Sherry Emerson says they have eagle eyes. They sort through each blue bin cautiously, carefully, making sure not to miss anything.
If they aren’t thorough, they might overlook a few pencils, a pair of scissors or even some used tissues.
They call themselves the Green Team.
To everyone at Broken Arrow School, that’s who they are — students determined to help save the Earth — one piece of paper and water bottle at a time. To their parents and friends, they are just typical fourth-grade students.
“It changes everything,” Emerson says as she, too, sorts through the bins. “It’s so much easier to change at this age.”
Emerson, of Lawrence’s PetSmart, helped provide the school with the bins and containers necessary for the weekly recycling operation.
Now, blue recycling bins are scattered throughout the school — in the classrooms, office, hallways — and larger containers used for sorting are stacked in the school’s recycling center, which is located right outside the library.
“It’s just kind of amazing,” Emerson says. “It’s really grown so everyone is involved.”
One of the students stuffs used paper into a cardboard box. Another steps into the box and begins jumping, smashing the paper down to provide room for more. After they fill the boxes with paper, the students will stack the boxes in the corner for transporting.
Every Friday, these students forfeit their recess to compile the recyclable goods from every classroom in the building and sort it into bins for paper and plastic.
“More and more students, have bought into the idea of recycling,” fourth-grade teacher Ginny Turvey says.
When Turvey and her class began recycling, she had no idea it would grow into such an important part of the school, into such a schoolwide effort.
Every classroom in Broken Arrow School participates in the recycling project now. Turvey’s fourth-graders teach the other classes the difference between recyclable materials and trash so they can maximize the recycling.
Turvey says often the classroom recycling bins fill up and overflow, while the adjacent trash can remains fairly empty. To Turvey and the rest of the Green Team, this can only mean that they are making a difference, making an impact on their school and on their classrooms.
‘E’ for effort, environment
Carrie Mantooth, guidance counselor at Broken Arrow, sees the difference every day and notices the impact as she walks around the school.
“I’ve never seen such an in-depth and amazing effort,” she says. “It’s just amazing.”
Some of Turvey’s students say they do it because it’s the right thing to do. Others say they do it because it’s fun, and it’s easy.
Ten-year-old Ahnya Lewis says she’s happy to give up her recess, as long as she’s helping make the planet a better place to live.
“It’s for the Earth,” she says before returning to the bins, to the pop cans and juice bottles, to the paper towel rolls and the copy paper.
Many of the students at Broken Arrow have started recycling at home, teaching their parents and siblings about the importance of recycling, Emerson says.
Her family has been recycling for years, which explains why her daughter, fourth-grader Rhiannon Emerson, isn’t afraid to volunteer with the schoolwide effort.
“It’s cool because now I’m doing it at two different places,” Rhiannon says. “I think it’s important to help the Earth, and it’s better to recycle.”
Parents help, too
When the boxes are filled with recyclable goods, a parent picks them up and takes them to a nearby recycling center, Turvey says. At first, the cardboard boxes piled easily in a parent’s car, but now there is so much to recycle that it makes it difficult to transport it all at once. For this reason, principal Brian McCaffrey recently helped secure a Deffenbaugh recycling bin, which will be installed outside the school this week and will make the recycling more convenient for everyone involved.
Utilizing everyone in the school — including parents — is one reason McCaffrey says the effort is so special.
“It builds a sense of community,” he says. “The parents, teachers and students — everyone is involved.”
For Emerson, it’s the unexpected involvement from the entire school — students, teachers, administrators, parents — that’s been so rewarding, so powerful to watch and witness.
“It’s really grown so everyone is involved,” she says. “Broken Arrow is an old school. You’ve got teachers who have been here 20 years who are changing their ways. It’s been very impressive.”