REXBURG — A group of students at Madison Middle School recently visited Rexburg’s three grocery stores with one item on their list: convince store managers to discourage plastic bag usage.

Sharee Barton, the teacher for the Alternative Instruction Model class at Madison Middle School, said her fourth-grade students chose in September to research how plastic bags have an impact on the local community and the global environment.

“I let the kids explore in groups and choose what geography topics they wanted to learn about,” Barton said.

Barton teaches her students using a program created by National Geographic called Geo Inquiry. She learned about the program after visiting National Geographic’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., last year.

“The cool thing about Geo Inquiry is that we’ve been able to cover so many different topics,” she said. “It’s project-based learning, which crosses almost every learning boundary.”

The Geo Inquiry program encourages students to ask, “What is it, why is it there, and why should I care?” Barton said students came up with many ideas using those questions and decided plastic bag pollution was an issue that they could make an impact on.

The students learned about how plastic is one of the most common pieces of trash that is polluting the ocean; they learned about massive islands of plastic floating in the ocean and how plastic bags used at grocery stores contribute to that pollution.

Barton said Geo Inquiry is made up of several phases, each one helping students further their goal of making a difference.

“The first phase was to ask, and so we came up with that ask statement on our website,” she said. “They studied how plastic bags are made, what other people have done and why we need the ocean. The next phase is to visualize, which is to help you organize and analyze information. We did lots of phone calling in our local community to visualize what has been done already. That’s when we began coming up with ideas on how to inform the community, like creating the website, business cards and our T-shirt bags.”

Barton’s students taught themselves how to make a website, design a custom logo and create business cards. Students also learned how to sew while making reusable shopping bags with old T-shirts.

The last phase of Geo Inquiry is to act.

“A big part of that phase is to share your story and tell people what you’re doing and what you intend to accomplish,” Barton said.

On Monday, Dec. 18, Barton’s students visited Broulim’s, Albertsons and Walmart. They met with store management and gave a presentation on the pollutive impact plastic bags can have.

Barton said the store managers were prepared to listen.

“I was really impressed with the local grocery stores and how they were willing to listen,” she said. “All three stores accepted in part our challenges.”

Broulim’s Albertsons and Walmart all said they would do better in promoting their reusable bags, which customers can purchase.

Barton said her students acted in a very professional manner and the store manages were impressed with their presentation.

“They had to practice, practice, practice,” she said. “Before we left they really understood that if people wanted to take action it would be because of how we presented themselves. They did it in a real professional way. When they got to those stores they were very professional, and I’m very proud of them.”

The next step is to begin passing out the students’ business cards and homemade reusable bags.

“Our goal is to try and help people to realize why they should use reusable bags,” Barton said.

Barton’s class will be following up with stores in January to see if they kept to their pledge in making reusable bags more visible to customers.

Completing such a project hasn’t been easy, but Barton said it’s worth seeing how her kids have risen to the challenge.

“I just think it’s pretty empowering for kids to see that what they’re doing is important, that they see that they’re being listened to,” she said. “That’s my favorite thing is watching these kids learn something and teach it to others.”

For more information about the effort to end plastic bag use in Rexburg visit the students’ website at skipthebag.weebly.com.