Students collect 312,000 plastic bags

Published 10:43 pm Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A team of students and teachers at John F. Kennedy Middle School was at the forefront of the school’s recycling efforts. The school came in first among middle and high schools in a plastic bag recycling competition.

Suffolk Public Schools students recently helped keep about 312,000 plastic bags out of the landfill and off the side of the road by bringing them to school for a recycling drive.

Turlington Woods School was the overall winner of the recycling competition among the city schools.

Winners also were chosen from the two groups of participating schools. Group one included elementary schools, and group two included middle, high and alternative schools.

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All the winners were chosen based on the average number of bags collected per student.

Mount Zion Elementary School collected the most bags in group one, with Southwestern and Robertson in second and third place.

Diana Bales, an Early Start teacher who coordinated the event at Mount Zion, said she was surprised and pleased when she heard that Mount Zion had won.

“It’s nice to know that we won,” she said. “I always think of our school as the little engine that could.”

Bales used a nontraditional strategy to motivate the students and staff members to recycle.

“Truthfully, I pestered people,” she joked.

Mount Zion had two collection bins at the front office as well as one in the cafeteria.

Bales encouraged students and teachers to recycle any plastic bags they encountered in the cafeteria, especially Ziploc sandwich bags and ones used for individually wrapped lunch items.

She also asked teachers to incorporate the recycling drive into their lesson plans, such as counting the bags for math lessons or making graphs showing what kind of bags were being turned in.

The work — and pestering — paid off. Mount Zion collected 39,664, about 190 bags per student.

Especially in light of Mount Zion’s closing next year, Bales said she thinks it’s great the school community came together to collect the most bags.

Even after the drive’s completion, Bales still has students bringing in their plastic bags to recycle.

She said she is glad students are motivated to recycle, and she hopes they continue to feel that passion.

“I definitely want to see it continue and get all the schools to participate,” she said.

The winner for group two was John F. Kennedy Middle School, followed by Nansemond River and Lakeland high schools.

For their efforts, Mount Zion, John F. Kennedy and Turlington Woods received benches for their schools from Trex Company Inc., the country’s largest manufacturer of wood-alternative decking, fencing and railing supplies.

The Suffolk Clean Community Commission, the city of Suffolk and Suffolk Public Schools worked with Trex Company for the event that started America Recycles Day on Nov. 15 and ended just before Earth Day on April 22.

Other participating schools were Florence Bowser, Elephant’s Fork, Kilby Shores, Nansemond Parkway, Northern Shores, Oakland and Booker T. Washington elementary schools, and King’s Fork High School.