Focus on Green Schools – Green Curriculum, Mendham Boro’s Hilltop Elementary School

Daria Kingman

“…if we bring them the message at virtually any age, children will not only understand it, but put it in to practice. The generation of future adults currently in elementary school will become the deciders for future policy on environmental issues.” ~Jack Costantino, Pres., TFU~

I believe eco-literacy cannot begin early enough. Even five year olds can reach a light switch. As this story will illustrate, if we bring them the message at virtually any age, children will not only understand it, but put it in to practice. The generation of future adults currently in elementary school will become the deciders for future policy on environmental issues.

On Friday March 19th, like the rock stars they are for energy conservation and the environment; 300+ students of Mendham Boro’s Hilltop Elementary School played to a packed house worthy of a concert venue. In the magical setting of a darkened auditorium, Art Teacher Daria Kingman’s creative production utilized a myriad assortment of puppets, marionettes and cut-outs all made by hand (by the students) from recycled materials.

When I asked Daria where the inspiration for the production came from, she explained that this idea has been percolating for months. Having composed and directed several other productions over the past few years (but having no formal training in theatrical arts) she felt that threats to the environment was a timely and necessary topic for the children to engage. She recalled an experience in a favorite part of Maine, where a tree filled mountain was left barren and scarred by seemingly indiscriminate logging. This inspired a powerful piece on the global threat to our forests. Daria believes that by participating in eco-friendly behavior at this age, kids will better understand the gap between education and legislation as they become adults.

Along with an inspired staff including, Molissa LeMay, Kim Kanefke, Nancy Morales and Jessica Perdomo, the presentation successfully transcended merely memorable. It is a warning as much as a tutorial and road map of simple but imperative steps we must take to prepare a new generation to rescue themselves from the failings of the former.

Lauren AlpertLauren Alpert, 4th Grade… “We have to be aware of global warming and pollution. We should recycle and have the habit to conserve energy at home.”

Luminescent in black light, the environmentally referenced shapes and figures danced, pranced and glided across the dark stage, brought to life by barely visible black-garbed students from all classes. Each skit focused on a particular environmental theme. Driven by a hard rocking musical score, the symbolism of each vignette was as unmistakable as the fun and enthusiasm on and off the stage. The applause for each scene far exceeded the familiar politeness customarily elicited by family and friends of the participants. In contrast this applause was focused, in-touch with the point, and profuse. There was hooting and hollering… of the good kind!

Gwendolyn LamGwendolyn Lam, 3rd Grade… “I do lots of sports activities outside, including rock climbing. It’s more enjoyable and I get exercise and use less electricity. At home we recharge batteries and turn off lights.”

Between skits, the amplified voices of the students could be heard announcing statistics on environmental issues. The subject matter included endangered species, reuse of materials, alternative energy and warnings about the waste of natural resources. The delivery of this information by 3rd graders was highly effective.

Kevin SommerKevin Sommer, 3rd Grade… “I like video games and have two or three favorites like Brians Storm in Guitar Hero by Arctic Monkeys; but kids shouldn’t be lazy about playing outside.”

In a presentation aptly titled “Disappearing Trees”, a forest of glowing individual trees, often taller than the children who carry them, fills the entire stage swaying to a musically melancholy wind produced by violins, cello’s and the deep base of an oboe. The music is beautiful… and haunting. The mood of the piece saddens increasingly as one at a time, each tree exits the stage until only one remains. The message is unavoidable and delivered with such impact that one could sense the collective held breath of the audience… brief silence… and then an explosion of applause. The power of this imagery leaves the viewer momentarily stunned. After all, we have merely gathered to enjoy a performance of grade school kids. Mrs. Kingman’s instincts for the composition of this piece and her ability to assemble the young performers in an effective translation of the message are truly startling.

Olivia SylvesterOlivia Sylvester, 2nd Grade… “We have plugs which turn off TV’s and other things so no energy is being used. We refill water bottles and use rechargeable batteries.”

To provide relief from the remnant affect of an empty stage where once a forest grew…a subsequent skit employs two larger than life luminescent farmers working from each side of the stage bending and replanting an imaginary hillside with seedling trees. After each seedling is positioned a new one takes permanent root on the stage until the entire glowing and vibrant arboreal platform is restored with new growth- replacing devastation with hope. The result was amazingly uplifting.

Abby GillespieAbby Gillespie, 1st Grade… “My Brother plays too much with video games. I like to ride my bicycle and play outside. It’s more fun.”

As the performance closes, each child, visible only by their glowing blue-white gloves, deposits an equally lit contribution into a container marked with the recycle symbol. Then before leaving the stage, points an illuminated finger momentarily but emphatically at the audience. As a finale the message could not be more obvious- the responsibility for the problem and the solution is assigned to the seated attendance of adults; simultaneous accusation and supplication. It was perfect.

Jack Costantino
USGBC-NJ Newsletter Committee
Green Schools – Green Curriculum

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