Pleasanton Weekly

Column - December 13, 2013

3rd-graders tackle the rainforests

by Jeb Bing

If you see a group of 8- and 9-year-olds carefully checking the labels of products at the supermarket, they could be in Adam Randall's third-grade class at Vintage Hills Elementary School. His 29 students just completed a three-week read-a-thon about the rainforests and came away alarmed about the negative impact humans are having there. Particularly disturbing were the reports they read about the growth of palm oil plantations on clear-cut acres of previously undisturbed growth in rainforests. They decided to persuade their parents and others not to buy products with palm oil as an ingredient.

The rainforest concerns grew out of an assignment Randall gave his class at the start of the school year to read a book called "The Dot," a picture book written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds about a girl named Vashti who thinks she can't draw. She's told to draw a dot, then to draw more of them as she starts making her own mark on the world. The book has gone global; Randall's class even joined in celebrating International Dot Day this fall.

As the students expanded their reading assignments with stories about the rainforests, they formed a Rain Forest Read-a-thon, seeking pledges from friends and family for time they spent reading.

"We got sponsors to pledge money for us to read," said Ruby Harness, one of the students. "For one month, I read every day and kept track of it. Then I collected the money from my sponsors. I read for 300 minutes and raised $215!"

"I did this because I want to save the orangutans," she added. "They are almost extinct because the rainforest is their home and the rainforest is being chopped down. I was proud that my reading raised money to make a difference. Every little bit helps and I was glad to do my part to help the rainforest."

As part of its Read-a-thon, the class worked on their iPads and prepared "Rainforest Newscasts" to spread awareness. They also wrote letters to Cargill, Inc., a multinational company in Minnesota, asking that it stop cutting rainforests for palm oil.

Another third-grader, Mackenzie McDonald, added: "A lot of animals are losing their homes and becoming extinct. We are losing the rainforest. Without the rainforest, bad things will happen. It means a lot to read to earn money and not just turn in money. I think we made our mark. I feel good about that."

Still more quotes from Randall's students:

"I felt very proud of myself because I was helping animals in the rainforest and saving the trees." - Tiffany.

"When I did the Rainforest Read-a-thon, it made me feel great because I was helping the world. It was great to do this because I thought that I couldn't. The book called 'The Dot' inspired us to make our mark." - River.

"The Rainforest Read-a-thon made me feel awesome because we raised so much money. It did not just make me feel cool, it also made me feel good because I was helping other people." - Claire

"It felt really good to help the rainforest. I have never saved something as big as the rainforest. I never thought a kid could help such a big thing." - Naren

"It felt good to make my mark on the world because we are just third graders helping the Earth and making ourselves proud." - Aubrey

"I felt good when I made my mark because we did something for the world and raised almost $2,800 for our read-a-thon." - Natalie.

Randall, 28, who is in his third year of teaching at Vintage Hills, said the money was donated to the locally based Rainforest Action Network.

"I pride myself in teaching children how to think, not what to think," he said. "The work they did on the rainforest project speaks for itself."

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