COOLIDGE — There were plenty of smiles and a buzz of excitement within the two classrooms that comprise the Coolidge High School Mini Bears preschool as youngsters and their junior high counterparts counted gummy bears, fluffed cotton candy and crushed Oreos.

The fun was part of a project designed to teach Coolidge Junior High School students about the importance of looking after the environment. This interaction is part of a larger effort in spreading the word about an important issue.

Since the previous quarter, students in Dr. Jeanea Lambeth’s eighth-grade FFA class have been learning about sustainable living with the help of “The Lorax.”

Written by Dr. Seuss and published in 1971, “The Lorax” follows the story of the Once-ler, who arrives to a special valley and begins to chop down Truffula Trees.

He uses the trees for his factory, where he makes a product called a “Thneed,” despite the warnings of the Lorax, who makes an effort to speak on behalf of the trees. But as the Once-ler’s business grows, so does his need for Truffula trees. When he chops down the last tree, the impact on the environment around him becomes clear.

“By studying ‘The Lorax’ it gets (students) thinking differently, in a fun way, about the hot topic of the environment and sustainable living,” Lambeth said.

She incorporated the popular children’s story into her lesson plan to start the discussion on sustainability leading up to the next class project, which will be to create a garden using reusable and recyclable materials.

Students will use materials like pallets the Coolidge Unified School District is no longer using and other items like old tires to build the planting area. In the garden, students will plant and look after a number of annual vegetation such as vegetables and flowers.

The project, Lambeth noted, will also be part of a partnership with the preschool.

“We’re going to start on a winter garden, and then we will (also) have a spring garden,” she said.

Leading up to fall break, Lambeth’s class also hosted a debate, where participants broke off into two opposing groups that argued on behalf of the Lorax or on behalf of the Once-ler.

Though the topic may have been somewhat untraditional, debate participants still had to follow the typical protocols of a debate, such as employing evidence to support their claims and even making sure they were professionally dressed.

The idea behind the debate, Lambeth noted, was to expose students in her class to different skills they can apply to FFA career development events, which help FFA members enhance skills they will need when they attend college and enter the workforce.

CJHS/Coolidge High School Principal Ben Armstrong and Assistant Principal Andi Cardona were among those in charge of judging the debate.

At the end of the debate, judges determined that the side with the most compelling argument was that of the Lorax.

While the topic of the debate may have revolved around a fictional scenario, Lambeth said that participants still took away plenty of real-world applications.

Within FFA Career and Leadership Development events, students will have the opportunity to debate issues currently being examined within the agriculture industry. One of the major topics currently facing the industry in Arizona, and particularly Pinal County, Lambeth noted, is water — a topic she hopes to help her FFA students tackle next.

“It’s important for (students) to know what the political environment is at any age, and they need to be able to make their own decisions and have opinions based on the facts that they can find,” Lambeth said. “This was a way for them to learn how to find facts, weigh different opinions and make their own decisions.”