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Third-grader wants environmental clubs in schools

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

River's Edge Elementary School third-grader Luke Byrne's favorite color is red, but the 8-year-old is currently on a campaign to get every school in Clayton County to "go green."

In September, Byrne dressed up in a shirt and tie, and went to River's Edge Principal Alisha Mohr with a proposal for an environmental club, in which students would collect recyclable materials from classrooms in the school once a week, and turn them into art. To support his proposal, he took with him petitions signed by 43 students and teachers at the school.

Mohr gave her consent for the formation of the group, called the "Green Team," and made Byrne its leader. The group will begin meeting in January, the youngster said.

"One day, my teacher was talking about petitions and the government, and I decided to create a petition for this because I really wanted to go green," Byrne said. "I kept seeing commercials on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel, which are the TV channels I watch the most, about these events they were holding to get people to save the planet by going green ... Sometimes, you've got to save the Earth, so you can keep every thing you've got," he added.

Byrne is not content to stop with a "green" initiative at his school only, however. On Monday, he appeared before the Clayton County Board of Education, where he read his proposal to school board members in an effort to build support for the establishment of similar environmental clubs at all 61 schools in the county.

On Tuesday, he said he wanted his effort to go district-wide because he feels a more significant impact can be made on the environment, if more students are involved in the "green" effort. "I think it's going to be a lot of fun for the older kids, and the younger ones, too," Byrne said.

School Board Chairperson Alieka Anderson said board members not only listened to Byrne, but are ready to discuss a way to put the youth's dream into action when the board meets for its next work session, on Jan. 25.

"It was an excellent presentation," Anderson said. "It's great to see our students so enthused about protecting the environment ... I don't know who would have to put it together. It might be something the board can work with [School System Superintendent Edmond Heatley] to develop. We're definitely going to look at it, though."

Byrne said his plan for the Green Team at River's Edge is to have the group meet every Friday, when it will not interfere with homework time, and to break the group up into smaller, subgroups of two students each. The subgroups will go around the school collecting recyclable materials that have accumulated in Keep Clayton County Beautiful-donated recycling boxes that will be placed in each room in the school.

After the students collect the recyclable materials, they will begin transforming the reusable items into pieces of art, Byrne said. "With the plastic bottles, the cap is the head, and you can draw eyes on it," Byrne said. "Then, you glue scraps of paper on it and you have a person. We could make them, and it'd be a piece of art."

Byrne said recycling aluminum cans is a part of his daily life at home, but he still remembers his reaction one year ago when he placed a soda can into a recycling box at his home for the first time. "I felt excited to go green," he said. "I felt like I wanted to scream, 'GO GREEN!' "

The third-grader's ambitions for the future can be seen in the list of career fields he wants to pursue when he grows up. "I want to be a brain surgeon, a police officer, a scientist, build bird sanctuaries, be an artist, a TV show animator and a movie director when I grow up," Byrne said. "I want to do them all at the same time."

Mohr said she was taken aback when Byrne came to her with his proposal for establishing the Green Team at the school. "He ... read his proposal, and he let me know he wanted to go green here at the school," she said. "Then, he showed me the petition he circulated around the school, with all of the signatures from teachers and other students, and I was like, 'Wow.' It just snowballed from there."

Byrne said it took him four days to collect the signatures on his petition, and then his teacher, Jackie Hunter, helped him type up his proposal. Hunter said the student actually wasted no time in putting his petition together. She added that she felt he showed "maturity" and "responsibility" for wanting to circulate a petition to make the school more environmentally friendly.

"We were just talking about government and petitions in class one day, and he just took it and ran with it," she said. "He came into school the next day and showed me his petition ... I was really impressed with him wanting to take it further."