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Helping the Lorax Speak for the Trees

Posted by Elisabeth Jakab on April 03, 2012

Bank Street alumni Ted Wells' 4th graders

Ted Wells, a 2007 graduate of Bank Street's Childhood General Education program, teaches 4th grade at the Park School in Brookline, MA, and his students are savoring a heady accomplishment: their petition campaign succeeded in getting an environmental education message onto the website for the hit animated movie, The Lorax.

“This was so empowering for them,” says Wells. “They learned a lot by doing this project. Now they are discussing what their next campaign on behalf of the environment might be.” 

Coming to the Rescue

The film is based on the beloved children's book of the same name by Dr. Seuss. Wells’ students loved the book—especially the part where the Lorax “spoke for the trees”—and they believed, as Seuss did, that "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing's going to get better, it's not."

When they heard about the film, the students went to the movie website; to their dismay, they found nothing about the book’s environmental message to save the trees and help the planet.

“We had a class discussion about what we might do,” says Wells, “and chose to start a petition campaign asking Universal Studios to add an environmental message to its website and offering suggestions for how that could be done.”

“Being Role Models for Adults"

The class' petition was posted on the website After more than 57,000 people signed the petition, and celebrities began tweeting about it, Universal contacted Wells to say they had updated the website to be more green, but that this was part of their plan, and the class project just accelerated their timing. The students were thrilled as the change and new link were exactly what they had asked for.

The studio gave them 170 tickets to an advance showing of the film, and their campaign was featured on ABC World News and cited by New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof. Said one of the students,

Some adults say they’re role models for kids, but I think we’re being role models for adults.

… and Other Environmental Efforts

Environmental service learning is not a new phenomenon at the Park School. Says Wells: “The third graders do the recycling of bottles and cans, while the fourth graders concentrate on paper waste.” There’s a Friday morning Garden Club for 1st to 5th graders as well as an Upper School Green Club.

Some years ago, Wells began the Catalog Canceling Challenge, a program in which kids call 1-800 numbers to cancel unwanted sales catalogs. NBC’s Today Show did a segment on their efforts, during which Wells and his students asked others to join the cause. Since then, more than 9,100 children in 23 states have canceled over 72,000 catalogs, helping to save trees, water, energy, and the climate. In fact, they recently saved their 1,000th tree!

“Kids Can be More Green”

Wells himself grew up in an environmentally concerned family, going all the way back to his great grandparents. However, says Wells, “It was at Bank Street that I learned the benefits of engaging kids in solving problems, and how to help them create their own understanding. Promoting good ‘citizenship’ is a hugely important and a shared part of what we teachers do. We hope for children to become caring, connected, and understanding citizens. Environmental education fits perfectly with this work. When taken seriously, this has the potential to revitalize our teaching and help our world at the same time.”

Or, as one student said, "sometimes kids can be more green."

Ted Wells GS '07***

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tagged: alumni, change, environment, media, reading, social justice, ted wells