Falls Church Students Making Change Happen

By Joseph Kratz, Staff Writer

                                                               You read on the Internet about
people making change happen all the
time. Many of these people make huge
sweeping changes, but there are many
smaller efforts that are very important
and very impactful.
Meet Jerry Achtermann (9).
While in middle school, Jerry wrote and
publicized a petition aiming to change
the FCPS cafeteria trays.
Jerry said that he found out about
some of the chemicals that were included
in the makeup of the trays, including carcinogens
and neurotoxins, which could
leach into the food as it sat on the tray.
“Of course, we don’t want cancer-causing
chemicals in our food, and since the
trays were being burned for energy after
use, these chemicals were being released
in the air,” said Jerry. “Styrofoam is also
non-renewable, and its production is bad
for the environment because it’s made of
Once he found out about this,
Jerry sought to take action. He wrote a
petition calling for the elimination of
“wasteful and dangerous polystyrene
trays from Fairfax Schools.” It touches
on his concerns, including those about
the environment, writing, “Polystyrene is
one of the most dangerous materials to
the environment,” and also talking about
Styrene and Benzene, the two chemicals
that are dangerous to the health of hu-                                                                                                                                             mans. Jerry took a lot of time and effort
to craft his petitions, adding and analyzing
whatever information he could about his
cause and the dangers of Styrofoam.
But creating change takes more
than just having a good point and some
facts to back it up. Jerry had to let people
know about it. So he told everyone who
would listen to him about it, handed out
cards, asked people to email anyone who
they thought would sign it. By the end of
his campaign, Jerry had gotten 488 people
from not only Fairfax County, but as far as
California, Sweden, the United Kingdom,
and South Africa to sign his petition.
With all this attention, Jerry finally
had to make his case to the school board
members themselves. He spoke at one of
their meetings, voicing all his concerns,
as well as laying out his plan for what he
would do differently. The school board
agreed with him that something should be
changed. But it wasn’t until this summer
that the county changed its tray policy.
When asked whether or not he was
happy with the new changes that you have
now probably seen in the cafeteria, he said,
“I mostly like the changes they’ve made,
but I would have preferred reusable trays
instead of biodegradable ones because they
would only have to buy trays once… Still, I
think the most important thing was getting
rid of the Styrofoam trays, and I was glad to
be able to do that.”