It's interesting what an egg carton can become when it is put in the hands of an elementary school child. And plastic bottles, cardboard and steel cans as well.
At the second-grade-sponsored second annual Challenger K8 Earth Day Expo, those items were made almost unrecognizable among displays of a water bottle bug, an egg carton turtle, a cardboard snake and a tin can red-eyed tree frog.
The April 21 event included exhibits by teachers and students, and presentations by local businesses to illustrate the steps their businesses have made to go green.
It was coordinated by second-grade teachers D.D. Brooks and Terri Bell, Stacey Buttelman, Denise Long, Megan Liberty, Kimberly O'Connell, Tammy Quinn and Alecia Whitmill.
Brooks credits the students with much of the effort. Those include sixth-grader Nick Hoogland, 12, who was part of the sixth-grade zoology display about endangered animals.
"We try to spread the awareness so people know what's going on," he said, referring to animals in trouble. "By saving it, you also save other animals in that area."
The exhibits often included activities, along with information about specific earth-related topics. There were water cycle tents, a recycling tent that featured sorting games, a "Green Earth Facts" ball tossing game, an "Importance of Trees" art center and a display on alternative energy sources.
Nearby, businesses provided the students with examples of how to put earth awareness into practice. Sweetbay displayed some of the earth-friendly products the grocery store chain stocks. So did Publix, which also had a huge crushed-box block and a foam tray barrel.
The Southwest Florida Water Management District challenged students to pledge to conserve and protect Florida's waters. Target department stores gave away pencils and displayed a recycled-materials welcome mat, a fast-drying cloth (to save energy) and a cloth made from bamboo, a very fast-growing wood.
Girl Scouts of West Central Florida had a table with recycling publications, an example of somebody's old jeans made into a bottle insulator and some colorful beads made from magazines. A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission representative talked with students about his job protecting wildlife.
Brooks explained why this kind of activity is a useful learning tool. Students, she said, "are inundated with 'Save the Earth. Save the Earth.' I wanted them to touch it, hear it."
She wanted them to see real businesses really saving the Earth.
"I wanted it to become alive to them,'' she said. "Otherwise it's in one ear and out the other."
Perhaps the whole event was best summed up by first-grader Jonathan Parker, 7, who said the reason for Earth Day is "to remind ourselves to take care of our Earth."
Earth Day Expo materials were funded by a $1,500 grant from the Hernando County Education Foundation. Carrabba's Italian Grill provided lunch for the business representatives and volunteers.
To help keep the momentum going, two businesses — Advanced Pier Technology and Lakeside Family Dental — sponsored the purchase of reusable and recycled water bottles with the school logo, which will be sold to beneift school improvements.