Students presented research projects, attended demonstrations and enjoyed activities at the event.
By Krista Cerminaro
Eighteen Williamstown Middle School students paid their tribute to Earth Day a month early by participating in the 10th annual New Jersey Clean Communities Environmental Exchange in Ocean City on March 22 and 23.
The WMS Braves Club students — made up of sixth through eighth graders — split up by grade to come up with three research projects to present at the event. Club advisor Miranda Basilone said they’ve been meeting after school and preparing since fall.
“They will find an environmental problem, and do a research project on it, and come up with a solution,” Basilone said. “We start in October with our research projects, and then we present them in March when we go on the exchange.”
Basilone said the three topics for this year’s presentations were beaches being closed due to high bacteria levels, soil and air pollution and the PennEast natural gas pipeline.
In addition to presenting to the other schools that attended, the exchange gave students a chance to watch a demonstration on how to make rain barrels for their gardens, learn about the Marine Mammal Stranding Center — which handles animals that get stranded on the beach — observe a presentation by the Cape May County recycling director on the importance of recycling and the different processes, and see a demo on how equipment is used to fix the beaches after erosion from the recent nor’easter storms, according to Basilone.
By day, the students gained knowledge about their environment, and by night, they were rewarded for their hard work with Zumba and a magician.
This year, WMS was one of nine schools that braved the snowy weather to attend the environmental exchange. According to Basilone, Williamstown students have been attending since the program began 10 years ago.
“I think that middle school is the perfect age, because they’re starting to care more about the environment — and if you can hook them now, it can be a lifelong interest of theirs,” Basilone said.
Basilone, who has been teaching science for 22 years and was active with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation when she taught in Maryland, said aside from programs such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4H and the recycling club at WMS, there aren’t a significant number of outlets for kids who are interested in environmental issues, so this provides them with the opportunity to focus on the environment.
“It’s all paid for by Jackie Wallace of the Monroe Township Public Works,” Basilone said. “She goes with us, since she’s the township’s Clean Community representative.”
Gloucester County Clean Communities representative Jeff Hamilton also attended the event, along with former Braves Club advisor Jill Baturin and three WMS alumni.
“I wanted the children to be able to learn more about the environment, keeping their community clean and what effect it has on our community as a whole, and also our connecting communities. The biggest thing was for them to interact with children from other communities — diverse communities,” Wallace, the Monroe Township Clean Communities Coordinator, said. “Our communities change from one region to another, and our environments are different — the way trash is disposed of, and litter. So, they learn a lot — not only in their studies, but interacting with children of other communities, other environments and other cultures, which is a very good thing.”
Wallace said this is beneficial for students who visit or move to other communities, or even go to college somewhere far away, because they’ll have a better understanding of how different places work in regard to recycling and disposing of trash.
“I see the growth in the students every year that they come, the enthusiasm in them,” Wallace added. “We also take parents, and when they go into it, they have no idea really what’s going to go on — but when they come out, they’re really surprised at how the children interact with other children and the ideas that they come up with.”
Basilone said Wallace is also looking to plan a trip with the students to the ACUA Wastewater Treatment Plant in Atlantic City later in the year to see how the water is treated and where it comes from and goes.
“They will get an understanding about what Atlantic County does with their waste and how it all comes about,” Wallace said. “When they go there, they’ll actually see — from the beginning to end — how the trash will be collected, how they dispose of it and what part is used as energy.”