Ashland students celebrated for their environmental stance

Switching from plastic utensils gives Helman kids sustainability honor
Helman Elementary School fourth-graders Charlie DeSalvo, left, and Lee Dicker celebrate after winning the Ashland All Schools Sustainability Competition Monday. (Those are reusable plastic forks, by the way, brought out for a celebratory treat.)Julia Moore

Switching from plastic to metal utensils at Helman Elementary School seemed like a good way to help the environment, but would too many kids toss their forks and spoons out with the trash?

Helman's student council decided to find out. For two weeks, students were instructed to place their plastic utensils in bins to prove they could stop dumping utensils in the trash.

"We had a chart and saw how much utensils were thrown away," says third-grader Mia Snow, 9.

Fifth-grader Skylar Thompson, 11, says the kids proved they could make a change to help their environment.

"We showed we could do it. It makes a really big difference in the amount of trash we use as a school," she says.

This week the student council won the Ashland All Schools Sustainability Competition in the sustainability project category. Ashland Middle School teacher Dick Streng's homeroom students won in the creative project category for making a rap video to promote recycling.

The two student groups will be treated to ice cream on Friday at Mix Sweet Shop in downtown Ashland. Their work will be incorporated into a special "Green" Green Show performance in the Oregon Shakespeare Festival courtyard at 6:45 p.m. Friday. The public is invited to attend the free performance.

Helman's switch to metal utensils all started when fourth-grader Charlie DeSalvo, 10, watched a Facebook video about the negative impacts of sea animals swallowing plastic.

"Dead birds were filled with plastic," he recalls.

DeSalvo says it feels good to have helped make a significant change at his school and he hopes other schools will switch to metal utensils.

The Ashland Conservation Commission, which put on the all-schools competition, was impressed by Helman's project, says Cat Gould, a former commissioner.

"This was definitely a standout," she says.

Gould says the contest is meant to raise awareness among students and their families about sustainability.

Helman Principal Glenna Stiles says she is proud the student council has tackled concrete projects this year that have made a difference.

For another project, the students held a penny drive and raised $2,000 to help fellow student Jack Dorr and his family. Dorr battled cancer for a year-and-a-half before passing away in May at age 10.

"They are a great group of kids," Stiles says. "You can't underestimate the power of little people."

For the creative project category of the sustainability contest, kids were asked to make a video, play musical instruments or do performance art, poetry, singing, dancing, drawing or painting.

The winning Ashland Middle School students from Streng's homeroom class used corks, bottle caps, pictures and other materials to decorate recycling bins.

Then they filmed a rap video with dancing to encourage everyone to recycle.

As they said in their rap, "We are sustainable. How 'bout you? You can be sustainable, too."

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or Follow her at

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