SEBASTIAN — On most any other Saturday morning, the seventh graders of Sebastian Charter Junior High would have preferred sleeping in or relaxing in the air conditioning of their homes. Instead, they poured into Riverview Park for a “GREAT” clean-up.
Fifty students and school parents signed up for the cleaning event, one of several community projects the charter school is undertaking as part of its Gang Resistance Education And Training program.
“I didn’t expect this many,” said Sebastian Police Officer Ashley Penn, who coordinates the GREAT program at the charter school. She had hoped for 25 students – she got that, and more.
Ofc. Penn teaches the school’s seventh graders about gangs, the threat they pose to the community, and gives the students the tools they need to communicate and resist such groups.
Nicholas Zieglowsky, 13, is one student in the program. He said, before the class, he thought gangs were just petty criminals and had no idea just how violent their crimes can be.
His friend, fellow 13-year-old Jaden Kebbel, said that she has never been tempted to join a gang but now she has the tools she feels she would need in order to avoid joining.
As for being out at Riverview Park on a Saturday morning, Kebbel said she wanted to do what she could to help the environment, explaining that any trash left on the ground could easily find its way to the lagoon and out into the ocean where some unsuspecting fish could eat it.
“Who wants to eat a fish that has plastic in it?” Kebbel asked. “If no one’s going to clean it up, we have to.”
Zieglowsky said that for as clean as the park looks, it is “disgraceful” the amount of cigarette butts and pouches he’d collected.
“Put it in the trash can!” Kebbel added.
By the end of the 2-hour clean up in the park and along the lagoon, Ofc. Penn said they had collected approximately 20 full bags of trash and recyclables.
Among the trash collected, students found hundreds of cigarette butts, pieces of an old fishing pole, a couple of buckets and a dead fish.
“The kids made a big deal of all the cigarette butts they found,” Ofc. Penn said, adding that they were particularly upset given that there are “No Smoking” signs posted at the park.
As part of the GREAT program at Sebastian Charter Junior High, students have to come up with community improvement projects, which led to the cleanup at Riverview Park. Ofc. Penn said many of the students’ proposed projects involved cleaning various parks around the city. Their interest in picking up trash translated into a single event.
The students will also be working on other individual projects, she said, which include collecting and donating books for the North County Library, collecting and donating food for a local food pantry, planting flowers at the library, installing a garden at the charter school, and establishing a welcoming committee for incoming sixth graders.