While most students spent their summer vacations relaxing and doing the occasional assigned summer reading, one 10-year-old student was researching a problem that would become his cause.
Ciaran Connolly, a fourth grader, was described by his former teacher, Rayna Freedman, as a very bright student with diverse interests. He does well in school and says that his favorite subject is math, though it is not his true passion.
“He’s always been interested in observing his surroundings, especially animals and nature,” explained Connolly’s mother, Tracy Gay.
She realizes that her son has a great gift.
“He learns very easily, he’s very knowledgeable,” she said. “He’s one of those lucky kids who doesn’t have to try too hard in school.”
Connolly does not stop learning when he leaves the classroom. He has a passion for education and observation that cannot be extinguished. There is always one thing that he is very passionate about that he sticks with for a while, according to his mother, but animals and nature are the two things that he has always been fixated on and it shows in his extra-curricular activities.
He has been in the Cub Scouts since first grade and he took horse back riding lessons until he got a new bird, Rio, who took priority.
Connolly is also a talented artist, according to his mother. He loves drawing, what else, but animals. He explained in great detail how he draws elephants and gets their coloring just right, depending on the age of the elephant he is drawing.
It was a two-week trip to Ireland this summer that opened his eyes to a grave problem that affects his two biggest passions. While visiting the Dublin Zoo, he stopped to observe the orangutans and ended up learning some facts about palm oil that stuck with him.
“Four football fields a minute are destroyed of rainforest because of palm oil,” he said. “I actually gave up one of my favorite snack, which is Cheez-Its, and I switched to Goldfish because of palm oil.”
Connolly did his research and found that the use of palm oil is threatening the rainforest and orangutans in the wild because of deforestation. On top of the research he has done and actions he has taken to stop consuming products that use palm oil, he has also been trying to educate his peers, which he has found to be a daunting task.
The young activist has been a part of many service projects as a Cub Scout and as a student in Freedman’s class last year. He has volunteered at the food pantry and has participated in the "Keep Mansfield Beautiful" initiative the past few years.
His mother believes that his participation in these service projects has opened his eyes to the world outside of what he has known.
“It definitely helps bring awareness of other people’s lives and situations and that the world is bigger than them,” said Gay.
Connolly understands that most kids his age aren't aware of problems outside of their own lives and do not realize the bigger picture. Upon trying to educate his peers on the issue of palm oil, he has encountered a great deal of indifference but it hasn't affected his drive to inspire change.
“When I grow up, I think the best job I could do is help protect the rainforest,” said Connolly, who would also like to research animals.
His motto is, “Have no worries ’cause everything’s gonna be all right,” which was inspired by Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.”
His mother sees him continuing to be passionate about conservation and protecting the rainforest as he grows up and knows that he will continue to gain knowledge in and out of school.
“I’m going to be amazed, I just know, at all the things that he’ll know that I don’t even know.”
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