Formerly Flip Flops Becomes a School Project by Carol Reedy Rogero
It was a rainy summer day in Florida and I sat at my computer, surfing the web for ideas to spice up the upcoming school year and rev up the kids. As luck, fate, destiny, or perhaps all three, would have it, I received an email about a grant opportunity sponsored by the NEA and the Target Corporation. It was the Green Across America Program, which awards grants totaling $50,000 — up to $1,000 each — to educators for innovative educational programs, activities, lessons or events designed to excite students about going green, caring for the earth, and creating a sustainable future. I’d been inspired by StyleSubstanceSoul’s Formerly Flip Flops project and loved the idea that trash could become treasure on the other side of the world, while keeping something that takes 50-80 YEARS to decompose, out of our own local landfills and oceans. Besides, everyone wears flip flops everywhere here in Florida. Each time I go to the beach, there’s at least one dead flip flop littering the sand. Speaking for myself, as an “average” person who owns more pairs than I want to admit, I knew there had to be an obscene number of rubber flip-flops clogging up our local landfills and blighting the ocean.
I applied for the grant and titled my project, “How Old Flip Flops Changed a New Generation’s Mind.” In October, I received the news that I’d been chosen as one of 55 winners! I introduced the project to my students with a pre-awareness/involvement survey regarding recycling, marine debris awareness, and knowledge of the location of Kenya. My survey results revealed that a whopping 42% of the students did not recycle at home! An even more astonishing 65% of my 6th graders did not know on which continent Kenya is located. All were overwhelmingly amazed at the decomposition times of various materials and the amounts of marine debris collected each year.
They were genuinely excited about the project and eager to get started. A group of students set to work right away, researching shipping and packaging costs. They determined the cheapest way to send the flip-flops was by the USPS, with an 8 pound box estimated to run about $58.00, which they figured would allow us to send approximately 17 boxes. The cost analysis on packaging tape revealed that it was cheaper to buy Wal-Mart packing tape at 400 yards for $8.44, as opposed to 50 yards for $1.08, but as it turned out, we found the Post Office would “give” us the priority mail packaging tape! In addition, an astute student suggested we use copy paper boxes, which were free and that we had plenty of at school, so our packing costs ended up being nothing! Our WSUN school news team produced a PSA for us to kick off the collection campaign. We quickly created posters, set up a collection bin, and before we knew it, had 5 copy boxes filled and ready to ship! Since then, we’ve collected and shipped 5 additional boxes, bringing the total to 10, and leaving us with enough money to send 6 or 7 more.
I integrated the project into my math, reading, language arts and social studies lessons. The entire 6th grade has been doing research on Kenya and chose it as their country for our school’s upcoming annual Multicultural Night, where we’ve asked attendees to bring their used and broken flip flops and trade them in for raffle tickets! Our students will spend the last few months of the school year expanding their investigations of marine pollution, whaling, and local landfills. Sunrise’s Planet Love Flip Flop Project will wrap up with a post-event survey to measure the students’ recycling involvement and marine pollution awareness, but I know already, from student comments and actions, that a great impression has been made!
The project is about so much more than flip flops. My intent from the beginning was to create a sense of connection as I helped my students reach out in a global manner. I wanted to provide them with a direct sense of worldwide community and responsibility. Most of all, I wanted to show my students that they could each make a difference. With little more than old flip flops, I sought to inspire them to be leaders in their generation’s efforts to keep the planet green and protect marine life.