Rock Hill students, schools rewarded for their recycling

dworthington@heraldonline.comMarch 4, 2013 

Students at the Applied Technology Center in Rock Hill could shout “We’re No.1! We’re No. 1!” as the center was recently named the top recycling school in South Carolina.

The ATC beat out 70 schools in the state’s “Recycle Bowl” competition sponsored by Keep America Beautiful. Finley Road Elementary School of Rock Hill finished second in the state. Third through 24th place also went to Rock Hill schools.

But you won’t hear the ATC students cheering, said the center’s director Don Gillman, because the contest results are what happens at the center every month. Recycling has become part of the center’s culture and a lifelong lesson for students, says teacher Dave Finley.

The ATC won with a phenomenal 27 pounds of recycled materials per student. The national per capital average is 5 pounds. Finley Road Elementary came in at 15 pounds per person.

The ATC was eligible for a national honor, but that went to Taylor Primary School of Kokomo, Ind.

Gillman acknowledged that the ATC has advantages other schools do not. Its materials handling and logistics program gets most of its products in cardboard boxes. The center can recycle as much as a ton of cardboard per month.

But it’s not all about cardboard, he said. It’s about choice.

“Recycling is a visible part of our center,” he said. “If you throw something away, you have a choice of whether to recycle or not. Our young people are quite environmentally aware.”

The center is also different from other schools. It offers classes in 23 career paths, and students take classes at the center and then return to their home high schools. About 1,800 students take classes at the ACT this year.

Motivating those students might have been a problem, says ATC recycling coordinator Pam Jackson. But the students want to be at the ATC and they come there “because they enjoy working with their hands.” Jackson is the center’s bookkeeper as well as an alum.

The ATC recycles cardboard, paper and plastics. Jackson said because the school doesn’t have a cafeteria its recycled material is “clean.”

Students in Finley’s class said they enjoyed winning. “It shows we are just doing our part,” said student Joseph Beam. “We see it, we just recycle it.”

Having a large red recycling container just outside their classroom also helps, said students Tevin Barrett and Kyle Davis.

The students’ part goes beyond recycling. They are the ones who unload, unpackage, scan and sort the foodstuffs that go in the “Back the Pack” program that provides food to Rock Hill students who otherwise would go hungry over the weekend.

The ATC students also are part of the First Book project that provides books for schools with low-income students through the Title I program. ATC students unload the books, inventory them, post them online, fill orders and then ship them. The most recent order through the program was 55,000 books, Finley said. It took 1,500 cases to ship them.

At Finley Road Elementary, the collection of recycled material falls to the fifth-graders in the After School Challenge program, said recycling coordinator and teacher Donna Elliott. The student collect and sort the recycled materials.

Everyone, kindergarten students through the fifth grade – about 400 students in all – wants to participate, Elliott said, and classes that excel in recycling are given weekly certificates. “Every Friday they look for the certificates to see who is doing well,” Elliott said.

Some of the materials normally recycled at other schools are kept at Finley, Elliott said. Some of the milk cartons are pulled from the cafeteria bins and used for art projects.

All of the steel cans collected stay at the school instead of being picked up by Rock Hill city crews for recycling. The staff at Finley Road Elementary takes the cans to a scrap metal dealer. Funds from the sale of scrap metal go toward scholarships for the annual fifth-grade trip to Charleston. So far, Elliott said, they have collected enough from scrap metal sales to fund at least one scholarship.

As the state winner, the ATC was awarded $1,000. The center hasn’t decided how to use the award, but Jackson suggested it be used for scholarships. Gilliam liked that idea.

The students give to the schools and the schools give back to the students – now that sounds like a pretty good recycling program, too.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066 •

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