Tuesday, April 28, 2009 | 10 a.m.
A school project by some fifth graders who are learning to ask tough questions kicked off the Lake Mead National Recreation Area’s new cleanup program.
The fifth graders were from Sandy Searles Miller Elementary School, a magnet school in northeast Las Vegas that puts its students through the rigorous International Baccalaureate program. The program requires the entire class to work on a central idea. This year it is “Everything has a cause and effect and relates to human decisions.”
The students come up with inquiries they research and devise a project to put the knowledge into action. For the five Miller students, the inquiries were related to water pollution, and their action was to pick up trash.
“People left trash on the land, and when the water washes up, it takes the trash and pollutes the water,” Karina Rodriguez, 10, said.
The project brought them to Las Vegas Bay on Thursday, where they were to be the first group to volunteer in the National Park Service’s Operation Zero: Citizens Removing and Eliminating Waste, or the OZ Crew.
The idea of the volunteer program is to take groups of five to 10 people by boat to coves that are not accessible by land to pick up trash.
It gives access to the lake to people who don’t have boats or can’t afford to rent them, Ranger Jennifer Winston said. The Park Service provides the vessel, driver and life jackets. Volunteers are asked to bring water, lunches and sturdy shoes that can get wet.
The usual trip lasts from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Winston said. An hour of free time is scheduled to allow volunteers to eat and explore.
“It makes Lake Mead accessible to people who normally would not get out on the lake while helping them give back to the community,” she said.
The trip for the Miller students had to be changed to a ride around Las Vegas Bay because of high winds that had created white caps on the water by 10 a.m., Winston said.
But the trip still provided the students a chance to ask the tough questions, such as: What is in the water? How does it get there? What are the causes and effect of the pollution? And what happens if it’s not stopped?
That’s the idea, Miller mentor Betsy Giles said.
“It’s an inquiry-based school,” she said. “They learn to ask open-ended questions.”