of Natural Grocers. This was the second time that the store had donated reusable bags to the elementary school, but the first for kindergartners to get further involved.
"It's just about cutting down on waste," said Nicole Monson, nutritional health coach at Vitamin Cottage, of the store's policy against plastic bags and its donation to the school. "Just like anything with kids, teaching them at a young age is so much better. They're just set on that path and if you bring it to their awareness, kids are just so passionate about everything they're interested in."
Single-use plastic bags are currently a hot topic in Summit County. Towns have been struggling to decide whether or not to ban single-use bags or find a way to reduce or regulate them.
Cara Webb, kindergarten teacher at Dillon Valley, said going through the water unit with her students, young as they are, is an important step toward future change.
"It's such a big concept, to understand the little teeny thing and how it makes a big difference in the long run," she said, of trying to get the students to connect the rivers they see here with the oceans miles away.
"This is your future," she says to them. "This is what you can do to live a healthy life."
The school's fifth-graders are also involved in recycling efforts. At the same assembly, they announced a petition that will circulate around the student body, asking students to sign a pledge that they will use reusable rather than plastic bags and water bottles.
Dillon Valley is not the only school to push the importance of recycling, waste reduction and healthy environment. Each school has units in place for multiple grades to address these issues.
Fifth-graders at Summit Cove Elementary, for example, are currently working on exhibition projects that relate to waste, plastic and the environment. The students have been involved in the community plastic bag debate, said Crystal Miller, Summit Cove principal, writing letter, attending town council meetings and speaking with county commissioners.
"There's just a lot of different planners that we study, teach and work on that go with that particular element," she said. "Almost every grade has some environmental element."
Like her colleagues throughout the district, Miller believes educating students about these environmental issues is valuable.
"That's our earth, that's our planet, that's the world we're going to see. It's important that they know they're the movers and shakers of action. They can make really big changes," she said. "In my school years nobody taught me, you need to take action to help the planet. ... I think kids need to be taught to take action explicitly early on and that their voice matters and what they believe and what they think and their research skills can make a difference."