By ERIN ROLL
For sixty students at Edgemont School, helping to save the Earth is serious business, from encouraging families not to use pesticides on their lawns, to urging Montclair to go ahead with a much-discussed plastic bag ban.
But it’s also a lot of fun, too.
The students are members of Roots and Shoots, an environmental issues and social services club that has had a chapter at the elementary school for the past four years.
During that time, the students have worked to encourage Montclair to pay more attention to environmental issues, including the use of pesticides, single-use plastics, and idling cars in front of school buildings.
The Montclair chapter is one of an estimated 7,100 Roots and Shoots organizations around the world, stemming from a project started in 1991 by the Jane Goodall Institute to encourage children to become involved in environmental issues. The club has an estimated 700,000 active members around the globe.
Smita Dharsi, a second-grade teacher at Edgemont, is Roots and Shoots’s faculty advisor, having founded the club in 2015.
Originally from Tanzania, where the first Roots and Shoots club was created, Dharsi has worked with Goodall in the past, and decided that Edgemont should have a Roots and Shoots club of its own. And the famed primatologist regularly keeps in touch with her to hear how Edgemont’s club is doing, she said.
The Edgemont club’s 60 students are divided into two groups of 30, one of which meets each Tuesday, the other meeting on each Thursday. Students range in age from second to fifth grade, but some of the alumni — former Edgemont students who are now in middle school — continue to help out with the group.
The fifth-graders act as the group leaders, writing down lists of ideas that the group can pursue as projects during the school year, Dharsi says.
Some of Roots and Shoots’s projects are school-based, like constructing a pond for frogs and salamanders on the school grounds. The group also helps out with a project called Students Helping Students, which raises money for students who can’t afford to participate in many enrichment activities because of their families’ financial needs.
For the school’s craft fair in December, as an alternative to plastic wrap and aluminum foil, the group sold squares of fabric that had been treated with beeswax and oil, and which can be molded over the top of a bowl or a jar. And when a student’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, Roots and Shoots made 1,000 origami cranes for her.
On the community level, the group has been involved in the ongoing discussion about a ban on plastic bags for town businesses. Ten members of the club spoke before the Nov. 18 township council meeting, urging the council to move forward with the ban. Prior to the meeting, the group had written letters to Mayor Robert Jackson, inviting him to come to one of the group’s weekly meetings at Edgemont.
The ban applies to large retailers, including large grocery stores, big-box retailers, and major chain pharmacies, and was to have gone into effect on Dec. 8.
The feedback from parents about Roots and Shoots has been very positive, Dharsi said. One parent told her that their son wrote a note on a paper napkin at a restaurant, asking the restaurant to stop using plastic straws.
Parents and community members can get involved by volunteering at Roots and Shoots events, or contributing money so the group can buy supplies it needs, Dharsi said.
For more information about Roots and Shoots, visit Edgemont’s web page on the Montclair school district site, or the global Roots and Shoots website at rootsandshoots.org.