It was a sort of homecoming for former Webb Elementary student and current University of Delaware environmental policy major, Jake Sikora, who returned to his academic roots during his semester break in January to help the current generation of Webb gifted and talented kids with an environmental research project. 

As he set up for his presentation in the Webb library before the students arrived, Sikora seemed a little intimidated by the prospect of speaking to 70-plus elementary students. But, once they filed in and arranged themselves into tidy rows on the carpet, Sikora handled things like a pro.

The kids took copious notes as he discussed a broad range of today’s environmental challenges, and when he opened the floor for questions, hands shot up all over the room.

“I am actually taken aback by how good their questions were,” Sikora said afterward. “It looks like they’ve been doing a lot of research, and they’ve learned from it. And, they know way more than I do about some subjects. I’m really impressed, honestly.” 

The presentation was arranged by Webb gifted and talented teacher Nikki Dressel. “I hope the kids see the real world connection here beyond the walls of elementary school and middle school and high school and that they can and they will make a difference,” Dressel said. “They got to connect with someone who basically came from the same place they are coming from and is now going out into the world…and, they can do bigger and better things, and it goes way beyond the walls of an elementary school. That’s what I want them to take away from this. They have the power to be the change.”  

The presentation had just reached its conclusion when a fire alarm* sent everybody outside. The kids made the most of it though, surrounding Sikora and peppering him with requests for an autograph—which he graciously provided with good humor and a bemused smile.

“I guess back when I was their age, the dialogue about the environment was a bit different,” Sikora said. “It was like, ‘We can change a light bulb. We can drive a more efficient car,’ but they’re learning about subjects … that are really abstract. They’re really politically charged, and I’m very impressed that they’re handling it so well and learning so much.”

*Everything was fine—and the students and teachers executed the fire alarm procedure perfectly.

Jake Sikora (center), an environmental policy major at the University of Delaware, returned to his academic roots at Webb Elementary in January to help the students with an environmental research project.