Students start recycling program after school food fight; shift culture

Bridgeport Elementary students present the results of their recycling program to judges from Grades for Green on Tuesday, March 28, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

It all began with a food fight.

Students from Bridgeport Elementary School took to heart the meaning of “reduce, reuse, recycle” during their participation in Grades of Green’s sixth annual Trash Free Lunch Challenge.

In its first year participating in the challenge, the school was named one of three finalists in the elementary division.

“I can’t be more proud of the change they’ve made on our campus,” Assistant Principal Karen Harvey said.

On Tuesday morning, the school’s GREEN (Go, Recycle, Everyday, Everywhere, Now) Team, who led Bridgeport’s efforts in the Trash Free Lunch Challenge, presented their recycling programs and progress to five judges from Grades of Green in the hopes of winning first place in the challenge.

Allie Bussjaeger, senior program manager for Grades of Green, said the judges base their scores using three criteria.

Fifty percent is based on education, 30 percent is based on waste reduction and 20 percent is based on sustainability, according to Bussjaeger.  The winner of the program will receive a $1,000 education grant and the second and third place winner will receive a $750 grant.

Bridgeport’s GREEN Team originally developed when students got in trouble for throwing carrots at each other on the school’s playground.  The students involved in the carrot-incident offered to clean up trash during recess as their form of discipline.

The students were so surprised by how much trash they cleaned up that they asked to start the GREEN Team just as Grades of Green began partnering with the school for the Trash Free Challenge.

“Grades of Green helped the students get a concept of what we wanted to do,” Harvey said.  “Our students’ idea with the Grades of Green Challenge was a perfect marriage.”

During the Trash Free Challenge, GREEN Team members promoted recycling by displaying posters, creating grade-level challenges and making videos.

“We made this video because we wanted to teach kids about using reusable bins and putting things in the right bins,” sixth grade student Jahun Lee said.

To encourage this practice, the students also labeled each bin for sorting items and created a bin to donate leftover food, like bananas and oranges, to their fellow students and to the homeless shelter.

Bridgeport Elementary students present the results of their recycling program to judges from Grades for Green on Tuesday, March 28, 2017. Katharine Lotze/The Signal

In the future, Lee and fellow sixth grade student Chris Champion said they want to encourage students to recycle in the classroom by holding class challenges and awarding the winning class with a prize.

“We are going to give the winning class a pizza party so they can try to recycle and stay motivated,” Champion said.  “I want to keep this place [Bridgeport] healthy and reduce the trash everywhere.”

Students who joined the GREEN Team said they were happy to see the change on the campus at break time and lunch time.

“Before the GREEN Team started, I saw that the entire grass was filled with trash and now it’s not,” sixth grade student Chris Downey said.

Bridgeport Elementary School Principal Susan Bender and Harvey said they were proud of their students for taking ownership of the project and creating a culture shift on the school campus.

“We’re proud of those moments that happened and weren’t planned at all,” Harvey said.  “We changed the culture of the school so we already won.”

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