In one corner: Comet, a leading scouring powder.
In the other, the challenger: Arm and Hammer baking soda, a gentle, environmentally safe alternative.
It was a down and dirty, sink-scrubbing match in a Family and Consumer Sciences classroom as students sought to determine which product had the most eco-power — the ability to prevail on both ecological and economic fronts.
"The baking soda is cheaper and Comet contains phosphate that's not good for our waterways," said teacher Jo Hess. She pointed out the cautionary statements on the Comet can that warn of possible eye and skin irritation.
The trial was just one of many activities at Safety Harbor Middle School on Thursday as youngsters learned how to help save the planet and money, too.
"This is just the beginning of our efforts to teach kids to live more eco-friendly lives so they will be good stewards of the environment and educate others to be as well," said Jeanne Gagliardo, the algebra teacher who is leading the charge to promote conservation at the school.
The message Thursday was that living green saves the green.
"Our parents and grandparents had to live frugally," she said. "I remember my grandmother remaking aprons from dresses. They repurposed, and by being thrifty they were actually saving the environment as well. We need to get back to that way of thinking."
Gagliardo applied for and received a $2,400 grant from the Pinellas Education Foundation so teachers could attend ecological workshops and buy relevant supplies.
She also secured the help of the Gus A. Stavros Center for Free Enterprise and Economic Education at the University of South Florida, which offers workshops and materials that integrate economic concepts with language arts, mathematics, social studies, and other areas of the school curricula.
The center provided a dinner and a movie workshop at no charge to over 40 teachers and administrators at Safety Harbor Middle.
The educators previewed Disney's eco-flick WALL-E, an animated tale of a personable little robot assigned the task of cleaning up a garbage — and pollution-choked Earth, which had been abandoned by humans hundreds of years earlier.
They were given handbooks and instruction on how they could integrate eco-messages into their curriculum.
Wednesday was the kick-off day, as students throughout the school watched WALL-E.
Thursday, teachers throughout the school led classroom activities with messages about constructive change.
In Gagliardo's classroom, Giovanni Negron, 13, learned he had a penchant for paper usage as he and others created pie charts of their paper consumption throughout the week.
He used 178 pieces of paper — the record in his eighth-grade algebra class.
"I did recycle it all, but I'm going to start using the back of paper and write less," he said.
Students in her math classes also researched paper practices.
Among the many things they learned:
• An estimated 95 percent of business information is still stored on paper.
• Asia will soon surpass the United States in paper usage.
• The average American uses more than 748 pounds of paper per year.
• Paper manufacturing is the third largest user of fossil fuels worldwide.
Think the Internet will save us?
The average daily Web user prints 28 pages daily.
In another classroom, students drew prototypes of robots that perform environmentally motivated tasks.
Sixth-grader Jenny Sanders created an android named LENIE, for Local Environmentally New Intelligent Expander.
Basically, her 3-foot tall solar-powered droid would collect waste, clone vegetation and plant seeds on command.
At the school, all classrooms have recycling bins for paper, which is sold to a recycling company. A special Dumpster is earmarked for aluminum and steel.
"The money will go to build a roof for our outdoor classroom," said Michael Haight, a social studies teacher, who is heading up the recycling program.
His class worked with measuring cups and containers of water symbolizing the Earth, the birth and death rates. It wasn't long before the container with blue water, representing the earth, was overflowing with people since birth rates exceed those of death.
Ryan Davis, 11, said he felt "pretty bad that people were going to overpopulate the Earth."
"I don't know, maybe there should be some birth laws, because it could happen some day, maybe in the next few hundred years," he said.
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at [email protected]