Both children and their classmates spent Oct. 29 at Island Beach, a strip of wildlife preserve on New Jersey's coast. There, Linda Hasbrouck, executive director of the grass-roots organization Save Our Shores, talked about pollution gone awry.
During a walk along the beach, the youngsters unearthed glass bottles, cans, plastic jugs. They saw foamy surf and dead fish. But what frightened them most was a single hypodermic needle.
"They were so concerned," Hasbrouck said of the students, the first school group from Philadelphia to work with SOS. "I think these kids are light-years ahead of us."
The students, along with teachers Carol Cohen and Resa Levinson, designed a survey in which 303 third, fourth and fifth graders answered questions about the polluted Jersey resort area and Atlantic Ocean.
Eighty-four percent of the surveyed students knew about the polluted shores and dead dolphins. About 110 children said their families did not go to the shore; 45 percent of that number said stories about polluted water and beaches kept them at home. And 63 percent said they wanted to be actively involved in fighting ocean pollution.
"I think it indicated that most kids know about or are aware of problems down at the shore," Cohen said.
The class plans to continue studying the environment. Periodically, Christina Purcell, a senior at Rutgers University majoring in human ecology, visits Loesche and lectures on ecosystems and pollution.
"I think kids get very enthused when things are unfair," Cohen said about the sustained interest in pollution.
"They're excited that what they say matters," she said, referring to a public hearing on ocean pollution that will begin in Trenton later this year. These students plan to be there and to testify.
"When I get older and have kids, I would like to take them to the beach and not have to worry about hypodermic needles and them stepping on them," said fifth grader Daniel Kovatich, 10, a student at St. Christopher School in the Far Northeast who attends Loesche's mentally gifted program once a week.
Brian Hoffman, 9, a fourth grader, said this in defense of clean oceans: ''I like seafood."
Brian said his interest in the Jersey shore will continue well beyond his class this year. "When we're older, it will be our problem," he said.
All agreed that recycling was one solution to the pollution problem. Daniel Kovatich voiced support for Mayor Goode's proposed trash-to-steam plant in South Philadelphia.
"Just think about where the trash is going to go before you put it out on the curb," Thomas Priore offered as advice to his generation.
If these Loesche children stand as an example of future leaders, Hasbrouck said, the environment has a chance.
"We should not become conditioned to syringes and garbage floating up on our beaches. You can't keep spoiling an area without having a backlash or ramifications," she said.
"Kids do care," Hasbrouck said. "Kids react.
"You can't ask for more than that."