HAMPDEN, Maine — Dustin Ramsay was in third grade when a magazine in the library caught his attention.
The magazine’s cover depicted planet Earth in an obvious state of sickness. Later that night, Ramsay looked up the article online and read about sea-level rise, a warming atmosphere and other effects of climate change.
He was hooked. But the enthusiastic elementary schooler wondered how he could help and get others his age involved in environmental issues.
Today, Ramsay is receiving recognition as one of Maine’s youngest environmental stars thanks to his efforts to spread the word among his classmates.
Ramsay started an environmental awareness club, known as the “Green Team,” at George B. Weatherbee Elementary School and then later at Reeds Brook Middle School. Now 12, Ramsay still volunteers as an adviser to the Weatherbee club and recently received a grant to help other schools start their own Green Teams.
“The whole idea is for it not to be adult-led but to have the students run it themselves,” Ramsay said recently.
The Green Teams have organized recycling drives at their schools, regularly pick up litter and conduct “light patrols” to ensure that staff members are turning off the lights in empty rooms. (Those who forget get a written reminder from the Green Team.)
They toured a local landfill and recycling center to help educate members about the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling. They also create posters to increase awareness among their classmates and are working on a project to create an outdoor classroom.
“Everybody at the school knows about the Green Team now,” Dustin said.
But the teams’ activity isn’t limited to school grounds.
The teams organized a film night and an environmental festival, both open to the wider community. They also sold compact fluorescent light bulbs and reusable shopping bags and staffed Green Team tables at the H.O.P.E. Festival in Orono and the 2007 Step-It-Up rally in Bangor.
“I think it’s definitely had a ripple effect within the families and within the school,” said Melanie Spencer, Ramsay’s mother.
On Friday afternoon, about 15 members of the Weatherbee Green Team were getting their hands dirty by sorting several bags of classroom trash as well as making posters for the school. Ramsay and two other club leaders looked and sounded several times their age as they attempted to keep the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders on task.
“Ewww, it’s all juicy!” one girl said with a grimace as she picked out recyclable paper from the trash.
“”I’m double-gloving with this trash,” said another student as she slipped on another rubber glove.
Regan Nickles, principal at Weatherbee, said not many elementary school students have come to her before with a formal proposal for a student-run club, especially not one as ambitious as the Green Team. But Nickles said Ramsay had enough passion not only to pull it off but to keep the club going after he moved on to middle school.
“I thought it was certainly a timely topic for the club, and I liked the fact that it was going to be student-generated ideas” for activities, Nickles said.
With the help of Ramsay’s mother, who often provides the adult supervision at club activities, the club members have put together “tool kits” with instructional materials for other students hoping to launch Green Teams at their own school. They also hope to organize an annual Green Team conference.
Last month, the Natural Resources Council of Maine recognized Ramsay with one of their 2008 “Environmental Awards.” NRCM executive director Brownie Carson called the 12-year-old “a true inspiration, not only to his peers, but for people of all generations.”
Ramsay is more modest.
“It’s not just me who deserves the award,” he said. “There are so many other people who helped, like my mom and the other members of the Green Team.”