This class project creates more than art
Dec 11, 2019 03:00PM
By Kathryn Elizabeth Jones
Fifth graders dump recycling, saving boxes, paper and other items from hitting the landfill. (Kathryn Jones/City Journals)
By Kathryn Elizabeth Jones | [email protected]
When Suzette Wilson began teaching at John C. Fremont Elementary 10 years ago, she had something important on her mind.
I wanted to “reduce, reuse and recycle,” she said, speaking of her desire to teach both children and teachers what recycling was all about.
“We do the boxes twice a week,” Wilson said, speaking of the recycling work of her 29 students. “We make sure we get all of the boxes from the food delivery. We get a lot of boxes from the cafeteria. We do all of the classes [unless they’re] on field trips and we can’t get into the rooms. It’s a fun project, and we do it all year long.”
The best news? The children have smartened up.
They talk about the animals getting hurt eating things they shouldn’t and starving because they feel full.
They talk about sea turtles eating plastic bags.
They talk about trees and about carbon dioxide and oxygen.
They know a term called leachate — when plastic bottles break down to oil and the substance mixes with water.
Once a week, Wilson’s students walk from class to class dumping class garbage into larger blue bins; one bin has wheels and looks like a mini dump truck. Boxes are scrunched, the paper is dumped, and organized mayhem ensues.
Everything is gathered, and bins are wheeled outside where the contents are disposed of.
It’s time to recycle.
“Kids are smarter than adults,” Wilson said. “They know this is going to be their earth. Adults can make excuses why not to [reduce, reuse or recycle], but the kids know this is their place.”
What can you recycle? The list is clear:
- Cups that have had food cleaned out of them
- Plastic containers, such as a milk jug
- Plastic utensils and trays
- Aluminum cans
- And yes, even tissue boxes, if you’ve cleaned the tissues out
- And yes, robots. Or at least the stuff of robots.
“We were kind of looking at recycled items, and we saw recycled robots,” Wilson said, speaking of her class art project. “Some of [my students] made a Mrs. Wilson robot. They gave me a nose ring and tattoos because I have a lot of nose rings and tattoos.”
“You have to be creative, you have to draw attention,” Isabella said when asked about how recycling and art come together. “You have to figure out how much [material] you need, and you need lots of glue.”
“You have to get it just right so it can stand on its own,” Ambralii said.
One robot, who lost an arm somewhere during the journey, is still standing proudly in class.
Even though the robot is no longer complete, “it’s an example of reusing,” said Lillian.
Not everything is reused, however, nor can it be recycled. “We don’t recycle tissues because we don’t recycle little snots. Trust me, they used to recycle them,” Wilson said, smiling.
Other items not recycled include plastic that makes a crackling sound; plastic bags that jam up the recycling machine; pencils, because they are made using two or more products; and crayons — they melt on other recyclables.
The year is mid-way through, but the recycling continues at Fremont. And students know what recycling and not recycling means:
“If we don’t recycle the things that can be recycled, they will go to the landfill and will just stay there,” Peyton said.
“If we don’t recycle paper, we have to cut more trees down, so we couldn’t breathe,” Khapri said.
“If we recycle, we have more clean air so more things can grow,” Rhylee said.
“We wanted to be creative, and we have really creative kids,” Wilson said. But the most important thing is that kids learn how to take care of the earth. “I need the kids to be the teachers for the rest of the adults.”
As for art recycling plans in the future?
“Nothing is on the agenda — yet,” Wilson said. “But you never know when I’ll get inspired to do [something] weird.”