Paper plate campaign aimed at cutting debt

OLYMPIA - The Student Global AIDS Campaign at Olympia High School was mobbed at a table last week by students sending paper plates with addresses to members of the U.S. Congress, encouraging them to pass the Jubilee Act, which forgives the debt of the world's poorest countries.

Those countries "could put that money toward health care workers," said Breanna Pendleton, 17. "So it is related to AIDS awareness."

Although many of the students might have been motivated by the free lollipops that the group was giving out, club member Ellie Thomson, 17, seemed pleased with the turnout.

"Two weeks ago, we had people calling senators and representatives. We pretty much got representatives' secretaries, who were very polite." she said.

It was the second event this year that had Olympia High School students trying to reach politicians.

Thomson and the others in the school's Student Global AIDS Campaign, as well as similar groups at other South Sound high schools, try to get peers to be more aware of global issues.

"In the spring, we do an education forum on AIDS awareness, with speakers from UCAN (the United AIDS Community Network), and students could ask them or us questions," Olympia High School student Katie Kistler said.

"It's hard when it's just a bunch of big statistics to really understand it, so we try to make it accessible," Thomson said.

Jacob Lander, who is part of Black Hills High School's new environmental club, Club Green, said that his motivation comes partly from the realization that the current generation of adults won't be around to see the changes caused by global warming.

"We need to fix things ourselves," he said. "I don't want my kids to say, 'Dad, what's a polar bear?' 'Oh, I wish I could tell you, son.' "

"I look at it as, this is my country and I need to step up and do something," club member Kari Cahill said. "Any problems are things we have to deal with."

The club, which is about 15 students, is trying to get school administration and peers to think more about the environment and sustainability.

Lander said he became motivated over the issue after working at Left Foot Organics during the summer.

A teacher sent him to a state conference on creating sustainable schools, and he became aware of how much could be done at schools, he said.

"We're going to do water-quality testing at the Deschutes River and put up posters to give some awareness of global warming," Cahill said. She said the club also wants to get on the school's weekly TV show as a regular feature.

Making a difference

Students in the club said the issues have made them more aware of the political landscape and the importance of being engaged in the political process - but not necessarily with partisan politics.

Olympia High School senior Breanna Pendleton, 17, said that as part of the Student Global AIDS Network national committee, she became aware of how much national decisions can affect health care.

"I realized how important it is to get politics behind us, and to just try to solve the problem," she said.

Pendleton said she was looking forward to voting.

"I think it's important to have your say," she said.

Kistler, 18, said she was excited to be able to vote.

"My parents are making me read the stuff on the issues, because they're afraid I'll be an uninformed voter," she said. "I'm also taking a civics class, and we have to learn about what's on the ballot."

Cahill, also 18, said that she thinks that her peers are getting the message that it's important to stay engaged with the issues.

"I think it's great that MTV is doing commercials that show that it's cool to vote," she said. "I look at it as, this is my country and I need to step up and do something."

Venice Buhain covers education for The Olympian. She can be reached at 360-754-5445 or