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Students from Southern W.Va. High schools are recognized for their work to improve the environment
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Students from Southern W.Va. High schools are recognized for their work to improve the environment

A group of Wyoming County students and their biology teacher were selected as the state winners in a national competition.

The student team is working together to tackle plastic pollution using research and social media. The students are also able to connect with their communities and gain personal growth through the project.

Wyoming East High School students who are members of the Friends of the Earth Club won the prestigious Samsung Solve for TomorrowWest Virginia competition. They won the project that made it easier for residents to reduce plastic use, recycle more, and stop littering.

Brittany Bauer is a life science teacher and the sponsor of the club. She works with students after school at minimum twice a week to guide the project.

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Brittany Bauer pulls out the totes that students made for the project.

Bauer, the club’s sponsor, stated that students had different ideas and that they were all woven together. It’s hard. We need to work with students who can stay after school. Some students cannot stay after school but can come in on Saturdays. It’s just a matter of coordinating all their ideas and thoughts into the direction they want to go.

Bauer and his students collected uniform samples over the weekend and discovered that litter was contributing towards microplastics in the Earth. There are two types. Primary microplastics have small components, such as sequins and glitter. Secondary microplastics is made from pieces that have been broken down from a larger plastic piece.

Bauer stated that we found it in areas that were used heavily by people. We found a lot more fishing line, many films made from plastic bags, as well as a lot more fishing bait and containers for fishing bait.

Microplastics can cause serious health problemsThey can be harmful to humans if they are consumed. They can leach chemicals that can lead to cancers and human development disorders. Bauer teaches her students that these plastic pieces can end up in the food chain.

Students became concerned about the watershed and the possibility of them ingesting microplastics found in sediment from 10 different locations. The students gathered scientific evidence to support the problem and set out to raise awareness through social media.

Bauer stated that we did extensive research and found that most people are afraid about what other people think of them. Social media and social influences are a very important technology right now. We decided to use it to encourage people to make changes.

Students created social media profiles and a social reward program this year.

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Amy Vest, a 12th grader, shows how she made the tote from old shirts.

Bauer said that recycling started at our school and that we award awards to those who recycle the most. People who have never recycled are now recycling. So we wondered if the same thing could work for reducing plastic bag usage. If we reward people for being positive and make it trendy, they will be more likely to do the same.

Students were given leadership roles in various areas to help them manage their diverse schedules and resources.

Amy Vest, Friend for the Earth president, stated that there were a lot of plastic bags left over from when we couldn’t recycle them. We decided to just use T-shirts or any other bags that are available and then make them into totes that we could use in the community.

They were called “combined totes”. They are made from old shirts. The club hopes people will use the bag instead of plastic bags.

Vest said that it would be much better than plastic bags getting caught in wind or being put in rivers. It’s not good for the environment. It gets into the sand, then the fish eat it, and can be toxic when we ingest it.

We initially wanted an alternative for plastic bags because, while they can be recycled, it’s not possible to do so here in West Virginia. Logan Hatfield, 11th grade club member, said that we were looking for one.

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Logan Hatfield, eleventh grader, holds a tote made for the project.

Hatfield is encouraging more people in Wyoming County recycle.

Hatfield stated that we are working to expand recycling to all of the county. We supply recycling to only half of the county at this time.

Hatfield admittedly joined the club initially because he knew it would be good for college applications. He has had more opportunities than he anticipated.

I won’t deny that I had some selfish goals in my mind when I started. Hatfield said that it became my mission. It’s more than that, and I’ve learned a lot from being a part of it. I have spoken before the county commission. I have done more videos than I expected and I have made sustainability projects.

Students learn interpersonal skills as well as the ability to make a difference in the world.

Hatfield said, “It’s actually surprising how simple some solutions can be.” You can use words such as sustainability or step arrows to describe the idea that it’s small, subtle things that help people change their behavior.

However, when you use terms like these, it can make all this seem grandiose or impossible. It’s quite amazing to see how much can be accomplished by just a few teenagers.

Added Vest Instead of trying to solve every problem by themselves, we need to work together.

As the state winner, Samsung Solve for Tomorrow competition,

Students will now be competing for a spot as a finalist at the national contest.

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