Wednesday, March 5, 2014

I {Heart} Recycling

I work for a high school in Phoenix, Arizona that is an inner city school.  Our school is 73% Hispanic and 20% African American and 3% White (like me).  The culture of our school, and the community it is in, doesn't really lend to the practice of conservation and environmental awareness.  It is a very old world, in that community, and it was shocking to me that when I started teaching at my school, 10 years ago, there was no recycling program.  What?  How could that be?

It was an uphill battle.  Educating students, and teachers, about recycling, getting bins, having buy in, and then teaching everyone what they could put into the bins took years.  It started with my classes going around and collecting just paper from specific classrooms that wanted to participate, then slowly my classes when the amount increased and then a club where the students had to go out, during lunch or after school to empty recycle bins.

I applied for grants, got them, and now we have over 40 bins on our campus, outside, for recycling and a smaller bin in every classroom.  Students still empty the classroom bins but they are students elected by the teacher to carry it out to our new solar compactor (provided by the district).  My club, but mostly Ian's Special Education students, empty the gross outside bins (swarming with bees) a couple of times a week and it is hard work.  Why doesn't maintenance empty the bins when they empty the trash?  I have no idea but of the other 15 high schools in our district, students and teachers are emptying the recycling instead - and not getting compensated for it, just like us.  Isn't that crazy?!

But, because of us, and our school, all of the other high schools in our district recycle and modeled their programs after ours, the one my students started over 8 years ago.  And now we can recycle everything we can recycle at home, at school, not just paper.  How cool is that?!  So our program went from 150 students recycling, mine, to 1800 (our whole school) and now about 20,000 students in all the schools.  Yes you can start a movement, one person at a time.  Remember that.

And now our district makes lots of money, because of all the schools' recycling efforts, and can buy things like a recycling solar compactor, more outside bins or shirts for our clubs.  We have district support, an incredible guy who has always supported me, and we've been in the media a couple of times because of our program.  A couple of months ago my husband even won an award for recycling and teaching his Community Skills Special Education students how to do it (I nominated him).  We got to attend a big recycling coalition conference in Phoenix where he and his students accepted the award, and they got a standing ovation from the crowd (and tears from the speaker reading what I wrote, below) - it was so cool.  Here is the write up I submitted for him:

At first glance our recycling program appears just like any other.  Students with developmental disabilities help to take recyclables from small bins to a bigger bin; but in reality this is monumental.  Each student’s journey to develop the skills for recycling is amazing.  The student with Autism unlocking the bin has been practicing holding a key between his fingers for months.  The young lady pushing the recycling cart has practiced over and over again to get the cart through doorways because she is blind in one eye.  The student using sign language to tell me that the bin next to the cafeteria needs to be emptied is the same student that, only three years ago, had no concept of language.  His behavior and intellectual disabilities hindered his acquisition of ASL (American Sign Language) but look at him now!  Recycling has given each of these students the opportunity to learn vocational skills that will make them marketable for jobs, and help them be a part of their community, after high school.
Recycling has also helped my students find their place on campus.  They may not have the dexterity to play an instrument in the band or score a touchdown on the field; but they are consistent and motivated in everything they set their mind to.  The recycle bins are always full and someone needs to take care of them.  My students supplement the recycling club (that has dwindling interest and only meets twice a week, when students show up) and get the job done for everyone.  They keep the program running by recycling almost every day.  Each time they go out they overcome disabilities, tolerate the heat, and finish the job.  They take pride in knowing that they are a part of it all, and it gives them an opportunity to interact with the other students on campus.  
Wheelchairs, deafness, Autism, intellectual disabilities, and traumatic brain injury are always with them; but it is their school, their community and their world.  It is just a part of their responsibility, as it is anyone else’s, and nothing is going to stand in their way!  We are proud to be a part of our Recycling Program!
I was so proud of him, and his students, and of me and my students.  This was the first time we had been recognized, officially, in 8 years.  What an accomplishment!

 With our Principal.

  And then was recognized by our school district at a board meeting:

 Tony, our district recycling person.

Our students also participate in America Recycles Day, every year, to raise even more awareness on our campus about recycling.  The students at our school get a chance to see what they can recycle and to sign a pledge saying they will make more of an effort to recycle at home and at school.  It is always so much fun and a total success!

 With my ASU Intern, Vanessa.

Why am I blogging about this?  Well this is a post I've kept for a couple of months and just never posted.  It is something I am very proud of and something I'd like to remember if I ever move on from our school.  It is to remind me that I can do something good here, something good in my classroom and outside of it, and something good for this community.  There are no coincidences, there is a reason I found my school and have worked here so long, and I think one of the reasons was to do this.  Just think of all of the trash we've saved from the landfill because of our program?!  Just think how big our offset is now that the whole district is involved?  It's just awesome.

One person can make a difference.  One teacher, one class, one free thinker, one person who goes against the norm.  Do want you feel is right, implement your ideas and work your butt off.  It's worth it.

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  1. This is so amazing. What an impact you're making. We need more proactive people like you out there :)

  2. This is so awesome! Congrats on your guys big accomplishment and finally getting recognized, hard work pays off!!

  3. ps totally just noticed since your the first to add my button- it actually isnt linked right! Boo!! i need to fix that!!

  4. What in the world is that person preaching about religion for up there? Anyway, that is really amazing and impressive. Congratulations on being an awesome person and an awesome teacher. In my state, New Jersey, it's actually illegal to not recycle so that doesn't happen here or the schools would all continually be fined!

  5. this is so cool! what an impact you guys are making!... on the world and on hearts. very well done!

  6. Way to go green girl! You guys rock! ( :