Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Cyber Chickens Go Erin Brockovich

This week my students and I took authentic learning to a new level. Tuesday evening we attended the first ever Trinity Task Force meeting. It was amazing. Sitting around a table at the Greenville Chamber of Commerce was Attorney Dan Wallace, Greenville's Mayor Dick Miller, State Representative Michelle Brooks, about twenty concerned community members, myself and ten fifth grade students. In Dan Wallace's introduction, he made it clear that these fifth graders were not only the future of Greenville, they were every bit a member of this newly formed task force as everyone else at the table. As the sign-up sheet made its way around the table, my students proudly added their names and gaggle emails to the list.

How did these fifth graders end up in such a serious meeting discussing serious matters in a serious way? It all started with Tom McGee's Project Lemonade, where students are coming together from around the world with a common goal: to make a difference in the world. My students decided to make their difference right in their own back yard. Literally next door to our elementary school is an abandoned industrial site.

Trinity Industries, a major corporation, packed up their train car manufacturing plant and moved the operation to Mexico several years ago. In addition to the economic devastation they inflicted upon the town, they left a site contaminated with hazardous waste. Over a year ago, the company was taken to court by DEP and found guilty for environmental crimes. They were fined and ordered to clean up the site. Over a year has passed, and very little has been done to set the clean up in progress. Trinity, a large corporation with lots of resources at their fingertips, have chosen to use these resources to stall the process rather than expedite it.

So what is the goal of the Trinity Task Force? As stated in the meeting, we would like to see that the site is cleaned up as expeditiously as possible without sacrificing the safety of the community. We plan to be the watch dogs to make sure all the t's are crossed and i's dotted.

How do Mrs. Abernethy's Cyber Chickens plan to help? For starters, they already have a wiki and a blog. These have been set up to keep the public informed of the problem and the progress. It's also a place we hope the community can come to for discussion.

Students have already learned a lot with the added bonus of meeting quite a few state standards in their quest to learn more. Researching the history of the site, interviewing former employees, reading and analyzing newspaper articles and legal documents are just a few learning activities they have indulged in so far. Just think of what's to come.

If you're interested in following their project, by all means check out the wiki and blog and add them to your reader.
Project Trinity Wikispace
Project Trinity Blog

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