`Green' Newspaper Teaches Kids To Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

If you wanna be smart and if you wanna be cool

Turn off the bathroom faucet while you're brushin' for school.

If you're takin' a shower, keep it short and, no kiddin'

You'll be saving on gallons and your bill won't be ridden

With big dollar charges and your parents feelin' broke

And you'll be saving the environment and that ain't no joke!

THIS could be the first rap poem ever written about saving water. But in the newspaper Greenspeak, it makes perfect sense.

Greenspeak is an environmental newspaper for fifth-graders, written by high school students. It is published five times during the school year by the Global Habitat Project (GHP), a nonprofit environmental education organization in Boston.

Greenspeak's mission is to help youths in Massachusetts - and eventually beyond - to become better informed about environmental issues both global and local.

The April issue, for example, honored Earth Day by focusing on recycling. Articles have headlines such as ``Recycling Is In,'' ``Landfills - Not a Solution'' and ``Recycle, Reuse, Reduce.'' One story talks about the ``Environmental Olympics'' in Lillehammer, Norway, where the ``disposable'' eating utensils were made out of potato starch and fed to pigs after people were finished with them. Fun facts, tips, experiments, word searches, quizzes, and tips from ``EQ the ant'' help make learning fun. In addition to spreading awareness about the global environment, Greenspeak includes local ``metro'' articles of interest to city residents.

But there's more to Greenspeak than thinking globally and acting locally. It is linking young people of different age groups in a spirit of education and positive activism.

At the Greenspeak headquarters in Boston, director Elizabeth Gilmore and several Greenspeak writers and editors answered questions about the program.

Why target fifth-graders?

Many education specialists agree that 10-year-olds are at an age where they absorb information quickly and have confidence as well as curiosity. They're poised for leadership, says Ms. Gilmore, co-founder of GHP. ``At 10 or 11, you imprint yourself on everything around you. You're noticing everything,'' says Gilmore, a mother of three and former teacher who has worked with Headstart, UNICEF, and other children's programs that generate learning opportunities.

Greenspeak writers, aged 12 to 18, come to GHP through youth programs such as the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, and local schools.

Peter Lee, one of about 23 ``Greenspeakers,'' is the paper's ``Mr. Environment'' columnist. He answers write-in questions associated with the environment, such as ``How do bees make honey?'' or ``What hair spray is least harmful for the environment?'' Peter, a 10th-grade student at Boston Technical High School, says he often consults his younger cousins for feedback and ideas. ``I ask them what subjects they like.'' Then, back in the office, ``we do a lot of brainstorming,'' he says.

The fact that kids are writing for other kids gives the paper a unique advantage: It's not preachy adults telling kids what to do. Reading and writing skills figure in, while mentoring opportunities boost self-esteem with both age groups. Also, teachers are offered a guide to help incorporate Greenspeak into their lesson plans. Thanks to foundation funding, Greenspeak is distributed free to any fifth-grade class that asks for it. So far, the newspaper reaches more than 5,000 kids in Boston schools; it can also be found at libraries, science museums, and youth clubs.

Franklin Reese is chairman of GHP and also CEO of US TeleCenters, which donates office space, fundraising help, and all-around advice. The program caught his interest because it views children as agents of change, says Mr. Reese, a father of two. ``I am very excited about the role small- to medium-size business can play in the community,'' he says. Young people can make wonderful leaders and bring excitement to the education process, Reese continues. ``To have them mentored by children who are a little more mature is also terrific.''

Moore & Associates, a graphic design firm in Cambridge, Mass., is another business that helps out - naturally in the illustration and design aspects of the paper (yes, it's recycled paper). Greenspeak is also available on computer networks such as Internet, Econet, Bosnet, and Crewnet.

So far, teachers' and kids' reactions have been positive.

``We're very pleased with it. It's very well done. The environment is something they're already interested in and this is certainly raising their consciousness and giving them more to sink their teeth into,'' says Kim Marshall, principal of the Mather Elementary School in Boston.

Greenspeak's ultimate goal is to reach fifth graders beyond the immediate Boston area. Also, this summer Greenspeak will publish ``Green Trail'' - a guide to help kids know the city of Boston better. It will feature ``interesting places to remind us of how wonderful our urban environment can be,'' Gilmore says, including harbor islands, parks, walking and bicycle paths, and special programs and tours for kids.

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