At WCDS, we try to continually facilitate an environment in which students can think about ways to personally affect their community and world. Now obviously a fourth grader is not going to run for president or open a school in the ‘real world’. But here, when you’re a student preparing for a leadership role in fifth grade, you have an opportunity to step up and make a change.
A couple years ago, a student came up to me after emptying the classroom garbage can during our executive function period and asked why we threw out so much paper. I told them, not to paraphrase Michael Scott, but our world (especially our school world) runs on paper. Each rough draft or discarded artwork ended up in the trash, along with paper lunch bags and office memos or even little sticky notes. Plus think of all the paper towels we use after washing our hands. Think about the day old newspaper or month old magazines. It’s all ending up in the same place. ‘But, why don’t we just recycle it?’ And just like that, our program was reborn.
On paper (rim shot) we always had a recycling program at WCDS. We had tall blue bins marked for paper or plastic, and they sat in common areas like the gym and classrooms, but more and more they were being neglected, or worse, filled with food and other trash. And it’s actually pretty understandable. It’s difficult enough to get four year olds to clean up after themselves, let alone reorganize all their waste and place it in the proper corresponding bins. That’s a big reason school recycling programs always seem doomed to fail. It takes too long to sort and clean when you could just toss it in a communal bin. Once it’s there, it’s out of sight out of mind.
So thanks to one student’s insight, we started looking deeper as a class. We researched local recycling companies and asked the administration at WCDS their thoughts on a new waste reduction program. We found opportunities everywhere! Then Mrs. Julie Cartwright mentioned our current waste management company at WCDS actually offered a commingling recycling option (no sorting!) and was even willing to provide our school with an educational assembly based on proper recycling techniques, as well as a general ‘yes/no’ tutorial for recycling common products. So on Earth Day, 2015, we officially launched the WCDS Recycling Program. The fourth graders were assigned teams to manage each classroom within the school, as well as a review of the assembly. They were to think about strategies to entice their fellow students and teachers to recycle or reuse as much as possible. All of their presentation materials needed to be made from reused or recycled products and had to include a specific amount of information. Other than that, it was up to them to individualize it for their ‘customers’ and empty the bins each week.
This past year, our students again reviewed the information about our program and started tracking progress right away. The class also seemed to embrace their classrooms even more, with skits, thank you notes, and even a ‘Recycling Robot’ costume for the kindergarteners. (It was a personal highlight each week, to see that simple cardboard robot costume half blindly marching down the sidewalk to those ever-believing five-year-olds.) In early March we reached our seemingly outlandish goal of 1,000 pounds of recycled material! A half-ton! And boy did a party ever ensue! The most special part for me, however, was the universal desire to share our success with their assigned classrooms, of which they had clearly become a part. And by Earth Day, 2016, we had added another 200+ pounds to our total! More importantly, we began seeing everyone, all the way down to our youngest JK3 students, embracing the change and mindfully deciding to recycle snack bags, water bottles, and paper products. This program has become a lasting legacy for fourth grade at WCDS, and will continue to grow exponentially in the coming years.
It took a student to think about it. It took a student to ask. And it took a class to take action.
This year the program has immediately hit the ground running! The kids walked in the first day knowing they were taking over the responsibility, and we quickly brainstormed new goals (A FULL TON!) and priorities. While still in the process of presenting to classrooms, and amazingly for us, we were already receiving requests to empty overflowing recycling bins. This shows the program is no longer just a welcomed or tolerated exercise among other classes at school, but a truly embraced and fundamental program among teachers and students alike. It is such a blessing to be at a place that grabs hold of ideas, both big and small, from kids or adults (big kids), and provides encouragement and support to reach every bit of the potential within.
Here’s to a full ton!
I’ll be back with some updates throughout the year, so keep an eye on the blog, or better yet, grab one of those fourth graders and ask how we’re doing!
Keep talking to Yourself,