Students Turn trash into treasure
Highland High School crime scene unit class knows about it.
Palmdale, CA - Used motor oil, busted television sets, worn-out sofas, abandoned cars and shredded tires. If it has been illegally abandoned in the Antelope Valley, the Highland High School crime scene unit class knows about it.
For the past three months, a group of photography students from the school have taken hundreds of photos to document various illegal dumping sites in the Antelope Valley. “I knew there was dumping around,” commented HHS senior Devin Evans. “But when I saw the pictures, I didn’t know it was to that extent. I didn’t know it was that bad.”
The assignment was a part of the school’s Crime Scene Unit class within the Law and Government Academy. Highland High teacher Christine Van Allen said she wanted to choose something that was easily accessible for her students since they are not allowed to cover actual crime scenes.
The students’ confrontations with illegal dump sites have now provided them with an opportunity to earn a prize of $500 from the Antelope Valley Illegal Task Force and the office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich. This year’s contest theme poses the question, “What can you do to help stop illegal dumping in the Antelope Valley?”
“I had done the assignment before in previous years with other students, but when we heard about the contest, I thought it fit perfect with our assignment,” Van Allen said. Students in Van Allen’s class took hundreds of photos of not only items that had been illegally dumped but also of the desert in its natural state. For the contest, students edited photos and developed a video documentary dubbed with music and Evans’ voiceover, as he detailed the group’s discoveries and how people can help stop the problem of illegal dumping.
Senior Katrina Scalzi said that during the assignment she found the dumping not only disgusting but also depressing. “I felt sad,” she said, “because the desert can be really pretty, especially during the sunsets when it’s clean.”
Calvin Dugan said seeing a desert covered with trash when he was photographing was not depressing to him. “I had known about the pollution problem for a while,” Dugan said. “Growing up in the Antelope Valley, me and my brother would go bike riding and would see junkyards and places that trash was dumped on.”
Van Allen indicated that as her students brought in their pictures to show the class, other students almost immediately recognized various dump sites because some places were near their homes. “Illegal dumping is not just happening on some isolated canyon or something, it’s viewable for people growing up,” the teacher said. “If you see that when you’re growing up, then you might not think that anything is wrong with it. The adults are establishing a pattern for the children.”
Illegal dumping is any unauthorized disposal of waste on any public or private property. People usually dump illegally to avoid collection and disposal fees or “because they believe proper disposal is too much trouble,” Van Allen said.
According to the Antelope Valley Illegal Dumping Task Force, materials that are unlawfully dumped may contaminate groundwater, pollute local waterways, create a nesting area for rodents and other vermin, and harm residents as they walk and ride through open areas, due to sharp or toxic materials. On the other hand, Dugan said he feels that dumping is not necessarily a bad thing.
“It’s foul and even though the desert would be better without it, homeless people can find couches to sleep on somewhere that isn’t the hard, cold ground,” he said. “They’re making the best of their horrible situation.” Highland students are already starting to see some positive changes coming about as a result of this assignment. Scalzi, a member of the Associated Student Body, said the assignment will help her to encourage the group to establish a recycling club, which recently purchased recyclable trash cans to be placed around the school.
Evans commented that the assignment has helped him reach out to family members and friends about legal dumping. “Whenever they tell me they have to get rid of something,” Evans says, “and they say, ‘I’ll just dump it somewhere,’ I tell them, ‘No, you can’t just do that.’ I try to press (the issue) whenever I can,” Evans said. The class will not know of the contest results until the end of April. In the meantime, Van Allen said she plans to show the short documentary during the Law and Government Academy Awards event April 20 and during a film festival at the school in May.
“I don’t know what we should do if we win the money,” Evans explained. “I’m just glad that we were able to put this together and tell as many people as possible about this problem.”
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