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Local 'Explorers' seeking environmental honors

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

The members of Harper Elementary School's Explorers Club gathered in the school's science lab Wednesday and watched the videos produced by the four finalists in Keep Atlanta Beautiful's Stepping Lightly in Atlanta Awards Contest.

The Explorers Club is one of the finalists in the contest, and club sponsor and science teacher Sancia Joseph-Berkley said she wanted the students to have a chance to see who they are competing against. Joseph-Berkley said the group entered the contest to raise awareness about "Going Green" efforts at the school.

"I thought it was a good way to show people what we're doing down here at Harper to make a difference," Joseph-Berkley said. "We're trying to get Clayton County on the map again."

Club members are asking Clayton County residents to support them in the competition by going to the "Going Green Georgia" section on the www.wsbtv.com web site, and voting for the club in an online poll. The "People's Choice" poll will determine which team community members feel had the best video. The "People's Choice" winner will receive a certificate signed by Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

Harper's Explorers Club made a video about their effort to recycle paper at the school. Every day, club members go around the school with janitor-style trash cans, and check recycling boxes in each classroom to make sure no one has placed non-recyclable items, such as candy wrappers, in the recycling box, according to the video.

Students in the video explained that if a recycling box has non-recyclable items in it, the teacher assigned to the classroom is given a warning slip. After a teacher receives three warning slips, the recycling box is removed from his or her classroom, said fourth-grader Erionn Porter, 9.

"If we keep going back and forth and telling them not to do it, then there's no purpose of telling them over and over again," Porter said. "If they're not going to treat it right, then take it away from them."

As of Thursday evening, the Explorers Club had 12 percent of the 8,742 votes cast. May 15 is the final day to cast votes online, and the project award winner will be named a few days later, Joseph-Berkley said.

The competition was open to individual students, clubs and organizations who are either home-schooled, or attend a school in Carroll, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Forsyth, Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry or Rockdale counties, according to contest documents provided on Keep Atlanta Beautiful's web site.

"It doesn't matter if they are conserving water, or growing an organic garden, or recycling - are they all saving the environment?" Joseph-Berkley asked.

"Yes," the students said in unison.

"And that is what is important," Joseph-Berkley said. "That's all that matters."

The contest entry form cites the purpose of the contest as being to teach youths how to be "stewards and advocates for a sustainable environment."

Fifth-grader Luis Padilla, 10, said the benefit of participating in the Stepping Lightly in Atlanta Awards Contest is that he and his classmates are spreading the word that "recycling is important." He said his participation in the club's project has caused him to take littering more seriously.

"I've learned it is very important for us to recycle so we can protect Mother Earth, and save land and water," Padilla said.