Salmonberry Elementary School students have launched a community-based civics curriculum that has recently brought them directly into the public spotlight, which has included a well-received presentation at a recent meeting of the San Juan County Council.

These 13 students, age 8-11, have followed their own curiosity about some of the current issues on Orcas Island and begun to explore some of the questions with which the adult community has been grappling: solid waste, bike and pedestrian safety, the question of the proposed Fern Street Extension, and various issues related to handicap accessibility in Eastsound.

On a recent walk through Eastsound, students noticed a profusion of litter. They, and their teachers looked for the nearest trash receptacles only to realize that there were no public cans to be found. This realization led to research. They learned about the cost of solid waste pickup and they began to devise a plan. Students formed a new organization they are calling K.E.L.P. (Kids for the Environment through Litter Prevention.) Through this organization, and in partnership with members of the Eastsound Planning and Review Committee (EPRC) these young activists formulated a plan. They would pledge to raise the funds necessary to pay for one week of garbage collection for 6 new cans in Eastsound. Then they would talk to people and try to build partnerships with businesses, non-profit organizations, civic groups and individual citizens to see if they could fin enough partners to fun a full year’s trash collection.

While they began to draft letters to potential partners including the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce, they also took advantage of the February 7 meeting of the San Juan County Council. Ethan White, 11 and Charlie Brady 9, accompanied by their teacher Paul Freedman, put their names on the agenda for the public comments portion of the Council’s agenda. Then, after patiently waiting for their turn, in the semi-formal setting of the Outlook Inn’s Victorian Room, they stepped up to the oversized podium and confidently and eloquently read a letter explaining the nature of the problem as they see it, as well as their proposed solutions. To begin, Ethan read, “Thank you for this opportunity to speak about something that is very important to the kids of Orcas Island: Litter. We care about how our town looks. And we care about the environment. We worry about the birds and animals that might try to eat litter, and the water quality of the bay where the ground litter will eventually end up.”

After the boys concluded They received a round of applause from everyone in attendance and lots of appreciation from individuals. Later, in the lobby of the inn, the two boys received an invitation to share their ideas at the next meeting of the Chamber of Commerce Board. And they also later heard about a planned donation from the SJCC in support of the project.

“ I am so proud of Ethan, Charlie and all the kids in this class at Salmonberry,” said Freedman. I believe in part, school should be about introducing young learners to the intimate processes and practices of democracy. Democracy doesn’t only happen on CNN, it is a complex governance model that includes trying to make best possible decisions within the place where one lives. It is about entering community, sharing dialogue, and mustering the generous spirit required to improve and enrich the lives of everyone. Young people need to practice the skills of democracy and not just learn about democracy in books if they are to become effective leaders and change-makers in the future.

“This project brings together several key aspects of Salmonberry’s unique approach to education: the curriculum is determined in part by students’ interests and passions; meaningful learning can and does happen outside of the classroom walls; service learning is a critical component to education and education is not only a preparation for later living, it is about doing real work in the present.”

Later in the day, all the Salmonberry elementary students participated in a community-wide rally in support of The Exchange, Orcas Island’s re-use site. This was a fun and joyful way to show support for one part of a sustainable vision for solid waste.

Future projects that this Salmonberry class is currently working on include building bike racks for public use in Eastsound, and borrowing wheelchairs and walkers to explore the town of Eastsound with limited mobility.

Any individual or organization who is interested in pledging financial support to K.E.L.P.’s project to bring trash and recycling receptacles back to Eastsound may contact Paul Freedman at or 376-6310.