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SPAE Green Team on a mission to reduce waste

Posted On: 2015-05-20

Updated: 1:53 pm, Wed May 20, 2015.
By Shelley Ridenour, Tribune

It’s Thursday afternoon, just past lunch hour, and the sixth-graders wearing their screaming green “Green Team” T-shirts are eager to grab their cart and sweep their school in search of recyclable materials.

It happens twice a week. The six kids have it down to a science now, in the waning weeks of the school year.

They split up and head down the hallways of Sequoia Pathfinder Academy at Eastmark, sneaking into classrooms, the office and other rooms where they grab the blue garbage bins that bear the common triple-arrow-in-a-circle logo that signifies recycling. The bins get stacked on the cart. Once all the bins have been gathered, it’s out the back door and inside the fenced-off, but unlocked, recycling area just outside the new school. There the blue containers are dumped into the bigger recycling bin that is emptied regularly by Green Depot, a private recycling company.

Some days Green Team members have to sort textiles out of their blue containers and put them in the specially-marked textiles bin. Phoenix Fibers empties that container when needed.

Although the recycling effort began as an entry in the Lexus Eco Challenge, it’s become routine at the school, teacher Lisa Brame said.

The public charter school, which is in its first year of operation, didn’t have a recycling program in place when school started, she said. So, when she learned about the Lexus challenge and pitched the idea of entering to her students, they were excited and set up the recycling program.

Besides just putting recycling containers around the school, the Green Team took steps to educate other students, school employees, parents and the Eastmark community about the value of recycling.

“It’s become commonplace now to recycle here,” Brame said of the school. “The kids get upset when they can’t recycle.” And, yes, they pester their parents about recycling, she said.

They’ve determined that between 50 and 70 percent of the trash generated at the school is recyclable.

The sixth-graders conducted Earth Week events for fellow students to continue the focus on recycling, reusing and reducing waste. It included a lesson on composting. Next year, they want to compost on the school property and build a garden or greenhouse.

The Student Council helped with an Earth Day event focused on reusing textiles. Students made shopping bags out of old T-shirts and made bracelets and headbands from fabric scraps and plastic bags.

“Some of the students wore those for weeks,” Brame said of the bracelets and headbands.

They collected 1,522 pounds of textiles in that promotion and sold the material for $228. The money was given to the Student Council.

The Lexus challenge is a competition designed to teach kids about the environment and how to take steps to improve their communities.

The Sequoia Pathfinder team was one of four middle school winners, an honor that netted the team a $10,000 prize. Placing first in the final round meant another $15,000 award.

While they didn’t win the grand prize, Brame and the students are proud of their accomplishment and fired up to enter a new project next year.

Students spent $5,000 on a trip to the Arizona Science Center where they were fascinated by the sustainability exhibit.

They’ll spend more of the money on a trip to San Diego where they’ll visit Sea World, help clean up a beach, learn about water issues and charter a boat to see a floating marine lab.

And, they donated $1,000 to Keeping Arizona Beautiful.

They’re considering buying reusable bottles for every Sequoia student to keep at school, to reduce the use of one-time plastic bottles. And, they’re considering installing water bottle filling stations at the school with some of the money.

The recycling program is one of many efforts at Sequoia to not just teach students about becoming stewards, but having them become stewards, Principal Juliane Hillock said.

Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or