Ecos Chicos gain environmental education, teach lessons

Like the trash that accumulates in watersheds throughout Southern California, the discussion on the effects of global warming has only increased over the years, but thanks to local clubs like Ecos Chicos, Santa Clarita Valley residents have a way to become active in the fight to save the environment.

More than 100 Canyon High School students flocked to the sandy shores of Santa Monica this winter, where they combed the beach and collected cans, plastic and other harmful waste alongside geography professor Mary Bates, Santa Clarita Hiking Club President Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel and fellow peers from other Hart District schools.

The event, which was preceded by a local river clean-up in September, was organized in an effort to “show people the importance of activism and making the world a better place,” club advisor Dennis Yong said.

With the assistance of Yong, Ecos Chicos club President Caroline Shoemake and the students who comprise the Canyon High School chapter of the club, which has chapters at multiple Hart District high schools, descended upon — what they consider — their local beach for a few hours of volunteer cleanup work.

Shoemake said she thinks of Santa Monica as one of the dirtier beaches in SoCal because of the hamburger wrappings, styrofoam cups and other objects that float in the waves and dot the city’s picturesque pier above.

The group has hosted its annual beach clean-up for multiple years now, according to Shoemake, but they try to find other ways to assist wildlife and the environment in other ways as well.

Last year, students in the club planted trees for the areas affected by fires that broke out near the Placerita Nature Center, Yong said, “And we host hikes Santa Clarita to get (students) outside and expose them to nature and the beauty of the environment.”

Shoemake said the Santa Monica beach trip was “super successful” because other people on the beach were able to view the cleanup and students in action, which prompts curiosity and encourages people to educate themselves the importance of cleaning the environment.

“I think as a community we all need to help each other to educate ourselves and spread the word about how the environment affects us as a society and world,” Shoemake added. It can be a few seconds of the day spent recycling or picking up litter you see on a walk or something that takes no time at all like reusing bags.

“Anything to restore our planet,” she said.

The members of Ecos Chicos said people have become more aware of how they impact the earth, which has helped change the stereotype that surrounded those who cared for animals and nature.

“For me, as an instructor and club advisor, I want to inspire students to stand up for what they believe in and assist them in their endeavor to make the world better,” Yong said.

When students feel proud that they are part of the solution, they in turn influence others — like their family and friends — to make changes in their daily lives,” he said. “This allows them to be activists,” and by going out to the beach and river clean-ups, students are able to learn about the problems of the ocean and see the impact on the birds, turtles and marine life firsthand.

“Our goal is to promote sustainability and we want our actions to speak for themselves,” Yong said.

It’s why the club has introduced more than 30 recyclable bins around campus and encourages students to purchase Hydro Flasks or other reusable bottles that prevent the one-time use of plastic, Shoemake said. “We urge students to carpool, we reuse gloves from the cleanups,” and the group always, always recycles.

“At all levels we are doing what we can to help the world,” Shoemake said. “It’s the culture at Canyon High.”

“It’s trendy to be green,” Yong added. “We are putting the green in the green and gold.”

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