Kindergarten Litter Cops Patrol School

Most kindergartners are not known for tidying-up, keeping things clean and taking out the trash. But Ann Nies' 21 kindergartners in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, are trashing these stereotypes with their Ecology Club and school cleanup program.

For 20 to 30 minutes every Friday, students search the school grounds, pretending to be on a treasure hunt. The contents of their treasure chests have included common paper products, smelly socks and even Chinese firecrackers, which the children found after a New Year's celebration.

“They love it,” Nies says of her students. “They pick up trash at home, at the soccer field.” According to Nies, the group — although a bit young to understand the idea of responsibility for the environment — talks about reusing, recycling and taking care of the land (Malama I Ke ina, in Hawaiian). Creating art with used products is another club pastime, this one done in participation with Recycle Hawaii, a local nonprofit group.

The idea for the Ecology Club came from Gwen Lawrence, mother of kindergartner Ma'alaea Lawrence, who became concerned about the amount of garbage she and her daughter picked up on their walks to and from school. Now, when the students collect trash, they save it until Monday — when they estimate and weigh it as part of a math lesson — and then dispose of it in a barrel that Lawrence has provided to the campus.

This year, the club is solely part of Nies' class. However, the group hopes to expand. They are planning to sort the trash and display it using math standards as their guide. Additionally, the students will take “keep it clean” presentations to other classrooms around campus next year, and Lawrence plans to introduce the idea to her daughter's first grade class. With a little time, Kealakehe's Ecology Club may have a class for each grade combing the playground for evidence of litter bugs.

The neighborhood is beginning to take note of all the effort, and, as an example, the children have received ice cream donations every other week from a nearby snack vendor who watches the group during their weekly chore.