Thanks to Elizabeth Lane Elementary School fifth-graders Matthew Jordan, 11, and Eli Squier, 10, there are far fewer cigarette butts littering the lake area of the Arboretum and a portion of William R. Davie Park in south Charlotte.
The two boys have made a difference in their environment - no ifs, ands, or "butts" about it.
Eli and Matthew, along with classmates in teacher Karen Flowers class, were finishing their D.A.R.E. curriculum - which ended in January - taught by Matthews Police Officer Karen Greene.
D.A.R.E. - Drug Abuse Resistance Education - is a special curriculum for fifth-graders that teaches the dangers of drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse. The program used to be taught in every fifth-grade classroom in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, but the system cut it from most schools several years ago. The town of Matthews pays for it to be taught by police officers in the three elementary schools within Matthews town limits.
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Last month, Greene was teaching about the harmful effects of tobacco, not only to a person's body but also to the environment. She showed the class a mason jar filled with cigarette butts and explained to them how long it would take for the butts to decompose.
Matthew and Eli had an idea. With their parents' support, they picked a Saturday morning, donned plastic gloves and went to work filling 1-gallon Ziploc bags with cigarette butts.
Never mind that it was sleeting and raining that day: They had a mission to accomplish.
"It was really gross," said Eli. "You could see all the black on your gloves. The areas looked so much cleaner after we picked them all up."
The boys collected almost two gallons in little more than two hours.
Matthew's father, Phillip Jordan, took a picture of their find before they properly disposed of the butts in the trash.
Matthew said they weren't really surprised at the number of butts they found, as most people don't seem to think twice about throwing them on the ground.
"Officer Greene taught us about tobacco and how bad it is. It sounds awful how people smoke and then just throw the butts on the ground," said Matthew. "If a duck would mistake it for a bug or something, it would probably kill it. We learned that tobacco is not only bad for people, it can kill just about anything around it."
Eli's mother, Leann Squier, says she's pleased at the impact the D.A.R.E. program seems to have had on the children.
"The D.A.R.E. program really made an impression on them. They came up with this on their own. They wanted to show Officer Greene that they cared about their community and about their environment. It was sleeting and cold that day, but they felt strongly about it and they did it," said Squier.