145 Students, 50 Trees, One Catalog at a Time

November 25, 2008 at 10:34 am 1 comment

posted by Ted Wells ’07, 4th grade teacher at The Park School, Brookline, MA

catalog canceling challengeYou know those annoying sales catalogs that show up a little too often in your overcrowded mailbox? The ones that go straight into the recycling bin? At The Park School in Brookline, MA where I teach fourth grade, these catalogs were becoming a problem. We were receiving over fifty per day that were dumped directly into recycling. Some weekly catalogs were addressed to teachers who had retired years earlier. What a waste.

So we decided to do something about it.

We held a friendly “Catalog Canceling Challenge” between grades three, four, and five to see which group of kids could cancel the most catalogs in thirty days. Some took school catalogs home to cancel, others canceled their parents’ unwanted catalogs. Thinking they might cancel a few hundred, I built a small wooden bin in a school hallway with three columns – one for each grade – to display their piles of canceled catalogs and so we could watch the contest unfold over the month of November 2007.

catalogs1All three columns were full in eight days! And the third grade started a wobbly new three-foot pile to the right of the bin. I kept building additional columns for the kids to drop in more – hundreds and hundreds more. They truly got into this project and enjoyed doing their small part to help the environment. Some kids went door to door in their neighborhoods offering to cancel catalogs. Several children canceled over 100 each.

After thirty days, the 145 children had opted-out of 4,125 catalogs! If stacked, this would be a thirty-one foot tall pile. Everyone was stunned by their effort.

catalog2After some calculation, and considering one canceled catalog actually represents at least four future catalogs not showing up, we determined that the Park School students will save 50 trees, 50 thousands gallons of water (it takes three gallons to make the paper for one catalog), and prevented the release of 6,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (1.9 cars annual emissions worth). These were impressive results that tie a simple kid-friendly action – canceling catalogs – to preventing deforestation, conserving water and energy, and slowing global warming.

Allowing children to do something about these potentially scary topics that they are hearing much about, helps them gain control over their world and some of its problems. It gives them reassurance that they can make a difference and that we can solve these problems. As one of my students once said,

“Earth is like a human. When the human gets a fever we get chicken soup and get to watch TV. Then we get all better. When Earth gets a fever, it has no TV or chicken soup. So it doesn’t get better as quickly. We need to do everything we can to give something like a TV or something like chicken soup to Earth right now.”

In taking on this service learning work – like the recycling program the kids run at school, or the green message and its implied life changes that are slowly absorbing into our societal consciousness right now – in canceling catalogs, these children are providing our planet with some relief. Some soup! They are helping out in its time of need. Oh, and by the way, their parents were thrilled to get rid of those pesky catalogs!

After a live interview with Ann Curry on NBC’s Today Show, now other schools and some Girl Scouts have completed the project. Over 900 children have canceled 13,000 catalogs to date. This year we’re hoping dozens of other schools and scouts (or church groups, or soccer teams, or community centers) to join at www.CatalogCancelingChallenge.com and perhaps the direct marketing groups will start cleaning up their methods of unsolicited mass mailings and switch over to web-based marketing more completely.

If you know any green teachers or cool kids who want to make a difference, pass this idea on to them. Or show them this YouTube video we made. And thanks!

Sad statistics: 19 billion sales catalogs are mailed per year in the US. Only 2% of them elicit a consumer response. Most end up in landfill where they rot and produce greenhouse gasses. The unwanted catalogs waste 61 million trees, 59 billion gallons of water, massive amounts of energy (equal to 1.4 million homes a year), and CO2 emissions equivalent to 2.2 million cars annually.

Ted Wells teaches 4th grade at The Park School in Brookline, MA and is currently organizing the second annual “Catalog Canceling Challenge.” He also makes green videos that can be seen at www.TedWells.tv. He can be reached at tedwellscatablog@gmail.com

Entry filed under: environmental education, integrated curricula, service learning.

What is the Role of Bank Street in a New Era? Generations of Bank Street Teachers and Learners

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Some of Our Past Bloggers

Alisa Algava ‘08, leader of a small Hudson Valley progressive school
Gloria Arenson ’58, psychotherapist
Bill Ayers ‘84, UIC professor, Chicago
Fred Baumgarten ‘84, writer/musician/naturalist/father
Keith Berman '03, founder/president of Options for College and Bank Street’s LinkedIn moderator
David Bowles ’08 (SFC ’93), museum educator at the Rubin Museum of Art
Elena Canaras ‘07, Special Education teacher, Hawaii
Virginia Casper, Bank Street faculty member
Jim Clay ‘88, director of a Washington DC Quaker preschool
Mary DeCamp Cotterall ‘87, Reading Specialist, Michigan
Judy Coven ’77, retired public school teacher and former Antioch University faculty member
Leslie Day '93, adjunct instructor at Bank Street and author of Field Guide to the Natural World of New York City
Mary Louise (Molly) Day ‘76, Lab School teacher, Chicago
Liezel de La Isla ‘99, Prague International School teacher
Diane Trister Dodge '70, founder and president of Teaching Strategies, Inc.
Meghan Dunn ’08, 3rd grade teacher, Brooklyn
Steven Evangelista ’01, co-director Harlem Link Charter School, NYC
Janine Fetters ‘02, Senior Associate of Parent Engagement at NACCRRA
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Joanne Ruvolo Gannett ‘84, Columbia College art history professor, Chicago
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Carol Hillman ‘67, early childhood educator, author, and Long Trip co-leader
Pam Jones ‘05, Bank Street advisor and instructor
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Preminda Langer ‘97, teacher trainer
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Rabin Nickens ‘03, Speaker, Trainer and Educational Consultant
Beth Norford ‘89, consultant and former School for Children teacher
Susy Ogden ‘97
Marion Palm ‘95, Leadership in the Arts alum, writing tutor, poet and singer
Jessica Poser, assistant professor of art education at UIC, Chicago
Jesse Pugh '76, BSCAA President
Meg Rauen ‘06, former Chicago elementary school teacher, NY
Linda Reing, Bank Street Director of Alumni Relations
Rosalind Rothman '62, retired NYC teacher and guidance counselor
Kyla Ryman '92/'97, educational coach and consultant
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Linda Appleman (Guidall) Shapiro ‘81, psychotherapist and author
Barbara Silver ‘80, literacy consultant and former NYC first grade teacher
Andrea Penny Spencer, former Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at Bank Street
Debbie Stone ‘84, former teacher/co-director of High Valley School
Rachel Theilheimer ‘74, chair of teacher education at BMCC/CUNY
Theodore Timpson ’05, founder/president of Young Spirit Foundation
Eleanor Traubman '95, is Editor in Chief of Creative Times, a blog which promotes NYC's performing, visual and literary arts
Allison Warren '08, new mom, recent grad, and early childhood teacher
Max Weinberg ‘03, Francis Parker School teacher, Chicago
Ted Wells ‘07, 4th grade teacher at The Park School, Brookline, MA
Tracy Wiessbrod ’03, kindergarten teacher and stay-at-home mom

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