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Early Environmental Education That Will Last Through Adulthood

Educating the students at Jonestown Elementary School with hands-on experiences is a well-weighted investment in the eyes of Marian Robidas, who believes that an environmentally-focused education early on yields more compassionate and aware adults in the future.

Marian Robidas is being recognized as a Champion of Change for her innovative energy priorities and sustainable living practices making a greener community a possibility in any American city or town.

I am extremely honored to be selected as a Champion for Change for Greening Our Cities and Towns. I am blessed to work in the school district of Northern Lebanon and the community of Jonestown, Pennsylvania, where members are committed to sustaining a healthy environment for years to come.

Through a partnership of the Jonestown Borough, Jonestown Elementary School, and Estelle Ruppert with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the students have had numerous opportunities to incorporate DCNR’s educational program P.L.A.C.E. – People, Land, and Community Education – for place-based, real-world learning experiences.

One example of this started as a result of a presidential order that was passed to decrease the amount of storm water that drains into the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which Jonestown is a part of, as the storm water contains sediment that is destroying fish and plant growth. The borough has a difficult time dealing with storm water and has plans to install a large rain garden to help alleviate part of the problem. Thanks to some excellent teacher training, the students were able to create and manage their own rain gardens and rain barrels on district property.

Students also work with measuring the air quality around the school during various times of day such as times of heavy traffic, (i.e., arrival and dismissal) and mid-day when there is little to no traffic. The students are always amazed to see the amount of pollution that idling cars create. 

Mayor George Kaufman of the Jonestown Borough has done a great deal to help bring awareness for safer, healthier environments for the students by continually promoting the Safe Routes to School Initiative. He was successful in having pathways installed so that students could more safely walk or ride their bikes to and from school. The sixth-grade classes also tied in health lessons by walking to various locations around the school, calculating the number of steps needed to get there, and determining how many calories were burned in the process!

This year Jonestown Elementary was fortunate to receive a grant to help promote bicycle safety. Students will be taught how to move safely through the neighborhood, practice maneuvering through an obstacle course, and learn the importance of safety gear such as helmets.

Lastly, I would like to make mention of the stream studies that many of our students take part in each year. Using our surrounding waterways, such as the Swatara Creek and its tributaries, the students don hip boots and wade into the water looking for live specimens which they observe and identify. This is a first-hand opportunity for young people to learn the importance of the streams and creeks around them.

In Pennsylvania, the 2,561 existing municipalities control how the land is used in the area that they govern. The Northern Lebanon School District, Jonestown Elementary, Jonestown Borough, and DCNR hope that these early experiences will help our young people make the best possible decisions for a healthy environment as they grow into adulthood.  

Marian Robidas, the principal of Jonestown Elementary School in the Northern Lebanon School District, is a strong proponent for active and authentic real-world learning, and for creating opportunities that allow students to do their own problem solving.