Next Step students making difference in environment


There are an immense number of ways people can help the environment, from recycling to carpooling, and many already practice several of these eco-friendly choices. The same goes for the youth at Next Step Learning Center in Selbyville, where students have been doing their part through the Roots and Shoots Club, raising money and awareness for sea turtle rescue, beach cleaning efforts and more, just in time for Earth Day, which comes around this Friday, April 22.

Coastal Point : Students from the center’s tribes four and five, consisting of kindergartners and early elementary school students have been raising funds for MERR, and have been learning about the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle.Coastal Point
Students from the center’s tribes four and five, consisting of kindergartners and early elementary school students have been raising funds for MERR, and have been learning about the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle.

Divided into age-delegated “tribes,” Next Step Learning Center’s Tribes 4 and 5, consisting of kindergartners and early elementary school students, have been busy since last fall, learning about the environment and ways they can improve it.

“It began as an educational component,” noted Yolanda Gallego, after-school coordinator at Next Step Learning Center, “and from there, they’ve done so much.”

In January, the tribes began their Sea Turtle Awareness Campaign, in which they visited the Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation (MERR) Institute in Lewes, to learn more about the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the most endangered – and a local one, too – species of sea turtle.

From there, the children assembled a display window at the learning center, fronting along Church Street in Selbyville. The students learned about water and trash issues and the importance of recycling and held an anti-littering poster contest. The top two winning posters were copied and displayed throughout the town of Selbyville.

This spring, the tribes sold Dodo bags – reusable, environment-friendly, 100 percent canvas bags, made in the United States – to raise money and awareness for sea turtle rescue.

“Our goal was to sell 75,” said Gallego, “but we sold 105, and raised $475 for MERR’s sea turtle rescue program.” A check was presented to MERR Institute’s Suzanne Thurman earlier this week.

The Sea Turtle Awareness Campaign was a part of the Roots and Shoots Club, which is an environmental initiative for kids, started 20 years ago by primatologist Jane Goodall. The U.S. is one of 120 countries worldwide involved with the Roots and Shoots club, which now includes hundreds of thousands of youth members. Active clubs are asked to perform three service learning projects each year that focus on people, environment and animals.

Even beyond the Sea Turtle Awareness Campaign, the group at Next Step Learning Center has been keeping busy. As the school season got under way back in September, the children recognized the International Day of Peace Celebration at Bayside Park in Selbyville. They marched with a giant Peace Dove banner, which they made themselves, and shared poems. Two days later, their Pennies for Peace campaign wrapped up, collecting more than $70 for the Central Asia Institute, founded by Greg Mortenson.

In October, students at the Next Step Learning Center held a food and supply drive through the Living Legacy Program and the Delaware State Housing Authority, helping a local mother and son by collecting 73 food items, nine pieces of clothing, four toys, 16 books, four packages of diapers and more. They also sold wristbands as part of Join the Band, a program through New Community Project, a non-profit organization aimed at bettering the environment.

And, on Saturday, April 30, the tribes will return to the shore for their 2nd Annual Beach Clean-Up in Fenwick Island, from 10 a.m. until noon, coordinated with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).

“We participate in a lot of projects that tie in with our environment and our community,” said Gallego. “We have a theme to make Earth Day every day, and the kids are learning that there is so much that we can all do. These things are not only good for the environment but are beneficial to the people and animals throughout our community, as well.”

For more information about Next Step Learning Center, call (302) 436-3633.