Empowering the Future with Plastic-free Philly Champions 

Ale Gonzales, a Drexel student who recently graduated from the Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science, has a real drive to make environmental science truly accessible.  

“The interdisciplinary nature of this major has been so rewarding to my experience as a student,” Gonzales says. “I love connecting dispersed knowledge and getting to see all the paths I could take my degree in through my classes and field experiences.” 

Growing up, Gonzales did not have many opportunities to explore the outdoors or connect with nature. Instead, they had to rely on colorful encyclopedias and documentaries to see things that seemed out of reach.  

They have been passionately advocating for diversity and inclusion in the environmental studies and sustainability field, especially after discovering the number of students of color who second-guess themselves when considering a natural sciences path due to limited exposure and resources.  

Motivated by this issue, Gonzales worked with the Academy’s Education Department to help develop comprehensive lesson plans for students and teachers in Philadelphia that critically elevated the Academy’s Plastic-free Philly Champions program to its great success. 

Crafting the Plan with Care 

Gonzales worked with the Academy for a year creating educational lesson plans for our Plastic-free Philly campaign, aimed at reducing single-use plastic water bottles in our city. These materials, accessible to 4th through 7th grade classrooms across Philadelphia, were integral to our Champions virtual education package, which hosts video lessons and content from the Academy and various partners, such as the Philadelphia Water Department, NBD10/Telemundo and Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions Community Wellness. 

The big-picture research question driving Gonzales’s work was how to effectively incorporate environmental learning experiences into the already crowded curriculum of teachers and an underfunded school system. 

So, Gonzales leaned into Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory, which emphasizes the social environment’s impact on people. Highlighting the importance of educators and caregivers in modeling behaviors and conversations, this theory is also two-way, so it recognizes how children can, in return, impact their environment and influence the beliefs and actions of those around them.  

In short, Gonzales believes empowering children with knowledge of plastic pollution can influence the reduction of single-use plastic consumption in their own social environments. 

Why is this work important?  

These lesson plans cover topics such as health and hydration, storm drainage, microplastics and water filtration. They review big scientific concepts and ask critical questions for students to then reflect on their environment, communities and the role of Philadelphia organizations in the work pertaining to plastic pollution.  

Additionally, but most importantly, the plans allow students to deeply engage with the content to understand it and empower them to take action in their daily lives —and hopefully, consider pursuing natural sciences careers. 

By raising awareness about the consequences of plastic pollution and empowering young students, Gonzales believes their work contributes positively to the community’s well-being. By instilling environmental consciousness and fostering action from an early age, this research has the potential to create lasting change and contribute to a more sustainable, equitable future. 

Learn more about the Academy’s highly successful Plastic-free Philly Champions program! 

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