Carencro High senior Dylan Istre spends a lot of time looking at trash.

Istre, 17, and three classmates are part of a cohort of students from Carencro High, David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy and The Clearport Learning Center, a non-profit tutoring and mentorship organization, helping catalog litter around Lafayette Parish. 

The litter count project is one component of a new litter abatement and community beautification initiative, Parish Proud, launched in October.

The four Carencro High seniors, along with teacher Traci Credeur, spend part of their roughly hour-long class photographing litter around campus; from food wrappers in the cafeteria and on the school’s deck, to medical tape on the practice football field and bottles along the campus perimeter.

The students log their findings in the Survey123 app, noting the litter’s location, its distance from the nearest trash can and litter type. Then, they upload their data points to Storymaps, an interactive storytelling platform the students use to illustrate and analyze their findings, Credeur said.

Both are offered by the geographic information system software company Esri.

Fran Harvey, director of the Global Geospatial Institute, helped introduce the students to the technology. Harvey’s Baton Rouge-based nonprofit partners with schools and educational groups around the state to bring geographic information system technology to K-12 students.

Harvey has worked in the field for 25 years and said the technology is a great way to enhance classroom learning. Student training in GIS technology also falls in line with Louisiana’s career and technical education push and helps expose students to a growing technical field with diverse applications and good paying jobs, she said. 

Not all students attend college and it’s important they have exposure to real world career opportunities before graduation, Harvey said.

“The education system needs to be reaching our students in a different way and engaging them more. Activities like this that still teach the content that needs to be taught but provide students a different type of environment for learning are important,” Harvey said.

It also helps them get a step ahead, Credeur said. GIS technology is being employed in the oil field, environmental surveying and trend data analysis. Early training opens the door to a professional certification and the opportunity for higher paying jobs out of high school, she said.

Harvey and the Global Geospatial Institute became involved at the suggestion of Fenstermaker, who spearheaded the student litter count project. Coy LeBlanc, Fenstermaker GIS and environmental field specialist, got the idea at a GIS conference in California, where conservationist Jane Goodall discussed educating children as the key to change in her chimpanzee conservation work, Harvey said.

LeBlanc brought the idea home, approached Lafayette Consolidated Government about how students could get involved and the litter tracking project was born, she said.

Credeur said she’s glad the public and private partners chose to tap students for the litter count project rather than relying solely on a professional firm. In addition to professional benefits, the teacher said it also teaches them about the destruction of litter and can help change habits.

“These are going to be our politicians. These are going to be our drivers that will be throwing things out of windows -- or not. I think a lot of adults already have habits good or bad and beliefs good or bad that they currently put into their lives about littering and trash,” Credeur said.

Credeur said her class wants to take their surveying work off campus and she’s planning excursions to the library, parks and recreation facilities, and other public facilities in Carencro to collect more litter data. Then, they’ll be able to draw comparisons between students’ littering behaviors and the behaviors of the general public.

The educator hopes the information can be used to produce solutions. At the school, their insights could lead to recycling services. At the public venues, it could change where trash cans are placed and what waste management services are offered, she said.

Credeur wants her students to know they’re never too young to help make change.

“They don’t understand until they’re involved that they can be part of the way a community changes,” she said.

Istre said he likes the project because it’s a simple and straightforward way to serve the community. Though the data is high tech, the execution is entry level and could be done by anyone with a smart phone and some spare time.

“Usually the problem with most things that get people to help is that they’re difficult,” he said. “This is pretty accessible.”

The senior said it’s cool being able to help his community, and he hopes illustrating areas with high volumes of litter can help produce change in the community and open people’s eyes to litter’s damaging effects.

Email Katie Gagliano at kgagliano@theadvocate.com