“Project Grease Away” Wins Earth Day Contest, Becomes Official City Resolution

| February 1, 2013

Using technology, teamwork, and tenacity, 6th grade students at All Saints Catholic School in Endicott took on a tough challenge: kitchen grease.

By Jennika Baines

Despite the humble topic, the students’ project ended up earning them first place in the Project Earth 2012 Earth Day Contest for Best School Project for grades six through eight. The students were also named second runners up in Disney’s Planet Challenge school competition. 

The All Saints “Project Grease Away” team worked under the supervision of Christine Horowitz, former technology integration specialist for Broome County Catholic Schools.

The students were looking for an environmental project when a parent brought up the problem of used cooking oil that is poured down kitchen drains. The oil has a nasty effect not only on home plumbing but also on sewage treatment plants, rivers, and wildlife. When students learned that this oil could instead be gathered and transformed into biodiesel, they decided to take on the task of getting the word out to bring about real change.

The students worked with other teachers at the school to further the project. Through the science department, students gained an understanding of the properties of oil and what happens once it is poured down the drain. And, they learned of cooking oil’s effects on the city and the environment from a representative from the Chenango County Farm Bureau and from the city’s sustainable development planner. Through the English department, students came up with a marketing plan, created and maintained a website, designed brochures, made digital comic books and a PowerPoint presentation. And, they also put together a petition and sharpened their public speaking skills.

Then, fully prepared, the class made presentations to the Binghamton City Council to propose that the city offer drop-off points for used cooking oil. This oil could then be collected and transformed into alternative fuels. The council unanimously approved the idea and made it an official city resolution.

Projects like these encourage kids to engage with ideas using their own problem-solving skills, Horowitz said.

“I hardly ever had an issue with kids not doing their assignments because they were always excited to do it,” she said. “They need structure, and when you give an assignment you say ‘You have to do this,’ but then you can also say, ‘But you can do it any which way you’d like.’ It’s exciting for them to be able to take ownership and know that ‘This is mine.’”

Anne Ziolkowski was a 6th grader during the project but attends 7th grade at Seton Catholic Central School now. She said the class was broken into groups and, using their own “Google Docs” account, they were able to send and share files, coordinate work, and comment on each other’s portion of the project.

“I think our class worked really well together,” she said. “We were really close-knit, so if somebody needed help with something we could always ask someone, and they’d know what we needed.”

Classmate Finbarr Huff was also in the class last year. He said he enjoyed the project and thinks that it made a real difference.

“We really worked together as a class and really got out into the community to help people make good decisions,” he said. “You’re having fun in class at the same time you’re helping the environment and learning how you can make a difference.”

Both Ziolkowski and Huff said their favorite part was speaking to the government officials. “That’s something that doesn’t really happen to 6th graders very often,” Ziolkowski said.

She said the experience taught her not only about technology and teamwork, but also that she really does have an important role to play.

“I learned that I can change the world, even though I’m really young,” she said. “I can do big things, too.”

Jennika Baines is a freelance writer based in Syracuse, NY.


Category: Bold Initiatives

Comments are closed.