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MAY 3, 2024—On a sunny, warm April afternoon, you'd think most 5th graders would be busy playing on the playground, but Olivia had other plans.

She was nearby it, sure, but her playground for the day was the perimeter around the building. Some students had basketballs and kickballs in hand, but Olivia had a pair of gloves and a garbage bag.

When we spoke to her, Olivia was kicking off her annual Earth Day cleanup campaign. The campaign challenges classes to spend some time throughout the week getting outside to pick up litter in the area surrounding the building, including the playground and athletic fields.

Her class was first up on the day, but other classes soon trickled out to take part. This year’s challenge came with a new incentive: Classes take pictures of themselves in action, and then they submit those pictures for a chance to win a prize.

Olivia has taken the lead on this project for the last three years, as she’s turned her passion for her planet into a whole-school effort.

Olivia during her first Earth Day cleanup

“We only have one Earth,” Olivia said. “We only have it for so long, so we might as well take care of it while we have it.”

Olivia’s love of Earth can be traced back to a few years ago when she saw litter around a nearby construction site. Her grandmother asked her what she wanted to do, and she decided to start taking action.

She approached Intermediate School Principal Jennifer Check about turning her newfound desire to clean up into a school-based effort. She got the green light, and the rest is history.

While she said student enthusiasm was slow to grow, Olivia says she’s seen an uptick in her classmates’ willingness to help out.

“It makes me happy to see them make a big difference in a small area,” Olivia said.

To mark the progress, Olivia wanted to create something beautiful out of something not so beautiful. She encouraged students to bring bottle caps to the school, which she and her friends used to make a large mural of the Earth.

The mural is currently on display in the school’s hallway near the gym. 

The gym is where the entire student body came together at the end of the week for an Earth Day-themed celebration to cap off the challenge.

Olivia led part of the meeting and thanked her classmates for their collective efforts. She then announced a challenge winner: Ms. Lyons's class. 

This year's prize was a stuffed animal made from recyclable materials.

As she prepares for her next chapter, Olivia reflects on the last few years. She says her biggest takeaway from organizing the cleanups is that she feels she underestimated her classmates.

"When I started with the idea, I thought nobody was going to want to do this,” Olivia said, “but more kids are interested in the topic of saving our Earth than I had originally thought.”

Olivia says she plans to hold more cleanups when she moves on to Middle School. She also hopes to combine her passion with her community service requirements as a Girl Scout.



  • Palmyra-Macedon Intermediate School

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