Greenfest in Newark taps love of learning

Kelly Orga crouched down in front of Eva Pellegrino, pointing at the button-sized worm curled up on the newspaper in front of her. “Do you want to hold it?” Orga asked the 3½ year-old. Eva nodded yes.

Orga dipped two fingers in a bowl of water. Worms like moisture, she explained as she picked up the wriggly creature and deposited it into the little girl’s right hand. After a few seconds, the tiny worm unwrapped its two-inch body, poked its head up and inched around her hand.

Eva, who likes to dig in the dirt with her grandmother, didn’t mind the exploration by her slithery friend. “It feels neat,” she said.

Eva and her grandmother visited Orga’s classroom at the Newark Center for Creative Learning on Saturday during Greenfest, a daylong event celebrating sustainable energy and conservation efforts. Orga, who teaches a multiage class with 5-, 6- and 7-year-old students, said even the most squeamish kids can’t help but be curious about nature.

“Kids are naturally interested in what’s going on around them,” she said. “They want to know about nature and we take advantage of that.”

There was plenty to learn about the environment at Greenfest, whether it was how to make your own paper using old scraps, the importance of unplugging electronics even if they’re turned off to consume energy or understanding how pollution can impact the watershed. Conserving and sustaining the environment have always been part of the curriculum taught at the 39-year-old school — last year, 90 solar panels were installed on the roof — but students and teachers wanted others in the community to learn about how they can play a role as well, said Sean Kerrane, who teaches at the school.

“Each of us can make small, sustainable changes,” Kerrane said. ” For the kids, it’s time they’re leading the charge.”

The days’ events were eye-opening and educational for Yvette Kinsale of Newark, who brought her daughter, Chinue, and son, Chinelo, to learn more about the environment. During the free event, the trio made paper, peeked at a lime-green luna moth in Orga’s classroom that emerged from its cocoon just two days ago and took home tomato and marigold plants.

With help from NCCL seventh-grader Julia Parker, 6-year-old Chinue also planted a sunflower seed in a dirt-filled pot made from a section of newspaper.

“I’m really impressed by how much the students here know,” Kinsale said.

It helps that what they learn also is fun, said Jeremy Bostic, a seventh-grader at the school. He and fellow students Joseph Orga and Alex Rash demonstrated self-propelled cars they made using parts from a mouse trap. The cars, which used CDs for wheels, run on stored energy created by springing the mouse trap.

“We’re encouraged not to use the instructions,” said Joseph, also a seventh-grader. “If it doesn’t work, we just try something else.”

Students at the school will be able to do even more projects with the addition of a solar energy cart built by graduate students in a sustainable energy project at the University of Delaware. The moveable cart has four solar panels, which can be used to charge six batteries that in turn can power electronics and other electrical devices. Thanks to sunny skies on Saturday, the cart powered a laptop and electric fan.

Sarah Mastroianni, a chemical engineering graduate student in the program, said she and her team members also have been surprised by how aware NCCL students are when it comes to the topic of renewable energy.

“We’ll talk about something and they say, ‘Yeah, we already know about that,’ ” Mastroianni said.

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