Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Olney boy making waves over the environment

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A small boy has done big things at Olney Elementary School.

George Klees has left a mark not only on his first grade class, but throughout the entire school by sharing his concern for recycling and conserving energy.

Klees’ mother, Beth, said her 7-year-old, who has been identified as highly gifted, goes through phases where he becomes interested in a topic and totally immerses himself in it, learning as much as possible by reading.

‘‘Basically, whatever he is interested in, he becomes an expert at,” Beth Klees said. ‘‘He’s only been interested in energy and recycling since about February or March.”

Other recent interests have included weather, computers, electricity, maps, the Arctic and the ocean.

‘‘My grandma told me the oceans are in danger, and then I read books and learned the whole world is in danger since the oceans affect life on land,” George said.

After reading books, including former Vice President Al Gore’s ‘‘An Inconvenient Truth,” George became concerned about the recycling efforts going on at Olney Elementary.

After seeing bottles and aluminum foil in the trashcans at school, he received permission to begin recycling as many of the materials as possible, even if it meant taking the trash home with him.

‘‘He really made a difference,” his mother said. ‘‘The teachers have told me that they really think now before throwing something away.”

Meghan Mendez, George’s teacher, said that before the youngster became involved in recycling, most paper products were being thrown away. He also organized a collection of plastic bottles in the first- and second-grade classrooms.

As the fifth-graders were studying solar energy in the spring, George gave a presentation to them about why fossil fuels are bad and why renewable resources, such as wind and water, are good.

His presentation was so impressive that Colleen O’Donnell, a Montgomery County Public Schools instructional specialist with the Division of Accelerated and Enriched Instruction, plans to share George’s information with students in a new program at Poolesville High School that deals with the subject.

O’Donnell said that George reads material he is interested in at a level consistent with a high school student or an adult.

George made posters (a first-grade writing objective) for the school to share his message. They carry the words: ‘‘We have one Earth and one chance to save it.”

He took his concerns beyond the walls of the school by picking up litter in the community and participating as the only child in a Patuxent River clean-up event to celebrate Earth Day in April.

On the national level, George has written letters to President George W. Bush (R), California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (R) and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), trying to persuade them to protect their waterways and adopt renewable energy practices.

‘‘Florida’s oceans are treasures with coral reefs and manatees,” he said. ‘‘They need to be saved.”

He received letters back from Bush, Schwarzenegger and Crist, each thanking him for his interest in protecting the environment.

The last time he checked with school (he used the school’s address as his return address), O’Malley had not responded.

Beth Klees said that she and her husband Don are learning from George.

‘‘In his report on renewable energy, he talks about things that we have never heard of,” she said.

‘‘Because of George, people think we must drive a hybrid car, but we don’t,” she added. ‘‘We recycle, but that’s about it.”

Although she works with other gifted children throughout the county school system, O’Donnell believes George is exceptional.

She said he is unique because of he possesses the traits of independent study and task commitment, along with his concern for moral and ethical issues.

‘‘George truly exemplifies a strong trait of giftedness, not only because of his intellectual ability, but his concern for moral and ethical issues make him the contemporary Albert Schweitzer [or] Rachel Carson of today,” she said. ‘‘He truly uses his concern for issues to drive his research and convey it to others in a purposeful medium to persuade others to make a difference for the love he has for the Earth and living things.”

Like she did with Mendez, O’Donnell will continue to work with George’s teachers to map out a plan to pursue George’s interests and mentor him.

George said he is looking forward to second grade and hoping that when he returns in the fall, an improved, school-wide recycling plan will be in place.

Beyond that, George has a few other ideas for his future.

‘‘When I get older, I want to work at a recycling plant or on a recycling truck,” he said. ‘‘Or maybe as an adult I will invent something to get recyclables out of the garbage without having to use my hands.”