Fifth-grade students at Watson Comly Elementary School in Somerton had a direct line to City Council on Friday.
Councilwoman At-Large Helen Gym visited the school to meet with students who, for the past few months, have been working on a project about plastic pollution and its effect on the ocean.
Gym, a former teacher and education advocate, spoke to the students about activism, and she also heard the students’ thoughts on everything from school safety to the environment.
“If all the young people in this room were to take action together on a couple of ideas, I bet you could change a lot of things,” Gym told about 75 students gathered in the school’s auditorium.
P. Ann Akif, Comly’s art teacher, said the fifth-grade students have been working on an interdisciplinary project on plastic pollution, combining art and persuasive writing. Each of them wrote a letter to a Council member either supporting or opposing a ban on single-use plastic bags.
“We try to bring a lot of real-world education into the picture,” Akif said.
Quite a few students suggested to Gym that the city restrict the use of plastic bags and bottles. Some said stores should use biodegradable bags.
“My colleague (First District Councilman) Mark Squilla and myself have talked a lot about what it means to ban plastic bags or tax them in the city of Philadelphia,” Gym said. “We need a lot of support to get that through.”
Other students spoke about school security and said they wanted enhanced safety measures to prevent shootings in the aftermath of the massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
“Please keep listening to each other,” Gym urged the students. “Be loving and supportive, especially when someone is sharing something very personal about how they feel about their own safety.” ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org