The school-wide recycling campaign arose after the student ecology commissioner and her faculty advisor decided to put an end to the thousands of plastic containers that went unrecycled at the school in previous years. "Everyone pitched in to the campaign," said Laura Schmidt, a fourth-grade teacher. "The school set up recycling bins in classrooms and near lunch benches; students advertised the campaign; maintenance staff and student council members collected the containers; and parents took the containers to the local grocery store for redemption. The whole process was extremely well run."
The campaign was so well run that a wider recycling campaign was even launched. Before Thanksgiving, the school had a "Recycling Bonanza" day when students could bring in as many aluminum cans and plastic bottles from home as they could manage. More than 1500 containers were brought to school that day or nearly six containers per student. "That single day of recycling alone raised about $75 for Global Playground," said Ms. Schmidt. "It was a great way for the kids to give to others in an age-appropriate and manageable way. One of my students even went beyond what he could manage to bring to school. After realizing he couldn't bring all of his bags of bottles and cans to school, he decided to recycle them himself and instead bring the proceeds to school."
The school's principal and teachers chose Global Playground as the beneficiary of the recycling campaign because they wanted to teach the students about the importance of furthering a mission and helping others well beyond their local communities. "With Global Playground's tangible goal of building schools in developing countries and promoting equal education for all, it seemed a perfect fit for the recycling campaign," said Ms. Schmidt. "Seeing pictures of Global Playground's school in Uganda being constructed and the children who would benefit from the school really brought Global Playground's mission to life and drove the campaign."
In conjunction with the recycling campaign, Ms. Schmidt's fourth-grade class researched and learned about Uganda's educational system for two weeks. The two weeks of study culminated in Ms. Schmidt's fourth graders creating posters and giving oral presentations about Uganda to the other students in the school. Their posters and presentations largely focused on the inequalities between their own educational experience and the educational experience of their peers in Uganda. For example, the students noted that in sharp contrast to the hundreds of dollars worth of school supplies and materials they each receive, the students in Uganda barely even have pencils and paper.
During their presentations, the students also suggested ideas for eliminating the inequalities they highlighted. "So here's how you can help," they said. "Pray for those less fortunate than you. Be thankful for what you have and don't waste. Be aware of the lack of education in Uganda and other problems in the world and how we as a world can change them. Donate to Global Playground and other organizations by recycling at home and at school." To encourage their peers to heed the last piece of advice, one group of students made a poster of the Ugandan flag--a crane in a white circle on a field of black, yellow, and red stripes--and then held it proudly while urging their classmates to action: "Please bring in your bottles, so we can help the people in Uganda who live on less than a dollar a day!"
In the end, the children realized that receiving an education at all let alone attending a well-funded school is a tremendous privilege. More importantly, the recycling campaign encouraged them to become activists for a better tomorrow. In essays Ms. Schmidt's students wrote about Uganda, several students hoped that in the future they could effect change in Uganda and other developing countries so that every child in the world could have an opportunity to attend school.
-Doug Smith in collaboration with Laura Schmidt