Specialty Clubs Gaining Popularity
By Jan Engoren / November, December 2012

HANNAH KORNITSKY, AGE 14 loves studying environmental issues. She is part of the Environmental Issues Club at Sawgrass Springs Middle School in Coral Springs. A group of club members recently participated in the Wheelabrator Symposium for Environment and Education at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel in Sunrise. There were fourteen middle schools from around the nation participating. Each club that made a presentation received $1,000.

A group of eighth grade students from Sawgrass Springs offered a composting project. They demonstrated how red wiggler worms could be used to create nutrient-rich soil. Members of the club had been working on this project during the school year. It was recognized at the Wheelabrator Symposium for best use of scientific research and organic composting. "We have learned a lot about composting and worms through this project," said Kornitsky.

The worms are fed food scraps and placed in an environment of wet newspapers, fruit and vegetable pieces. The worms excrete castings. Eventually, the food scraps, newspapers and worm castings become a soil that is good for crops. The liquid runoff becomes a substance known as worm tea, which makes a good fertilizer.

"This is hands-on learning," said JoAnn Cantlupe, the environmental science teacher and one of the club advisors at Sawgrass Springs. "They (the students) love to get their hands dirty and play with the worms. I know they feel good about not putting food scraps in the garbage. They like the idea of helping the environment by cutting down on food waste."

Westglades Middle School in Parkland has two after-school clubs -- Promoting Animal Welfare in Schools (PAWS) and the Environmental Club. PAWS is designed to encourage the respect and protection of animals. Speakers from the Humane Society and the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida are invited to speak to Westglades students, according to Liliana Pardo, the school social worker and PAWS sponsor. A few years ago, members of the club worked with the Parkland city commission to get an ordinance passed prohibiting the chaining of dogs outside.

"The students in this club really care about the environment," said Pardo. "We are now working on protecting the Eastern Screech Owl in our community. We build and install boxes in our school and elementary schools for the protection of the owls. We work with other animal rights' organizations."

Members of PAWS presented their project on protecting the owls at the symposium. They received recognition for having the best habitation creation for protecting endangered animals.

The Westglades students also made a presentation on hydroponics. The students are growing a large number of vegetables on 99 poles at their school. Stella Shelby, a Westglades science teacher and club sponsor, said she was pleased that students are interested in a hands-on project. The students involved with hydroponics received recognition for having the best school campus garden.

"The judges like the vegetables produced by the garden," said Shelby. "The students have been involved in every aspect of the garden, from planting to selling vegetables in the school car line."

Students at Coral Springs High School can participate in the Save What's Left club. Charles DeVeney, who teaches outdoor education, began the club 27 years ago. Now it has spread to schools around the nation and the world. When it began, DeVeney wanted to save the woods next to the school. He began a fight that led to the Broward County Commission issuing a $68 million bond to save endangered land in the county. Now the club has 126 members.

"Right now, we are empowering other people to do things to save what is left," he said. "I want young people to get involved in saving trees and endangered lands, and to take a stand and care about others. This is a club where you do things."

Joanna Pearce, who advises the Save What's Left club at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Coral Springs, said that, every Thursday, student members pick up recyclable items from all the rooms in the school. Members have created a butterfly garden and participate in waterway cleanups. The club participated in the Plywood Regatta in Dania Beach. This year, two teams from the club finished first and second in the Broward County Envirothon. The first-place team advanced to the Florida Envirothon in Sarasota and placed first in the forestry division.

"Students should care about their world and making it a better place," said Pearce. "We help beautify the school, reduce waste and bring awareness to the rest of the students on the importance of recycling."

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