APPLETON — Pope Francis called for prayer and action, and a group of seventh grade students at St. Francis Xavier Middle School answered.
Teacher Sara Meyer planned to have students in her God’s Green Earth class start the school year by learning about national parks and John Muir, but plans changed after listening to the pope on Vatican radio. Pope Francis declared Sept. 1 as the first World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation. In response, the students asked, “What are we going to do?”
“Pope Francis was talking about the environment and how we could help,” said student Patrick McGinnis. “We brainstormed and came up with some ideas. We decided that recycling was the way to go.”
“Not all the recycle bins and trash bins (in each classroom) are different sizes,” said classmate Anna Teerlinck. “Sometimes, they are the same size and all that is distinguishing them is a purple sticker.”
Not only were many of the bins the same size, but also the same color. The students decided to raise money to purchase blue, 10-gallon recycling bins for the homerooms and some additional rooms. A total of $450 was needed for 40 bins.
“We were deciding between the option of either a bake sale or casual day,” said McGinnis.
“We really only had the bake sale choice because we would have needed 450 kids and not all are going to pay for a casual day,” said Teerlinck.
The students sold baked goods for $1 each on five consecutive days to raise $604.
In addition to the recycling bin project, they read excerpts from the pope’s encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home.” The class also took a field trip to the Outagamie Recycling Center.
“We were really surprised by the amount of things you can recycle,” said McGinnis. “You can recycle plastics that can be stretched by your finger that aren’t wet and plastic cups.”
“We also learned about stuff that cannot be recycled,” said Teerlinck. “You have to take the top off a water bottle before you try to recycle it. We also learned what happens to it when it is recycled.”
The students wrote their own prayers about the environment. They also wrote letters to Pope Francis.
“You should have seen the handwriting on those,” said Meyer. “They just thanked him for the encyclical and said what they were going to do, how they were going to make their change as he had asked. They were really beautifully written.”
“We are still waiting for a response,” said McGinnis.
The students will deliver the blue recycling bins to the homerooms and provide education. Teams of two will show a PowerPoint presentation and provide information about what can and cannot be recycled. They will also share their prayers or encourage the homeroom class to pray for the earth.
The fall semester marks the first time “God’s Green Earth” was offered at the middle school.
“Instead of doing just literature, we set up literary electives where the kids can choose a topic they are interested in,” said Meyer. “We take the standards and tie it to that topic. We also have one called ‘Backstage’ and one called ‘iPads.’ They still do the reading and writing. The eighth grade also has electives.”
Meyer still plans on talking about national parks before the semester ends.
“This was just really important,” she said. “This cemented that they are valuable contributors and can do something for the world. I think Pope Francis would be proud.”
“I really like (Pope Francis) because he understands that we need to do something,” said Teerlinck. “I remember that there was a part in his encyclical that said that we can’t rely on technology, we can’t rely on other people. We can’t rely on world leaders; we need to do this ourselves.”