Category Archives: recycling

Starting a Recycling Program: Payday

Commenting about my recycling post, Ricochet said, “I ran a recycle club at the middle school – you can get kids to help pick up the paper from the teachers. I paid in candy.”

I want to pay my students for their efforts too. My original idea was to start a trash-for-cash business; my students would receive actual money for their efforts. After some preliminary investigation in our area, I doubt that’s possible.

Still, I want my students to learn the ins and outs of starting a business, and they need to be compensated for their work. Candy, however, is out of the question. For one thing, I’d have to buy the stuff out of my meager paycheck. For another thing, my students already get too much candy—I see those jaws working furiously every class period—and many of my students are overweight. So, no candy.

But Ricochet’s comment made me think back to the year I taught in a private school. That was the year I started a classroom economy. Every student had a job (janitor, librarian, class historian, etc.) and every student was paid for his or her work in classroom cash, which the kids elected to call “$tones.” Students could earn extra $tones by taking on more responsibilities. They could also lose $tones by being fined for talking without permission or creating other disturbances in the classroom or for failing to do their homework.

About every six weeks, the kids brought toys and books and crafts they no longer wanted and we held an auction. Students used their $tones to buy things that caught their fancy. Everyone had a good time.

Which brings me to my current school. Why not pay my middle-school recyclers in classroom cash and hold an auction every six weeks? Everyone loves to get paid for her efforts, and everyone loves a bargain.

I think it would be a win-win situation. The environment would win because we’d help to relieve its indigestion caused by a plethora of paper in the landfill, and the students would win because they would be learning invaluable life skills.

Day by day my idea for a recycling program/business at our middle school grows and matures. I can hardly wait for summer to be over so that I can finally begin to implement it.

Starting a Recycling Program

Because I needed a good laugh, I watched a recent episode of The Colbert Report, featuring, Matthew Crawford, author of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work.

Crawford, who earned a Ph.D. in political philosophy in 2000, opened a motorcycle repair shop when the market for academic jobs virtually dried up. “A good job,” he writes in The New York Times, “requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this.”

The special ed students I work with may or may not earn academic credentials. Rough guesstimates by long-time staff at my school suggest that as many as fifty percent of every year’s crop of eighth-graders drop out of high school before they finish their freshman year. That’s why the eighth-grade promotion ceremony is such a big deal at our school: It may be the only time that many of these students will ever be recognized for their academic achievements.

Until I came to this school, I had never worked with students whose academic abilities were a full three to four—or more—years below grade level. It’s been an eye-opener, and it got me to wondering what’s really important to these kids: mastering spelling or mastering a trade? Learning how to write a paragraph with a clear topic sentence and several supporting details or learning how to write a purchase order for office supplies? Learning how to count the number of millimeters in a centimeter or learning how to count change?

I’m convinced my students need to learn skills that will prepare them for jobs in which they are going to have to work mostly with their hands rather than mostly with their heads. That’s why I’m excited about starting a recycling program at our school. I envision my students running the program, going from classroom to classroom to collect recyclable paper, plastic and aluminum, and then sorting the materials and preparing them for transport to the nearest recycling facility, which, unfortunately, is over 40 miles away.

Our three-school district sends tons of waste paper to the landfill every month. There is no other alternative. I’ve done some investigating and found that there is a community food pantry in the area that accepts waste paper and then sells it to recyclers. The profits are used to replenish the food pantry’s shelves, shelves which supply the food for some of my students’ families. By helping to keep recyclables out of the landfill, many of my students will be helping to put food on their families’ tables.

I haven’t worked out all the details yet, but listening to Matthew Crawford has made me more committed than ever to working not only with my head, but also with my hands—and working with my students to make our part of planet Earth just a little bit greener.