SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - EcoCamp is a weeklong set of summer workshops that will be held between June 25-June 30, 2018 at the South Plainfield library[1]. Targeted at elementary school students at Middlesex County, it aims to turn participants into young environmental specialists or earth advocates.  Since Middlesex county did not do very well as its neighboring counties on pollution levels[2], EcoCamp aims to introduce environmental consciousness and conservation practices in the children of the county so change can begin from the bottom up.

EcoCAMP is based on STEAM principles and uses environmental science and statistical information to teach campers about environmental problems and solutions. It features experiments and activities, arts and crafts, discussions and public speaking. In fact, EcoCamp incorporates both “Eco” and “camp” elements. “Eco” comes from “Ecology” which the dictionary defines as the “advocacy or the protection of natural resources from pollution or its effects or environmentalism.” CAMP is an acronym for Crafts, Arts, Movies and Public speaking, implying that workshop participants will have fun as they learn to advocate for the earth through various communication methods.

Two EcoCamp workshops will be held each day in the week of June 25, 2018 at the Children’s room in South Plainfield Library. The morning workshop from 10 am-1 pm is for tweens and the afternoon workshop from 1.30 to 2.30 pm is for kids under ten. Each day of the workshop centers on one ecosystem and its pollutants. The focus is on what can be done to bring about change, and contests and quizzes will be held each day to test and aid information retention. Videos and material from Ted talks, National Geographic, United Nations and EPA will be used for the learning activities and Toastmasters techniques for the public speaking component.

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June 25: Day 1: Land pollution

June 26, Day 2: Water pollution

June 27, Day 3: Air pollution

June 28, Day 4: Noise and Light pollution

June 29, Day 5: Endangered Species

June 30, Day 6, 2.30 to 5 pm: Eco-Art Exhibition and Camp Showcase

The Art exhibition and Camp showcase on Day 6 is the highlight of the camp since students get to exhibit their art and crafts as well as an opportunity to speak before their parents and public. The Mayor of South Plainfield, Matthew Anesh has agreed to be the Chief Guest at the occasion to inspire and support the campers.

The workshop is being led by Puja Vengadasalam, a fifteen-year-old going to grade eleven in the fall in High School South at Princeton Junction. As she is passionate about the environment and committed to change, she came up with the idea of the 350-volunteer hours EcoCamp workshop for her Girl Scout Ambassador Gold project. In 2016, she led an anti-stereotyping initiative when she networked with parents, children, and the community to conduct an Indian culture awareness workshop titled “10 on 10.” Puja is a black belt in international Shito- Ryu karate and an alumnus of the Toastmaster’s YDLP or Youth Leadership Development Program. Trained in art and winner of the Presidential award for community service, Puja’s National History Day papers have been published in scholarly SAGE journals.

Since a teen rather than an adult is leading the workshop in the safe and welcoming environment of South Plainfield library, participants are likely to relate better and be inspired to action. As pre-registration is required and space is limited, those interested need to get in touch with the library or Puja Vengadasalam at puja.v@hotmail.com. The workshop and the showcase are free and open to the public, and admission is on a first come, first served basis.

So the environmental education and change process ignited by EcoCamp continues beyond the workshop, Puja will be launching the EcoCamp website on showcase day. It will contain the teaching materials and videos from the workshop so more such camps can be held using them. Also, it will feature tete-a tetes or Q & A exchanges with environment experts that include South Plainfield town officials, Rutgers Professors, town residents and a child activist.

[1] http://www.southplainfield.lib.nj.us/ecocamp.pdf

[2] Middlesex is at 11 while Passaic is at a 3 for air quality, American Lung Association gives it an F. Also as per its latest report, Middlesex Water identified high levels of pathogens and medium levels of pesticides and VOCs that get into the water from the land. Teflon byproducts and UMR# products are present in the water . Also plastic pollution and littering are high, as also noise and light pollution levels.