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Gainesville High students are environmental ambassadors
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Riley White, 16, points out plants she and others in Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, or FCCLA, have planted outside Gainesville High School. She is an environmental ambassador and likes to remind her classmates how they can cut down on environmental pollution at the school.

Styrofoam, recyclables, carpooling, composting and growing vegetables are part of “Greener Way is the Better Way,” a project that two Gainesville High School students will compete with in a nationwide contest in July.

Senior Krystal Sanchez and junior Riley White won the state Family, Career and Community Leaders of America competition in Athens and will head to the national convention July 1-8 in San Diego. White was a member of FCCLA in 2014-15, but Sanchez joined this year at the urging of a club officer.

Both teenagers said they were so shy at the beginning of the school year — they started on the project in the early fall — it’s hard to believe they now chatter about their project. Sometimes they finish each other’s sentences or talk over the other. But these “environmental ambassadors” want to remind their fellow students how to cut down environmental pollution at the school.

Part of determining pollution at GHS, they said, involved garbage.

“We went through the cafeteria’s trash, and in just one bag we found so much Styrofoam,” Sanchez said.

The two girls spent three hours going through bags of garbage. From that experience — including, White said, a bag “exploding” on her feet — came an online petition seeking a change from Styrofoam plates to plastic trays in the cafeteria.

That change has not been made, but White said the petition has 245 signatures. Sanchez, however, pointed out the recycling bins around the tables outside the main entrance. Those have been there only a couple of weeks, she said.

Another big part of the school pollution, White said, comes from students driving to school.

“They don’t carpool,” she said.

Sanchez noted she drives and carpools.

The girls also tend to a small vegetable garden — watermelons, corn, cantaloupes and cauliflower — outside the FCCLA room. A layer of paper, compost material and fertilizer started it. Plants are beginning to sprout in it.

The pair also made a YouTube video about pollution. It was posted in late January.

“It took us about 70 times (to make it) because we kept messing up,” White said.

The presentation for competitions has to be less than 10 minutes, Sanchez said.

“We were like 9:50” before the region, White said. “We were up until 2 a.m. practicing.”

The presentation now is at “8:08,” White said.

The two are taking a break — the region competition was in mid-March — and will start rehearsing in early May for the national convention.

“We never thought we would ever get to go to state,” White said, explaining both of them were quite emotional.

To hear the girls tell it, both could barely speak to classmates when they started the project in September.

Now, they talk readily, and White said she has “presented it to most of my classes.”

White said she plans to expand the project and continue it next year. Sanchez plans to help out — even after she graduates in May.

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