Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Since 2006, hundreds of Jacksonville first-grade students have learned the difference between “litter” and “trash,” thanks to the tutelage of the Litter Ladies.
“We go into the classrooms four times a year, to every first grade class in the local public schools and at Jacksonville Christian School, and we do a lesson on anti-littering, and we teach them the difference between litter and trash,” said Altha Haba, who has participated in the Keep Jacksonville Beautiful Litter Lady project since its inception.
Student response is “very positive,” she said.
“They look forward to it – how much they're bringing home (and sharing) is another question, but if we keep going, eventually we'll have reached every student in (the district),” Haba said.
KJB committee chairwoman Emily Morrow said the idea behind the program, proposed by members Jana Autry and Barbara Murray was “to get to the kids before they become adults,” educating them about caring for the environment at a grassroots level.
“Certain (habits) ingrained in adults are hard to over come (so we) want to make children aware of what litter does, what a hazard it is to wildlife, how it is a detriment to community,” Morrow said. “If you can do it when they’re younger, it has a better effect.”
Added Joyce Folden, a former Joe Wright Elementary teacher turned Litter Lady, “we know that the children are anxious to learn, and we felt like it was a good starting place to teach those good habits.”
Haba agreed. “The key is education, and the earlier you start, the better. (Learning is) a lifelong activity.”
During each visit, the Litter Ladies introduce new material.
For the first lesson, they show a photo of an animal with plastic wound around its neck, and ask students how they think it got there.
“It's really kind of interesting to hear what they think,” Haba said, adding that the Litter Ladies explain how a seemingly non-threatening bit of litter can be dangerous to creatures.
They also incorporate a book about pollution featuring the Berenstain Bears, favorite fictional characters of young readers, “and we talk about how to make Jacksonville better, make it cleaner by not throwing things out,” Haba said.
Then there's a discussion about what constitutes litter (trash, she points out, is inside a can, while litter “is where it's not supposed to be”), how there are city ordinances against and fines for littering, and how, collectively, litter can impact a town.
“The local police chief told them that there are enough cigarette butts (in the country) that if they were dumped on Jacksonville, we would be buried,” Haba said.
The Litter Ladies also discuss how long it takes a given object to deteriorate.
“We're doing all these things to (pollute) our environment,” she said.
“Even a banana peel takes (several months) for it to completely deteriorate if it's left outside – we ask how long (different items) take to rot (and) when it comes to broken glass, they're quite shocked that it's quite a number of years.”
They also emphasize safety when cleaning up around their environment.
“We tell them to be with a parent and not to pick up anything that looks like it might be dangerous without a parent's (approval) because we don't want them to get cut or injured while doing so,” she said, adding that she hopes the program helps plants seeds in students' minds.
“Maybe some of it will catch on, because it's a good program,” Haba said.
“If one student's life changes, it will have been worth it.”