September 17, 2008

York County Saving the Planet, One Can at a Time

By Shawn Cetrone / [email protected]

When Fort Mill's Springfield Elementary opened eight years ago, it launched an environmental and recycling club that attracted about 20 students.

Membership in CARE - Children Actively Rescuing the Environment - has ballooned to 90.

"What's really been amazing is that we have such an enthusiastic, dedicated group," said Mary Raines, a Springfield third-grade teacher. "We had so many children that wanted to do it, we had to divide kids into groups of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders."

It's tough to account for all the waste a school produces. From empty milk cartons to discarded classroom worksheets to pencil shavings, the garbage piles up.

Students and teachers across York County aim to change that.

In recent years, as school environmental club membership has blossomed and new groups have popped up, students launched aggressive recycling efforts. They volunteer time and do much of the heavy lifting - hauling recyclables to drop-off points where county trucks pick them up - while teachers seek grants and organize club activities.

Springfield Elementary is one of several schools recognized for its efforts. Last month, the York County Environmental Education Liaison named Springfield the county's Environmental Education School of the Year.

Every one of the Fort Mill school's classrooms has a paper- recycling bin. Bottle-shaped, plastic collection bins, standing taller than many of the students, are scattered around campus. Posters - several designed by club members - encourage recycling.

This year, the club is learning to make compost using grass clippings and fruit and veggie scraps from the lunchroom. With it, they'll fertilize the school's hummingbird garden.

"(All) this will help our environment so the earth will last longer," said 9-year-old Tyler Parastschenko, a fourth-grade C.A.R.E. member.

Clover Junior High was recognized at the liaison's award luncheon in August. The group, run by officials from the York County Collection and Recycling Department, Rock Hill Clean and Green and the York County Culture and Heritage Museums, supports and helps coordinate schools' efforts.

Clover Junior High's recycling club was named Environmental Education Student Group of the Year. Last school year, the club launched a campus-wide recycling push.

Alaina Showalter, a seventh-grade science teacher, secured a $1,200 grant and support from York County officials, who donated bins, bags and other items. Students filmed recycling promos for morning school news broadcasts. Principal Mark Hopkins pitched in school money to buy can crushers and a fence for a recycling area behind the school.

The group is working to change campus culture, Showalter said.

"This is my fifth year here," she said, "and it's always bothered me, all the paper."

By year's end, the Clover students looked back on an array of accomplishments: They started a daily aluminum, plastic and paper recycling rotation. They held a cell phone recycling rally and made T-shirts to sell. They led a "text book adoption" which brought in some 6,000 books to be recycled.

After students hear about environmental issues, Showalter said, "they're coming up to me to say what can we do to stop this. That'll just give you chills."

This school year, kids are eager to get started again. On Tuesday, Springfield students sat around a conference table with teacher Raines and brainstormed.

"Can we do something about global warming ... how recycling can help save polar bears?" Parastschenko asked.

Baillie Steele, a fifth-grader, suggested working harder to get the lunchroom staff to stock reusable lunch trays instead of disposable ones. But it might be tough to wash the trays due to drought restrictions, she added.

Next, the kids talked about a new poster campaign with more pictures to help younger kids understand recycling.

Students at Clover Junior High also are planning.

One student wants to start a campaign to ban plastic bags, using cloth instead, Showalter said. The club also plans to start recycling newspaper and glass.

Students say their efforts have paid off and schools are cleaner.

"If we didn't recycle, Antarctica would probably melt," Springfield fourth-grader Luke Edwards said . "And the world would flood."

Shawn Cetrone 329-4072

(c) 2008 Herald; Rock Hill, S.C.. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.