Breaking the Rhythm : Dana Hills Club Tries to Interest Students in Issues

Julie Coontz, 17, is a senior at Dana Hills High School, where she is feature editor of the Paper, the school's newspaper, secretary of the Amnesty International Club and a member of Junior Statesmen. She also enjoys writing poetry.

Students Against a Vanishing Environment is a club at Dana Hills High School that educates students about such environmental issues as air pollution, ozone destruction, water pollution and wildlife in Orange County.

“The club is of a serious nature, as the problems dealt with are serious,” said the club’s president, Flora Lu, 17.

Lu says club members have had a difficult time gaining the interest of a student population highly uneducated in silent environmental catastrophes. “ ‘Don’t break our rhythm’ is the popular attitude among teen-agers,” she said sarcastically.

A phone conversation between two environmentally conscious students, Lu and fellow senior Sean Olson, was the inspiration for SAVE. The two first discussed the possibility of starting an anti-vivisection club opposed to medical research on living animals, but after further discussion, they decided that a wider topic for the club would attract more interest.


Lu spent a good deal of this past summer researching the environment directly around her. She wrote to 70 organizations requesting information and support. Twenty replied with encouragement and suggestions.

“To be heard, we had to know what we were talking about,” she said.

After spending many hours in the library and writing letters, Lu took the stacks of information regarding ocean pollution, air pollution and wildlife endangerment to various student friends, all active environmentalists.

Olson and Alex Brezinski are club vice presidents (Brezinski’s mother founded an environmentalist organization in Northern California). Club secretary Angela Galloway’s father has worked for the cleanup of toxic wastes. Other officers include Kristi Bloomquist, treasurer; Suli Porritt, publicity, and John Rassman and Steffan Tonic, who also serve on the club’s administrative council. Together, the students decided upon goals for the immediate future, including programs such as Adopt-a-Beach and the Tide Pool Task Force.


With the opening of school in September, the teen-agers set out to publicize the first meeting of SAVE. The meeting, in a classroom at Dana Hills, was attended by 200 students.

“We need commitment, not capitulation,” Lu told them. “The largest stereotype among teens seems to be the attitude that you can’t do anything, but you can!”

Lu said of the club’s beginning: “I think what I felt was exhilaration at first, then frustration, because at the next meeting, there weren’t very many people, and many didn’t want to listen to what was being said. Some even got up and walked out.

“SAVE was initiated to educate ecologically illiterate individuals and to give opportunity to those individuals. I think everyone believes in environmentalism. The question becomes how far are you willing to take it and why haven’t you before?”

Lu and her fellow officers attended the public hearing on the Air Quality Management Plan on Oct. 27 in Santa Ana. The hearing was sponsored by the Coalition for Clean Air, a Santa Monica-based group pushing for measures to improve Southland air quality.

“We really wanted to press our presence there because it was our first activity,” Brezinski said.

They turned out to be the best-represented group with 12 people and the only teen-agers of the hundreds of people attending. Lu presented a plea from SAVE.

“You as adults will be giving the environment to us,” she said. “We want to see something done. We don’t want our children to grow up in environments so badly damaged. We want it to change!”


“Our efforts distinguish the club,” Brezinski said, “because they are the only serious efforts made toward serious problems by a high school club. The success can be startling.”

Recently, such a success occurred when SAVE members participated in the California Coastal Commission’s Adopt-a-Beach program. Three times a year, club members will be responsible for cleaning up Trestles Beach on the border of San Diego and Orange counties. Their first cleanup day was Nov. 4, when 40 students worked from 11 a.m to 3 p.m., clearing litter from the beach and leaving it immaculate in a 1-mile radius.

“Though I was hoping for 50 to 100 people, I was still pleased by the turnout,” Lu said.

Lu has extensive experience in clubs, having been a member of Academic Decathlon, Class Council, three language clubs and the California Scholastic Federation. She hopes that SAVE will become a permanent fixture at Dana Hills and that, eventually, other schools will start similar clubs.

Lu expects to continue her environmental efforts in college, where she said she would start a similar group if one does not already exist. She hopes to attend Stanford.

“The desire has always been latent in me to speak out, not only as an environmentalist but as an activist,” she said.

In the near future, SAVE intends to begin the Tide Pool Task Force, designed to monitor nearby tide pools and educate people not to remove ocean life from them. Members will try to explain how hazardous such action is to the ecosystem by handing out flyers to visitors.

Other upcoming events include Save-a-Dolphin--particularly relevant since their high school’s mascot is a dolphin--and an extensive recycling program at the school.


For now, the message is awareness.