How I Learned to Lead
Melanie Gomez, a fourth-grader at Conway Elementary, an EL Education school in Escondido, California, wrote this contributing piece for Ed Week on how she and her peers improved their local watershed on Better World Day. Below, find out what she learned on May 4th:
On Friday, May 4th, my eyes opened from a deep sleep and from that point on, I was filled with excitement, the kind you have when you get to go to Disneyland. Why, you may ask? It was BETTER WORLD DAY!
I finally made it to school, but when I didn’t see the bus that was supposed to take us to Kit Carson Park where Better World Day was being held, my heart just sank like a big ship in the ocean. Luckily, I was mistaken. I had been looking forward to this day for months.
Then it happened. I arrived at Kit Carson Park in Escondido, CA, with my teachers Ms. Brady and Ms. Ellsworth and the rest of my 4th grade Crew. As I looked around, parents, leaders, and volunteers were frantically trying to get the stage and presentation stations decorated and set up. It was only 9:00 a.m., and the heat was already intensely hot. I felt like we were in the Sahara desert. People were sweating so much from working so hard in the heat, their clothes were sticking to their bodies. But, it didn’t seem to matter. We were all on a mission to make Better World Day the best ever. I felt like I was a part of something bigger than myself. There were even other EL Education schools all over the country participating in events just like ours.
When I spotted the news crews parked by the amphitheater, I thought, “OMG! I could be on TV and I can tell the whole world about protecting our local watershed!” I wanted to share everything about our expedition. I wanted to let the world know how 10-year-olds can be leaders who make the world into somewhere we all want to live. I wanted to let the public know they could be too.
Do you wonder how I, Melanie, a fourth grader from Conway Elementary, felt like I had the power to make a difference in my community? Well, let me tell you. You probably don’t really know much about what we do in my fourth-grade crew.
As an EL Education school, our learning is very meaningful because we get to become active citizens. We just don’t read about other people doing great things in the world. We ARE those people. We go on learning expeditions that make us experts at a community problem so we can come up with solutions to the problem.
This year we became the Escondido Super Stewards who protect our local watershed. It all started when we researched endangered animals in our community. Through our research we found that the Southern Steelhead trout were endangered. They are indicators of the health of our local watershed. There were several factors endangering the trout, and it all linked back to humans doing the damage. We discovered that the watershed is damaged by pollution, toxic gases in the air, pesticides, fertilizers, and invasive plants. All these pollutants travel 27 miles from the foothills of Escondido to the coast and impact aquatic life.
After a lot of research into the problem, we knew we had to do something about it. As Stewards of our watershed, we did a beach cleanup, harvested and planted seeds at the San Elijo Lagoon, pulled invasive plants, and picked up trash. We created invasive plant cards to inform the public and created a field work guide to donate to our public library that will inform them about the issue. Can you see in these photos how we are CREW?
Then, the best part was being on the news with my principal and other students in my Crew on Better World Day. As the news report says, “The larger layer here is community engagement as it relates to a student’s character and citizenship.” When I was being interviewed, I felt like people were actually listening to me. I was being a stream steward and a leader! After Better World Day, my heart told me, “You are a good person, Melanie. You told millions of people that our watershed isn’t as healthy as they thought. You made a big change in our community.” It’s pretty cool to know that a 10-year-old can do just as much as adults can do.
Photo Credits: Therese Ellsworth