Environmental Club: road to success

March 27, 2015 — by Eric Sze and Rachel Zhang

On a typical Tuesday lunch in science teacher Kristen Thomson’s room, 1015, members of the Environmental Club can be found scattered about.

On a typical Tuesday lunch in science teacher Kristen Thomson’s room, 1015, members of the Environmental Club can be found scattered about carrying mounds of Cheerios in their hands. One student dumps her pile of Cheerios into a large box, the heap growing larger as other students continue to add more.

The Environmental Club, a club that focuses on spreading environmental awareness, was demonstrating bioaccumulation, the buildup of toxins in an organism, a common phenomenon found in nature.  

Each student represents a fish in the ocean, holding handfuls of cereal that symbolize toxins. As the student collects more Cheerios, she becomes “infected.”  

Juxtaposing household items with important environmental subjects, this simple yet informational simulation is one of the many creative activities juniors Meera Rachamallu and Michelle Shen have conducted in the Environmental Club.  

“It made me proud to see that Michelle and my efforts actually had an effect on raising awareness for the environment, when we saw everyone enjoying and participating in the activity,” Rachamallu said.

During the spring of their freshman year, Rachamallu and Shen created the club out of their passion for the environment. Currently boasting around 30 active members, the club has grown tremendously in the last two years, overcoming many of the initial problems that new clubs face.

In the early stages of forming their club, Rachamallu and Shen argued over what their club’s focus should be. While Rachamallu advocated for weekly discussions and simple activities, Shen stressed on volunteer opportunities and events. Eventually, they settled for a combination of the two.

Having finalized the goal of their club, Rachamallu and Shen began advertising, promising to serve food at all their meetings, an incentive they said has significantly contributed to their growth.

Shen and Rachamallu are able to keep members interested by offering fresh ideas and volunteering events at each meeting. The two spend up to two hours every week planning the topic of the meeting and additional activities.

In the past, they teamed up with the Eco-Art club to create beautiful eco-friendly bracelets by braiding pieces of colored plastic bags.

Besides completing small arts and crafts, club members also discuss timely environmental events. Recently, one of their meeting’s topics was about President Barack Obama’s veto of the Keystone XL pipeline legislation, which angered Alaskan politicians who thought that the government was “declaring war on Alaska's economy.”  

“Bringing awareness about environmental issues is very important,” Shen said. “Having discussions really integrates people and gets them active in them.”

Using a PowerPoint, Shen and Ramachullu outlined the summary of the situation and included three brief news clips. They then posed a question to the group: “Should we pick environmental conservation and the protection of natural habitats, or should we focus on state’s rights?”

Unfortunately, the bell rang a few minutes later, leaving little time for discussion.

“[In a usual discussion] people might ask a few more questions, but it’s not a Socratic where everyone participates,” said Shen. “Sometimes, I’ll get a question or two or I’ll hear someone’s opinion.”

The club’s interest in the environment often expands past the classroom and into the outdoors. Its volunteer events center around nature, drawing in people who love working outdoors.

“With a lot of different clubs’ volunteer events, you might be filing papers,” Shen said. “[We have] really interactive events and I think people enjoy them.”

For example, the club has organized outings to Full Circle Farms in Sunnyvale, where they got to pick fresh produce, as well as the Tree Amigos program in San Jose, where they helped out with the nursery and learned about urban forestry.

Through these volunteering events, the club has created an avenue for members to share common interests, which increases their chance of staying with the club and attending meetings.

“I have actually gotten closer to my friends through having the chance to casually hang out with them,” Rachamallu said.

Though the club consists mainly of juniors and a few freshmen girls, all of them are dedicated to the cause. In the past, the club attracted members beyond the current majority, but their interests were misguided.

“We used to have a few guys, but Mrs. Thomson scared them away because they only came for the food,” Rachamallu said.

Despite the lack of gender and grade diversity, Rachamallu is ultimately grateful for the positive response the club has received from members.

To students who want to form their own club, Shen advises them to ask themselves some serious questions.

“If you are creating a club, make sure it's something you're really passionate about,” Shen said. “Don't just do it for colleges. It'll show to other people, if you really care.”