By Land Wilson
History shows that ordinary people are often behind the extraordinary changes of the world. Last year, I met one of these ordinary people behind extraordinary change. As a result of this one person’s work, 144,500 people have taken action online, thousands of students have become empowered environmental stewards, two major companies have changed their policies (Dixon Ticonderoga and Universal Studios), 1,284 trees and 1,286,645 gallons of water have been saved, and 827,129 lbs. of CO2 have been stopped. Luckily for us, and the planet, these great people tend to lead by example.
This has been my experience of getting to know Ted Wells, a 4th grade teacher at The Park School in Brookline, MA.
In late 2011, I kept coming across news about the students of a 4th grade teacher named Ted Wells. They had read Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax and liked the idea that the Lorax character “spoke for the trees.” They enjoyed discovering that in the end, the Once-ler realized that life is not just about making money, it’s about doing what’s best for others and the environment. The kids were excited for the upcoming movie. When they went to the movie website, they were upset. There was no mention of saving the Earth. They wanted to see Dr. Seuss’ environmental message expressed and thought there should be green educational materials available. So, they created a petition on Change.org asking Universal Studios to improve the Lorax movie website in a way that would make Dr. Seuss proud.
To their surprise, their petition gathered nearly 60,000 signatures and Universal changed its webpage exactly as Ted’s class requested. Universal even used the Truffula tree image for a button and linked to the Green Tips Random House page, just as his students suggested in their petition. Universal commented that these developments had already been in the works. We’ll never know what their true intensions were, but Universal did say that the kids accelerated their plans. I loved that this petition reinforced Dr. Seuss’ environmental message to people around the world
In the spring of 2012, Julie Harris, the principal at my kids’ school, asked me if I would volunteer to do a lunchtime Green Team project. The issue of plastic pollution was discussed and forty students eagerly stepped up to do something. Thanks to the petition by Ted Wells and his students, we saw that a petition was an option for us. The kids were keen on a project that was close to their lives, and everyone could relate to the large quantities of Crayola markers tossed out year after year.
The idea of expressing concerns to a beloved company was intimidating, but two things paved the way. We called Ted Wells for advice on how to create a petition. To our delight, he welcomed our call and he understood our concerns about the impact of plastic on the planet when it reaches landfills, incinerators, and oceans. He gave us council, and he encouraged us to reach out to Crayola first. We took his advice, but Crayola told us that there was nobody we could speak with at the company about our concerns. So, using Change.org, Mr. Land’s “Kids Who Care” launched the “Crayola, Make Your Mark!” petition.
Some extraordinary things unfolded for us. Nearly 90,000 supporters signed our petition! National media coverage was extensive. The “Kids” received a California Legislature Resolution from Assembly Member (now Congressman), Jared Huffman. We’ve received support from prominent organizations, celebrities, politicians, and countless kids. Perhaps most noteworthy, Dixon Ticonderoga, one of the world's leading art supply companies, responded to the kids' request by initiating its own recycling program. One of the most exciting things that I’ve witnessed has been to watch leaders-in-the-making as these children express and engage themselves to make their world a better place.
Why do I share these things about the “Kids Who Care” from Sun Valley School in a post about Ted Wells? Because without his leadership, these extraordinary things would not have occurred. He inspired us and then enabled us. He was kind and respectful. He extended a helping hand to people he didn’t even know. I believe that caring for people and places we don’t know is a mark of greatness. I think it is a crucial step in our ability to lead the world to a better place.
Tune in tomorrow, as I share more about the man who is inspiring children and educators around the world.
Land Wilson is the award-winning author of Sofia's Dream. He was born and raised in Marin County, where he developed a deep appreciation for nature and an interest in environmental protection, which later became the inspiration for his book. Land currently lives in San Rafael, CA with his wife and two children.