Students at Pointers Run Elementary School in Columbia an the Great Guana Cay All Age School on a tiny island in the Bahamas have obvious cultural differences, but at least one thing in common -- awareness of similar environmental problems.
Students from the two schools, who have corresponded throughout the academic year, will make a joint presentation on what they have learned from each other about environmental issues at the United Nations Environment Programme Global Youth Forum tomorrow and Friday at the University of Colorado.
Five fourth-graders from Pointers Run's gifted and talented program -- David Bonebreak, Traci Thompson, Scott Nathan, Evan Prucha, and Matthew Cornelius -- are making the trip to Colorado.
There they will meet students from Great Guana Cay and a Canadian school group, and develop a presentation for the international audience. They will be accompanied by teacher Jacklyn Benner, who participated in a Great Guana Cay beach cleanup.
The Global Youth Forum was established three years ago to promote awareness of environmental issues and to encourage the growth of a network of students in different parts of the world.
The trip is being financed by community contributions and the students' families.
Fifth-graders in the gifted and talented class can't make the trip because they're taking standardized tests this week, which they bemoaned as the students enthusiastically discussed their discoveries last week.
Waterways around Great Guana Cay are similar to highways in the United States in that both are used as dumping grounds by those who travel them, the students said.
"They use boats for transportation, and we use cars," said fifth-grader Jenny Bland.
Waste disposal is a problem in both countries, though the United States is more technologically advanced, they said.
"They call it a landfill, but it's really a dump," said fifth-grader Emily Cardy.
"They don't cover it with dirt or anything and there's open burning on beaches. When we think of Great Guana Cay, we think of paradise, but it's not paradise," she said.
David Bonebreak added, "There are piles of trash everywhere you look, and not just little piles."
The students exchanged videotapes, audio tapes and letters throughout the school year to teach each other about environmental problems indigenous to their areas, and how transportation, industry, housing and recreation affect the environment. They also exchanged cultural artifacts.
"The boys and girls are seeing what's being done in the Bahamas that they can apply in Maryland, and they're sending suggestions to the Bahamas," Ms. Benner said.
Fifth-grader Sebastian Cherng said he learned that both countries have problems with "overfishing" of their waters and with disruption of marine life by dredging.
Scott Nathan said he noticed that Maryland and Great Guana Cay have similar problems, such as littering and deforestation, even though the climates and natural environments are starkly different.
Ms. Benner got the class involved in the program through Clean Islands International, a Pasadena, Md., nonprofit organization that provides educational and technical assistance programs to island communities to promote environmental preservation.
The Pointers Run students said they learned from their counterparts on Great Guana Cay, which has a population of about 80, that every individual must take responsibility for actions that affect the environment.
"No offense to the adults or anything, but when you tell them what you're doing, they say kids can't make a difference. But kids can make a difference," said fifth-grader Jamilyn Flyzik.