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As young caretakers, students celebrate Earth Day in word and in deed

| Thursday, April 21, 2011, 12:00 p.m.

Fifth-graders at Clara Barton Elementary in West Mifflin relayed their "Don't litter" message from the perspective of park animals.

In the Earth Day skit they performed for kindergarteners this week, two children in the park talk to a squirrel that cut its foot on a piece of glass, a rabbit with gum stuck in its tail and a fish that couldn't see in the murky pond. After hearing the stories, the children help clean up the park.

"Please, please take care of the Earth," the animals chorus at the end.

"I think it will make the kindergarteners more inspired not to litter," said fifth-grader Xochitl Martinez-Lopes, before a rehearsal Tuesday.

As part of a weeklong project, the students used recycled paper and other items to make their own backdrop, animal puppets and posters.

Earth Day, first celebrated in 1970, is Friday, though local schools have been commemorating it all week. A Wisconsin senator founded Earth Day after a huge oil spill in 1969 in Santa Barbara, Calif.

This week's activities locally ranged from in-class science lessons to community projects, such as tree and flower planting, litter pick-up and recycling projects.

Most activities are conducted in elementary and middle schools not only because their schedules are more flexible, but also because students that age are more interested in nature and science, said David Seybert, dean of Duquesne University's Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences.

And it doesn't hurt to start teaching children at a young age that keeping the Earth clean is important, he said.

"We certainly live in an age where we need everyone to become much more cognizant of and invested in sustainability," he said. "Particularly for young students, to get them aware of nature and of the resources we have and have them begin to understand that our resources aren't limitless and we need to do things to protect them."

Scott Donnelley, a fifth-grade teacher at Carnegie Elementary, hopes the lessons stay with them.

"A lot of grades will do a walk and clean up trash," he said. "Hopefully, there's a message in there that when they see all this garbage that it's kind of gross."

Donnelley had his students compose an Earth Day-themed haiku, which they painted onto 100 brown paper bags. The bags will be randomly distributed to customers at the Heidelberg Shop 'n Save.

"They love it because it gets into the community," he said.

At age 8, Andrew Despot, a third-grader at Brooks Elementary in Moon, already is thinking about how to spread the word about ways to go green.

"Because I love to go outside and I don't want to play in dirty trash and smoky areas," Andrew said.

Despot won first place in Moon Township Parks & Recreation's annual T-shirt design competition. The shirt features the Earth growing from a tree trunk and branches with leaves that list ways to go green.

T-shirts with his design were given to the first 200 children who attended the township's annual Earth Day celebration on Sunday at Robin Hill Park.

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