Stella Shelby has seen enough of the Wheelabrator symposium for Environment and Education to realize how much of an effect it has had on the lives of her students.
“Sometimes, I have former students come back to see me,” said Shelby, science teacher at Westglades Middle School in Parkland. “They never forget the symposium experience; many of them tell me that it is their best memory from school. That makes all the hard work worthwhile.”
The symposium is into its 20th year, and Shelby is one of the very few who has participated in the program every year since its inception. “I remember every project that my students have done; I am totally involved in what the students are doing. I am spreading the message about the need to protect the environment, and I believe I have been able to do my bit,” she said. ” ‘One student at a time’ is what I believe in; I have interacted with a lot of students in the last 20 years.”
Shelby, a Pompano Beach resident, is in charge of Westglades Environmental Club, which meets after school. “Every year, the students come up with an environmental concern, and we do our project on that. Over the years, we have tried to save the endangered wood stork and the gopher tortoise, and to help the manatees. We have had many meaningful projects.”
Shelby was a teacher at Forest Glenn Middle School in Coral Springs when she first attended the symposium. “I then moved to Sawgrass Springs Middle School, an environmental magnet school. We built an outdoor classroom at the school with recycled materials.”
The annual symposium will see students from schools around the country present environmental projects they have worked on over the school year. The theme this year is “Connecting to the Oceans.” The project that the Westglades team is working on this year has to do with sharks, as well as fishing and its ethics.
“Millions of fish are taken out of the ocean every year,” Shelby said. “Our students have been trying to encourage anglers to recycle fishing lines. When they fish, we want them to be ethical and responsible. We had a booth at Parkland’s Earth Day event. We are working with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation to help people identify the fish they should avoid eating. Some fish have too much mercury in them.”
There are 20 members in the club, all of them either in seventh or eighth grade. Ten among them will attend the symposium. Among those going is Mary Hutchinson, club president.
“The symposium gives us a chance to learn new ways of helping the environment,” said the eighth grader, who has been a member of the club for the last three years. “There is so much to learn, and it feels great to be part of a combined effort to save the environment. I tell my friends and family members that everyone has a responsibility to protect the Earth.”
“It takes more than one person to change the world,” said Caroline Bolk, club vice-president and Parkland resident. “I have been interested in the environment ever since I was a little child; it was my grandmother who got me into it. We are trying to spread the message as much as we can in the hope that we will be able to impact other people. We were at Parkland’s Farmers Market; we also are distributing fliers.”
Wheelabrator Technologies, a Waste Management subsidiary and a renewable energy provider, has partnered with ocean explorer Fabien Cousteau, grandson of legendary explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, for this year’s symposium. One hundred-fifty students from 15 schools are attending, said Peter Kendrigan, regional vice president (southern) of Wheelabrator Technologies.
“The symposium is an integral part of our corporate social responsibility efforts,” Kendrigan said. “It is in line with our goals of protecting the environment and promoting a sustainable future. It underscores our long-standing commitment to environmental stewardship. Having people like Stella involved in our efforts is great; she is unbelievably committed.”