Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
I am Grace Cortese, and I am 10 years old. You might think I’m too young to make a difference in the environment. The reason I don’t believe that is because of my science teacher, Jillian Esby. She cares a lot about the environment and she teaches us that there are a million ways we can help if we pay attention and are willing to change our habits. Even the little things can add up, like turning out the light when you leave a room, or using both sides of the paper. Now my whole school is doing things to help protect the earth.
My school has a composter for our lunch leftovers, a waste-free lunch program, recycle bins all over campus and a book swap. Our school made a carpool program to reduce the number of cars on campus, and we have a “Walk to School” day once a year. We also did a really cool thing to eliminate paper napkins and disposable water bottles. Each classroom has a party pack with cloth napkins, plastic cups and plates and we use those for all the class parties and events. My science teacher Mrs. Esby has a “Teenie Greenies” club at lunch and she teaches a class in “up-cycling” after school. Last year, we planted a fruit orchard on campus. We will give the fruit to the local food bank. My school does a lot to help others, too. We collect canned food for the Westside Food Bank and we fix meals for the homeless. Last year we collected 17,720 pounds of food and fixed 285 meals. In second grade, we “adopt a beach” through Heal the Bay and we do beach clean-ups. I learned a lot about the disgusting things that end up in the ocean, like cigarette butts and plastic bags. Last year at school, we had a read-a-thon to raise money for malaria nets in Malawi, Africa for a place called. G.A.I.A. I called my friends, grandparents, aunts and uncles and I raised $2,000! That is enough for 200 bed nets, and I feel really happy that I helped keep kids in Africa safe from malaria.
Every year at my birthday party, I ask for charitable donations instead of gifts. When I was eight, I asked my friends to donate to the NRDC to save the polar bears. I raised almost $150. That might not seem like a lot, but a month later my friend Claire did the same thing for her birthday party and she raised another $150. Lots of the parents told my mom they were going to help the polar bears now. I think one person can make a difference when they spread the word. Imagine if everyone asked for charitable donations for their birthdays how much money we could raise to save the environment! I think when it comes to protecting the environment, kids are teaching their parents how to do a better job at being green.
I applied to be on the Kids Board of a great organization called Grades of Green, and when I work with them I can brainstorm with other kids across the United States on ways to motivate kids to be “green.” Check out the Grades of Green website, because it is full of great ideas for schools to reduce, re-use and recycle, and it also has really interesting statistics and facts. I am happy to work with other students to find more ways to protect the earth.
Being on the video conference for the Champions of Change made me feel really proud. I felt scared because I was younger than the other people, but I loved hearing all of their ideas and knowing that so many kids are trying to make a difference. I sent my science teacher an e-mail to ask if we can start a garden and get motion sensor lights in all our classrooms. I am excited to hear more ideas about how kids like me can do something to help protect the earth.
Grace Cortese, a 10-year-old from California, is part of "Teenie Greenies" at her school and is particularly interested in habitat preservation and halting species extinction.