When it comes to taking care of the environment, people can always change their habits for the better.

That was the message Melissa Newhall's first grade students at Swift Elementary School in Egg Harbor Township presented in the play, "An Earth Day Carol" to celebrate Earth Day on April 22.

The play, a retelling of Charles Dickens' classic "A Christmas Carol," featured a character called Ebenezer Litterbug and her visitation by the Ghosts of Earth Day Past, Present and Future.

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As noted in the beginning of the play, the first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970 and has since grown into a global celebration and a day to enjoy, learn and help the planet.

In the play, which the students performed in the school's cafeteria for their families and guests, a youthful Ebenezer, played by 7-year-old Raegan Simon, learns to nurture and respect the Earth by reducing, reusing and recycling.

In the first act, the Ghost of Earth Day Past, played by Claire Lee, scolded Ebenezer for "making a mess of the earth," and transported her back to America in 1492 where Native Americans told her how important it was to respect the earth because it is the home to many living things.

Still not convinced, Ebenezer continues to litter and waste energy and is visited by the Ghost of Earth Day Present, played by Ethan Lee, who delivered the message that energy is precious and everyone should recycle, plant trees and grow a garden.

The final warning came with student Bora Kara, who played the Ghost of Earth Day Future and told Ebenezer the Earth would be destroyed by garbage and pollution if people didn't change their ways.

The last act featured a reformed Ebenezer pledging to recycle and take care of all living things in the world. All 23 students in the class then appeared on stage to sing "We Wish You a Happy Earth Day."

Newhall said it was the third year she has presented the play in the school, and even though her students are mostly 7-year-olds, she feels it is important to educate them on the significance of Earth Day.

"The children not only learn about the environment and how to care for it, but their self-esteem and confidence really increases by acting in front of their peers and parents," said Newhall, a teacher at Swift for the past 11 years.

She added that she and reading specialist Pam Battersby wanted to fuse some of the classroom objectives in science with those of language arts, public speaking and performing, and the play was a vehicle to put those goals into action.

Newhall said she enjoys watching the children grow and learn as they practice and prepare for the presentation. The students spent about a month learning their lines and preparing, she said.

The students also created Earth Day posters that decorated the stage and multipurpose room that described ways to care for the Earth and improve the environment.

Newhall said while the children had fun and showed a lot of creativity, she also wanted to increase their environmental awareness and appreciation of nature.

After the play, some of the students talked about what they learned about Earth Day.

Daphne Brozyna, who played the part of the Earth Day Speaker in the play, said she learned that recycling is important. The Bargaintown resident said her family always brings their own reusable bags and boxes when they grocery shop.

Marc Levine, also of Bargaintown, said he learned that to save energy you should always turn down the heat at home when you are sleeping or when nobody is there.

Suhayla Ramirez said it is important to turn off lights when you're not in a room and to take care of the Earth by planting trees.

Jacob Rosengarten, another Bargaintown resident, said he learned in class that it's important to do a good job of picking up litter because if you don't "then the Earth will look like the old days when everybody threw trash on the ground."

Dhruv Trivedi said she learned that it's not good to pollute the Earth and that riding bicycles and scooters is better for the air we breathe than driving cars.

The Egg Harbor Township Education Association sponsored the event. Reusable shopping bags, refreshments and information from the ACUA recycling center was available for parents following the play.

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