November 16, 2017
A recycling program initiated at Citrus Ridge: A Civics Academy earlier this year is as much about leadership and friendship as it is paper and plastic.
“This is project-based learning. We gave the students a problem — to do something about the trash that wasn’t being recycled at our school. They did the research, created a solution, and now they’re taking it to levels we didn’t expect, such as developing lesson plans to teach kindergarteners about recycling,” said Hannah Carson, who initiated the recycling project with her second- through fifth-grade gifted students.
Earlier this school year, Carson became concerned by the cardboard and plastic bottles she often saw in trash cans around the school. She could have brought the problem up to her administration or fellow faculty members, but instead, she presented it to her students.
“I said to them, ‘This is a problem. We have a lot of trash on campus, and we need to recycle,’” she said.
“I wanted to develop in my gifted students both leadership skills and a sense of responsibility and community. A lot of times gifted students tend to be very independent learners. I wanted them to work together to solve a common problem.”
Following her cue, Carson’s students delved into recycling research, learning what can and cannot be recycled and the environmental benefits of recycling. They also soon learned that the school had 120 recycling bins and five large rolling cans that could be used to collect recyclables on campus.
In no time, Carson’s students had created posters and a television commercial about recycling. They’d also distributed the bins to classrooms and initiated a weekly recycling collection schedule.
The act of collecting recyclables posed an exciting opportunity for another teacher on campus: ESE teacher Ila Thompson. Many of her students have difficulty with social interaction. Approaching a teacher and asking one question — “May I have your recycling, please?” — could help her students begin connecting with others on campus.
“Students with exceptionalities, like the ones in my class, are often described as being in their own world. When they knock on the door to a teacher’s classroom, they’re knocking on the door to the world beyond themselves. It teaches them that it’s OK to talk to adults and other people,” Thompson said.
Each week, Carson’s gifted students and Thompson’s ESE students go door to door to gather recyclables. Through those interactions, the two teachers have seen their students form new friendships — and learn life lessons.
“They’ve let their guards down. Sometimes, personalities will clash, but they’re learning that even when that happens, they can still set aside their differences to reach a common goal. They’re also learning that just a few students can make a huge difference when they work together,” Carson said.
Added Thompson: “I have one student who has asked me, ‘Why am I so different from others? Why can’t I be friends with other students?’ This experience is teaching him he can be.”
Having seen the impact their recycling program has had in just a few short months, Carson’s students are now creating lesson plans on recycling for kindergarteners and exploring composting.
Principal Russell Donnelly said the project, and the initiative students have demonstrated since its inception, gets to the heart of Citrus Ridge’s mission.
“We are a civics academy,” he said. “You would want students at all schools to do this, but I think it’s especially important here that we give our kids a sense of responsibility for our community and environment, and teach them that we are all responsible for making our world a better place.”