Ronan Kelly: Caring for Our Common Home

#CaringForOurCommonHome:The Prep Environmental Club

by Ronan Kelly, Science Teacher

Almost two years ago, back in the winter of 2021, I showed a short video in class about the Pacific Garbage Patch. The piece centered on Midway Island where dead birds were being found with stomachs full of small pieces of plastic.

A few days later, Andrew Kuzy & Justin Kasper (both Class of 2022 and juniors at the time) came to me with a proposal. You see, Andrew was an avid fisherman and one of his favorite haunts was on the banks of the Cooper River at Memorial Park in Cinnaminson. He was disappointed to find that, even in the few years that he had frequented the spot, it was increasingly being littered with plastic bottles and other trash. He and Justin wanted to do something about it – and the Environmental Club was born. We met shortly after during a Community Period and a small number of students attended (mostly from SJP soccer); we decided to meet up the following Saturday and do a cleanup.

On a chilly February morning, half a dozen students came and spent two hours removing over a dozen trash bags worth of plastic, glass & styrofoam waste. As a group, we decided to meet again and to make it a habit of cleaning up local parks and trails.

We repeated the act across South Jersey – Bowling Green and Bunker Hill Trails in Cherry Hill, Amico Island in Delran and Faunce St. Playground in Riverside. Each time our trunks returned home full of contractor bags of trash.

Simultaneously, I had been volunteering with the Cherry Hill Environmental Board. CHEB made me Trail Steward for the Bowling Green Trails, a 50-acre park, and charged us with the task of protecting native trees, removing invasive species, and reintroducing native species. So in between cleanups, we spent Saturday mornings removing wisteria and English ivy from, literally, hundreds of trees.

The year turned, and a new school year began the following August. New faces appeared along with the old and the Club began to grow. It was in the fall of ’21 that we began our Pollinator Garden project at the Bowling Green Trails. Having removed a large amount of wisteria, we prepped the ground marking out sun, shade and mixed gardens. We worked several tons of compost into the soil. We continued our cleanups, visiting Palmyra Cove for the first time.

Come springtime, we held a plant drive at the Prep and, with almost 200 plants gathered, started to build our pollinator gardens. Members of the local community contributed plants too, so we began to build a picnic area and expanded the pollinator gardens. We received a grant of 1500 native plants from the Xerces Foundation and by the time all was said and done, SJP Environmental Club had over 1400 sq feet of gardens installed!

In the fall of ’22, the initial leadership had graduated, but more young men stepped up to continue the club’s work. We have expanded to include cleanups in PA as well as NJ. CHEB has asked us to repeat our success at a second 50-acre site at Downs Farm Trails. So far this year the Club has lined several miles of trail with wood chips, removed two acres of Wisteria, de-vined almost 600 trees, created a quarter mile of new trail and performed 8 cleanups. Almost 300 hours of service.

One of the lessons we have learned is that 8 people cannot clean up for 8 million. The Club will continue its work, but we plan to do more to impact operations at school including pushing for reusable cups, plates & cutlery, reducing or removing single use plastic bottles from the campus and increasing environmental awareness among our community. Come join us!