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The Clean Communities Environmental Student Exchange

Promoting a Cleaniness
Ethic Statewide

Sandy Huber   
By Sandy Huber
Executive Director
Clean Communities Council

It was a warm, bright, sunny day on March 19, 2010 in Liberty State Park when 370 middle and high school students and their teachers combed what appeared to be an uncluttered landscape, looking for trash.

The cleanup was part of the Second Annual Clean Communities Student Exchange, a program developed by the Clean Communities Council in 2009 to facilitate an exchange of information on environmental issues among students residing and attending school in different regions of the state; to foster a more global view of those issues and perpetuate a cleanliness ethic statewide.

Schools participating in the Student Exchange were Atlantic County Institute of Technology (Atlantic County), Bayonne High School (Hudson County) Brigantine (Atlantic County), Carl Sandburg Middle School (Middlesex County), Christopher Columbus Middle School (Passaic County), Clifton High School (Passaic County), East Orange High School (Essex County), Englewood Parks and Recreation (Bergen County), Gordon Parks Academy (Essex County), John L. Costly Middle School (Essex County), Liberty Middle School (Essex County), Torchlight Educational Academy (Essex County), and Passaic High School (Passaic County).

Partners supporting the event were the cities of Bayonne and East Orange, the Hudson County Improvement Authority and PSEG.

The agenda was simple—a cleanup of the park, lunch, showcase of student projects, presentation of trash awards, a Roundtable Discussion, and visits to Liberty Science Center.

Cleanup For the last two years, a cleanup of public property has been part of the Student Exchange agenda, providing opportunities for students to work together on a hands-on, grassroots project. The March 19 cleanup took place in the park along the waterfront, behind the marina, and on the beaches near the Interpretative Center. In spite of its uncluttered appearance, students were able to find some interesting and unusual pieces of trash.

“A cleanup is an equalizer. All kids, no matter who they are or where they come from, can participate. The results are immediate, practical and bring us back to basics of a clean environment, “said Tom Tokar, science teacher in Bayonne and one of the organizers of the roundtable discussion. Tokar was honored by the Clean Communities Council at the Clean Communities Awards Banquet in 2007 with an Excellence in Education Award.

Showcase of Environmental Projects Teachers invited to participate in the Student Exchange were asked to have students offer 5-10 minute presentations on their environmental projects. Topics ranged from cleanups to recycling drives, to art projects, to studies of water conservation
and sea life.

Student holding Clean Communities Award

Students accepted awards for interesting or unusual trash found on the shore of Brigantine on Marcy 25, 2009, at the first Clean Communities Environmental Student Exchange.


For example, the Carl Sandburg Middle School in Old Bridge participated in the town’s plastic bag collection contest, bringing back about 5,000 bags to be recycled. The Old Bridge Clean Communities Program provided prizes for the schools that collected the most bags and then took the plastic bags to a recycling center. The prizes? Canvas bags for each member of the homerooms collecting the most bags.

In Clifton, the High School Conservation Club, along with the Environmental Sciences and Special Needs classes, have formed a squad of students who on designated days will stop anyone littering or using the wrong receptacles to explain the proper procedures. They have also created a video to air at the same times the squad patrols.

Frank R. Conwell School #4 in Jersey City administers a Green Team comprised of students who maintain school property and encourage recycling in the cafeteria; a Gardening Club of students who beautify the school campus and maintain a rooftop garden; and a program called Artists for the Environment that encourages students to use art to promote environmental issues.

The City of Englewood’s Environmental Steward Program developed a seven-week curriculum on litter abatement related to graffiti, storm drain management and water cleanups.

And the Atlantic County Institute of Technology is helping plan and implement the Clean Communities Council’s annual Kids-Teens Awards Program being held on May 26, 2010, in Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Students have e-mailed invitations to schools statewide; solicited exhibits, a US Coast Guard fly over, and a visit from Al Gore; and will prepare lunches for the 2,000 students who participate.

Trash Awards Awards were then presented for educational and unusual pieces of trash found during the cleanup. The premise of the trash award program is that found objects can have value and meaning to the individual who finds them.

After lunch, students either remained for the Roundtable Discussion or departed for Liberty Science Center.

Roundtable Discussion A trademark of the Clean Communities Environmental Exchange Program is a Roundtable Discussion with pre-selected students who prepare for the discussion prior to the event. This year, schools from Bayonne and East Orange participated in the roundtable. The topic was water conservation.

When asked to comment on the success of the roundtable discussion, Maria Johnson, a gifted and talented teacher at Gordon Parks Acadamy said, “I know the roundtable discussion was successful based on the students’ reactions when it was all over. A Bayonne High School Senior participant anxiously came up to me and asked me about next year and how could the graduating participants be involved in the future. It was really touching. Giving students, ranging in age from 10 to 17, a forum to share their environmental thoughts based on their own research and experiences is a unique experience. I haven’t seen anything like it on TV or in school settings. Scientists, engineers and state officials took the time to stop and listen to the kids. It was a wonderful success!”

Ms. Johnson is known statewide for her leadership in solving environmental problems. She launched the Environmental Ambassadors program in East Orange, spearheaded the cleanup of a vacant lot in East Orange and its subsequent transformation into an eco-garden, and helped organize the first Clean Communities Environmental Student Exchange.

The first Student Exchange program, held on Marcy 25, 2009 in Atlantic City and Brigantine, was also deemed a success. Most importantly, a partnership was formed between the cities of Brigantine and East Orange. During the Student Exchange, students from East Orange were exposed to the sandy shores of Brigantine. After the Student Exchange in Brigantine, students from Brigantine visited East Orange to learn about how to create an eco-garden. With funding from the City of Brigantine, students are creating their own eco-garden. They are planning to visit East Orange again in June.

According to Joe Campitelli, volunteer chair of the Brigantine Environmental Commission, Clean Communities coordinator, and an organizer of the first Student Exchange, “Brigantine brought the beach to East Orange and East Orange brought the eco-garden to Brigantine.”

The partnership between the cities was sealed with support from both Brigantine Mayor Phil Geunther and East Orange Mayor Robert Bowser.



This article appeared in New Jersey Municipalities, Volume 87, Number 5, May 2010


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