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ElemenTree teaches kids how to recycle and protect the environment, right in time for Earth Day

April Porter, Scene Reporter

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Earth Day is about taking one day out of the year in celebration of our planet; doing what we can to care for our planet and keep it healthy.

The day before Earth Day, April 21, the Center for Leadership and Community Engagement (CLCE) will host an event to help young students learn how to be environmentally friendly.  Fifth graders from Mt. Stuart Elementary will participate in ElemenTree on Saturday at Olmstead State Park to learn about Earth Day, recycling and the history of the park.

ElemenTree volunteers will leave CWU at 10 a.m. and the event will run from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.  Three different fifth grade classes taught by Jason Eng, Jamie Hurter and Cynthia Hillburn will be attending and cycling through the different activities run by the volunteers.

“The Center for Leadership and Community Engagement is working with Olmstead State Park, Mid-Columbia Fisheries, and Kittitas County Solid Waste to provide a safe, fun and effective learning environment to engage 5th grades from Mt. Stuart Elementary in Earth Day,” according to the CLCE goals on the ElemenTree plan sheet.

The ElemenTree event has been going on for a few years. Kim Jellison, CLCE program manager, said she knew Eng, and built the Earth Day event through that connection with the school.

Jellison has asked other elementary schools in the valley if they would be interested in having the ElemenTree event at their facility, but many of the schools already have programs in place.

This is a way education majors can get, “hands-on experience,” Jellison said.

Though ElemenTree is a chance for education majors to get some hands-on experience with teaching, anyone is welcome to volunteer for the event.

The list of volunteers for this year’s program includes 13 CWU students and three staff members from CLCE. These volunteers will help lead the fifth graders through three different activities that are planned for the day. The student volunteers are being led by first-time ElemenTree runner Garrett Swatzina, a senior secondary social studies teaching major. He started working in the CLCE department in September of 2016 and has helped with other events but this one is new to him.

The activities include a compost bin activity put on by Kittitas County Solid Waste Program, a watershed model with Mid-Columbia Fisheries and the solid-waste scavenger hunt created by Swatzina.

“I want the kids to know how to take care of the environment,” Swatzina said.

The scavenger hunt splits one of the classes into two teams to collect laminated pictures of objects. The objects are hidden and the fifth graders must find them and put them in either the garbage bin or recycling bin. The team with the most objects at the end wins. Swatzina is excited for the kids to experience the scavenger hunt he created and learn to invest in the environment so it can be better for their kids in the future.

Swatzina has met with the different partners to plan the activities. He has also helped coordinate the time and place as well as get the t-shirts and provide the students with transportation.

In past ElemenTree events horses have been brought to show how plowing was done back when there were no machines. A hiking event has been done where they show the kids why they need to stay on the trail so they do not destroy any vegetation. This year will focus more on the different ways to recycle and take care of the earth in the way of throwing away garbage and recycling.

Swatzina also explains the importance of taking care of the parks in Ellensburg. “College students don’t have a lot to do in Ellensburg,” Swatzina said. Keeping up the parks will allow for students to continue to have a place to go to enjoy the outdoors.

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