High Schoolers Show They Care, When Given a Chance

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Tell me you haven’t heard or thought any part of the following:
High school students are lazy, selfish, indulgent, narrow-minded
and sheltered. They only care about themselves. They couldn’t care
less about their community. They litter and loiter and can’t work
with adults.
Tell me you haven’t heard or thought any part of the following: High school students are lazy, selfish, indulgent, narrow-minded and sheltered. They only care about themselves. They couldn’t care less about their community. They litter and loiter and can’t work with adults.

But given the proper opportunity, local teens will disprove these assertions, as demonstrated by those who volunteered to help during last weekend’s third San Benito Riverbed Project.

“Our kids aren’t just all about the bling-bling,” says cleanup organizer and San Benito High School Earth science teacher Jim Ostdick. “They want to live in a safe world, and they want to pass it on to the next generation, too.”

A ‘Baler Education Foundation grant has allowed Ostdick to expand on the annual river cleanup day held each April and to incorporate scholastic and scientific aspects into the project.

“The purpose of this project is to promote positive environmental stewardship in the Hollister area, to enhance the SBHS science curriculum, and to teach students some marketable skills in the field of environmental science,” Ostdick says.

This is about connecting the classroom to the real world, one of the best ways to make a lesson stick in a teen’s mind.

Ostdick notes that the participating students enjoy their “self-directed learning experience” as they work in teams of two to 10 people to figure out problems such as how to move an abandoned refrigerator from the riverbed to the trash collection site.

“I think they like the independence to choose what problem to tackle, who to work with, how much and how hard to work, plus the visual reward of seeing the huge pile of junk at the end of the morning,” he says.

It may not be noticeable as we cross the river at Union Road, but the San Benito is a junkyard. Ostdick and his volunteers found water heaters, clothes, stereos, tires, cars, furniture, 50-gallon drums, boxes of shattered fluorescent light bulbs, sheetrock, dirty diapers, and Jimmy Hoffa (I made up that last one, but it wouldn’t be a surprise).

“I can’t quantify (the amount of trash removed) in pounds, but to give you a mental picture, the stuff we collected last Saturday would have completely filled my classroom from top to bottom,” Ostdick says. “The San Benito River is connected to the groundwater system from which we pump our drinking water, so everyone who drinks water in this area has an interest in keeping the riverbed clear of materials that might leach chemicals into the aquifers. That’s not good.”

Many of us drink bottled water to avoid the dissolved solids and odd aroma of Hollister water, but we still have a reason to care. The water that passes through our county flows into the Pajaro River and on to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

“Whatever we do to lessen our impact on the Pajaro lessens the Pajaro’s impact on the ocean,” Ostdick adds. “That is good.”

Ostdick admits to being “obsessed” with this issue.

“Aside from being a scientist and a teacher and understanding how the biogeochemical cycles work, I see environmental stewardship as a moral issue and a fundamental component of responsible citizenship,” he says. “And I think the best way to communicate both the science and the soul issues is by setting a good example. I can see by the number of folks who are showing up and working together to do something about this problem that I am not the only one who feels this way.”

Nearly 650 volunteers have helped with September, December and March cleanup efforts. Last spring, 80 San Benito High School students conducted a similar cleanup under the guidance of SBHS teachers Mitch Huerta and Banks Upshaw. The county public works department, with help from Mandy Rose of the county’s Integrated Waste Management Office, hauls the trash away.

This communication, this coordination and this concern sets a wonderful example for the teens who will be the stewards of the river and our county for decades to come.

Ostdick encourages the community to help with the next river cleanup on April 21. What better way to celebrate Earth Day?

Adam Breen teaches journalism and yearbook at San Benito High School. He is former editor of The Free Lance.

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