Chloe Grover, 11, of Otisfield is committed to climate activism. Supplied photo

OTISFIELD — Chloe Grover of Otisfield remembers when she decided it was time to start taking action to help the environment. It was the day last December that it did not snow.

“I first wanted to help because it rained in December when we were supposed to get snow. I like the snow and the cold,” Grover said about her motivation. “It made me kind of mad so I decided to try and help my school become a little more climate-friendly.”

Grover started the year 2020 with a resolution to start an environmental project each week at Otisfield Elementary School. She began organizing school activities – some for all students to participate in and some for just her class to tackle.

She became an announcer on behalf of environmental education. Every Monday she would talk over the intercom during morning announcements about ways to help the environment.

“It was to remind everyone to keep helping the environment,” she said. “I would introduce the challenges then, and new ideas too, and try and boost everyone.”

One of Grover’s first efforts was to start a Crayola Monster Box program, recycling old markers instead of throwing them in the trash.

“When you get 100 markers in the box, Crayola will come take them to recycle,” she said. “In my class, I started recycling breakfast bowls. That was just a fifth grade project, and then fourth grade started it too.”

Breakfast cereal at school is served in plastic bowls, Grover explained. She hoped to convince SAD 17 administrators to review how much plastic is used to serve students breakfast every day. She started by talking about it with her principal, Jessika Sheldrick, who told her that the school provides breakfast under federal rules that do not allow much flexibility.

The bottom line in the matter? There are two: it would require lobbying the federal government before they could make any changes, and it is more cost effective for the district to use plastic utensils and plates than invest in and maintain equipment and supplies that are better for the environment.

Undeterred, Grover adjusted her approach and made it a local issue that her class could work on.

“We started with the bowls,” Grover said. “Our class and the other one would wash them and save them. We used some in class to hold things and we were talking about ways to use bowls in a bigger ‘reuse’ project, like crafts.

“I also wanted to start a spoon recycling project. Our school uses about 200 plastic spoons each day so we throw out 1,000 each week.”

School closings due to COVID-19 interrupted Grover’s bowl project, but at least the quantities her class saved were recycled and kept out of Otisfield Elementary’s waste stream. Grover is determined to pick up where she left off when she starts sixth grade.

“I want a compost process at school,” Grover said. “There used to be a program started by our custodian. Someone would come pick up the compost for their farm. She left the job to the sixth graders, but after they went on to middle school it kind of stopped. I wanted to get that going but they closed school before I could.

For another school-wide climate project, Grover started a water bottle challenge for all students to participate in.

“For the month of March, you would bring in a reusable water bottle at least four days a week,” she said. “If you did the challenge your name would go into a drawing to win a Hydro Flask.”

Again, COVID-19 interrupted Grover’s project. But the prizes are still at school, waiting for the challenge to restart when students can safely return.

Young Otisfield activists Oliva Newson (l) and Chloe Grover (r) at a 2020 Maine Climate Council workshop in Augusta. supplied photo

Even before she resolved to become an activist herself Grover was already about environmentalism. But she stepped up her efforts to after that rainy day last December.

She has attended Maine Climate Council workshops in Augusta and was one of the youngest students participating in Youth Day there. She also made it to some of Waterford Congregational Church’s Tuesday Climate Talks early in the year before public gathering restrictions were put in place.

“Doretta Colburn, the church minister, organizes the talks,” Grover’s mom, Jen Blastow said. “She is amazing, very active in climate change.”

Grover was the only kid to attend the church’s Climate Talk presentation in February led by Lisa Pohlman, Natural Resource Council of Maine President. The information she learned that evening inspired many of the ideas that Grover is using to bring environmental education to Otisfield Elementary. Another important lesson Grover got from attending the Climate Talks is how to communicate with others about the importance of protecting the environment.

“There are people in my class who don’t believe in climate change,” Grover said. “You don’t argue; you talk using words that everyone can agree on.”

She learned that phrases like “carbon footprint” are triggers likely to annoy people, but talking about “pollution” is something everyone agrees should be stopped.

“Telling someone to stop leaving a carbon footprint is like giving an order, but talking about how pollution happens and can be stopped is better,” Grover said. “It’s important to believe in stopping it [pollution] and then find steps to help.”

Grover’s final lesson in climate change before COVID-19 restrictions interrupted her plans happened at 2020 Vision: Finding Hope in Climate Action, a two day event organized by the Center for an Ecology Based Economy (CEBE) in Norway in March. Noted climate activist and writer Bill McKibben came to speak about environmental stewardship.

“He talked about some of the things that he had done,” Grover said. “But he said that when you’re young, don’t go to jail for protesting.

“He also talked about how people don’t think about climate change because it doesn’t affect them. But there are places like the Marshall Islands where people may not be able to stay because of rising sea levels. They don’t have a voice and they could lose their homes.”

Chloe Grover tests the sturdiness of raised garden boxes her father installed in their back yard this spring. Supplied photo

Grover also spoke herself at the same conference and participated in an associated protest on Main Street in Norway to call attention to climate change.

Sheltering in place has delayed Grover’s climate activism at school but it has not stopped her from working for the climate. During Otisfield’s spring roadside clean-up, Grover organized family and friends to go out and pick up litter as they walked and social-distanced.

“We also did ‘no-mow May,” Grover said. “You don’t mow your lawn in the spring. It helps pollinators because the dandelions can grow. And using the lawn mower less helps the air.”

Otisfield Elementary’s kindergarten teacher, Karly Ellis, solicited Grover to make a distance learning video about climate action for her students during the History in the Hills unit in May. The topic was learning good habits to make a healthy environment.

“I talked about small things that you can do to help the climate,” Grover said. “I filmed it and edited myself. Ideas like reusable water bottles and the importance of keeping hydrated, how to recycle.”

Chloe Grover’s first attempt at gardening is providing fresh food to her family.

Grover also decided to start her first vegetable garden as a quarantine project. She and her dad Mark Grover built two raised garden beds in their backyard in April and she started all the plants herself—zucchini, watermelons, broccoli, kohlrabi (a type of cabbage), peas, cucumbers and tomatoes. The family has already started harvesting fresh food this summer.

Grover is anxious to get back to school this fall and she is committed to using her time as a student to continue helping the climate. She plans to learn to sew so she can make shopping bags out of 50-pound grain and bird seed bags.

“I want to keep working for composting and convince others to volunteer to help out,” she said.

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