BRECKENRIDGE - When four local fifth-graders learned that America's founding fathers used a declaration to end England's rule over the U.S., they decided to borrow the idea to tackle a present-day issue: the use of plastic bags and bottles.
But Dillon Valley Elementary students Elsa Bates, Anna Rose Craig, Jacob Brewer and Emilie McAtamney did the Continental Congress one better.
"It's like we were the founding fathers, but not only us signed it," said 10-year-old Anna Rose. "We got out and got visitors and locals in Breckenridge and in Summit County. So instead of it just being us four signing it and our families, we got complete strangers to agree to help."
Roughly 300 people have now signed the students' petition, pledging to prevent the use of plastic bags and bottles in the community.
The fifth-graders, who call themselves the Breck Brains, will present their petition to the Breckenridge Town Council tonight and then to a panel of judges as their community service project for the regional Destination Imagination competition this weekend.
The four have been contenders in the annual competition for the last four years. The bag and bottle petition was borne out of this year's contest parameters: that the students design and carry out a community service project.
"We saw that bags and plastic bottles were getting in the way of animals. It's not good for global warming either, because to make them uses a lot of fuels," said 11-year-old Elsa. "We wanted to do this one because we knew that our community needed help with plastic bags and bottles, with the use of them, so we tried to take action with that."
They began with the words of the founding fathers who inspired the project.
"We the people and visitors of Summit County, by signing this document, agree to prevent the use of single-use plastic bags and bottles," the petition states.
They then took the declaration to the community, collecting signatures in their school, over email and in the Blue River Plaza in downtown Breckenridge.
Some refused to listen to their request. Others didn't support their goal. A few were hostile to the idea of eliminating the use of plastic products.
"Some people actually say no, they don't want to talk to you," Jacob, 10, said. "One was like, 'we don't want any Girl Scout cookies.'"
But many people were supportive. The Breck Brains gathered several dozen signatures in their school from teachers and other students. Visitors to Breckenridge from all over the world signed on as well. This week, they Googled online petitions and found a new way to reach out to potential supporters.
"I was searching online petitions and I found this thing that said Change.org," Emilie, 10, said. "Then I clicked on it and started a petition."
Within 12 hours, the declaration against plastic bags and bottles had garnered 37 signatures on the Change.org website alone.
The petition began as a project for the Destination Imagination contest, but the students can now see it growing into something more.
"Maybe this will go farther than we expected," Anna Rose said. "Instead of it just being for a competition, maybe we'll actually make a change."
At least in Breckenridge, change seems to be coming. While the students have been collecting signatures, adults in the community have been embroiled in a heated debate over whether to ban or place a fee on single-use bags in town.
The SustainableBreck Business Task Force, a body charged with crafting recommended policy action on the issue, has signed on to the students' petition.
Both Jacob's father, Ben Brewer, and Emilie's mother, Jen McAtamney, are members of the Breckenridge Town Council and are expected to make a decision on the proposed bag ban in the coming months.
In the meantime, the Breck Brains will continue to build on their project for the statewide Destination Imagination competition in April.