Having experienced the stench that’s emitted from a soon to be capped Hillside landfill while driving through the area with her mother, high school freshman Victoria Pride decided she wanted a better understanding of what was causing those odors. So for a class project on environmental issues at Proviso Math and Science Academy, Pride did five weeks of research on landfills and even a paid a visit to the smelly site that prompted her project.

On April 18, Pride and nearly 90 of her peers presented their findings to the community during an open house event at the Forest Park magnet school. And the bottom line, she said, is Americans need to reduce the amount of trash they produce.

“Since I’ve done this project I do watch the news more often,” said Pride, a village resident.

Pride’s teacher, Julie Muhlenfeld, said that’s exactly the impact she is hoping to make on her students. The three-hour class that she teaches at PMSA is a blend of social topics and language arts studies that looks at various events – both in history and in the headlines – in an effort to understand their impact on society. Students are told early in the year that they need to begin getting daily news reports for classroom discussions, Muhlenfeld said, and learn to become active participants in the world around them.

She got plenty of eye-rolling and grumbling with the request, she said, but now Muhlenfeld has to tear the kids away from the topical debates that begin each lesson.

“They’re very global students now,” Muhlenfeld said. “They’re learning to become global citizens.”

Sandra Tarjillo, a student from Stone Park, said her research into the methods used by one fast food chain to slaughter chickens has made a real impression. For starters, she has stopped eating at the restaurant, she said.

“I had no idea there was this problem,” Tarjillo said.

Tarjillo’s report – and those of her classmates – focused on providing information about the problem and then offered tangible solutions that can be put into action. That part of the lesson is critical, said Muhlenfeld, because it forces students to translate sometimes grandiose ideas into smaller, more manageable absolutes that can be applied in the real world. And it seems students are learning how to do that, she said.

Pride said that her mother was excited about the landfill project and couldn’t wait to take a trip to the site and learn more about it. Other students at the open house said they too, have had discussions at the dinner table based on the lessons from class.

“Everybody’s on MySpace watching cartoons and movies,” Tarjillo said. “I find [the news] really interesting.”