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Bag that! Students make plastic bag chain to raise environmental awareness

Bag that! Students make plastic bag chain to raise environmental awareness
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

Sheepshead Bay students want to change the way their school thinks about environmental issues.

About 30 high-school environmental science students created the longest chain of plastic grocery bags in Brooklyn history around the perimeter of James Madison High School on Feb. 9 attempting to draw attention to the careless use and discarding of plastic bags.

“This event caused students to ask questions,” said special education teacher Brian Schoenfelder. “If even a few students stop using plastic bags, then my students succeeded.”

Schoenfelder asked his class to research possible solutions to an environmental problem it saw and design an event that would bring awareness to the issue in question, he said.

Schoenfelder and Jeanne Quarto, a fellow special education science teacher at Madison, brought their sections of an environmental science class together last semester to begin discussing research topics. Schoenfelder said that the class also discussed how to cultivate awareness and get peers’ attention on environmental issues.

One student in particular came up with the idea to collect grocery bags and make a chain around the school after the class discussed plastic bags’ negative effects on the environment last December, said Schoenfelder.

“It was really great to see the all-hands-on-deck approach by the school,” he said. “I had students across the whole school tell me that they would never use plastic bags again.”

The group collected more than enough plastic bags from students and staff to wrap around the school, which occupies about half a block.

Students handed out 100 reusable canvas grocery bags at the event to encourage peers to be more environmentally conscious.

The demonstration was totally their bag, students said.

“I thought it was a really cool event,” said James Madison High School student Richard Devita of Bergen Beach. “You don’t usually see kids taking time out of their classes to do something for the environment.”

Students strung together the bags they had collected over the course of the weeks preceding the event. Participants, including staff, teachers, and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, stretched the almost half-mile long chain around the border of the school that Tuesday morning.

The chain was ceremoniously cut in an expression of the students’ desire to break the chain of environmental mistreatment, officials said. Students planned the event to coincide with “Harmony Day” of the school’s “Respect for All” week, hoping that the special day would bring even more awareness to the issue.

The school will continue to collect plastic bags once a month for recycling or re purposing, Schoenfelder said.

As far as the eye can see: James Madison High School senior Tyler Smotrinsky helped make the chain that stretched around the school.
Photo by Georgine Benvenuto

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