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It’s not that easy being green

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Grant County Middle overcomes hurdles

By Camille McClanahan

You may have noticed yellow and green recycling bins stationed at Grant County Schools—15 to be exact.

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In May of 2009, Kelli Lee’s third period science class at Grant County Middle school brought home a “school in progress” award from the annual Kentucky Green and Healthy Schools (KGHS) conference in Frankfort. The program recognizes schools that take up the challenge to target areas and formulate a plan of action to improve their environment.

The students identified the enormous amount of scrap paper that amassed daily at Grant County schools as a wasteful matter, and they developed a strategic plan of action to recycle their waste paper.

“I’m excited about it, because when you look at schools, paper is the largest volume of recyclables they have,” said Bryan Miles, Grant County solid waste coordinator.” I think it is marvelous what her kids have done. They have accomplished what some adults have not been able to do. Some churches and businesses had wanted to bring the program here and they were always told, ‘no.’ I guess they were making a business decision not to do it.”

The representatives of the Cincinnati-based company, Abitibi-Consolidated Recycling Division, had decided that Grant County would be too far to travel for the amount of paper they thought they would  collect, according to Miles.

However, undaunted by the failed attempts of others, Lee divided her class into groups, some organized to do interviews with school administrators, and Karen Cooper, the district groundskeepers, as well as Grant County Judge-Executive Darrell Link. Others researched contact information for recycling companies, while others made the calls.

“I had a group that bought into it, and they own the program because they did all the work,” Lee said. “Literally all I did was—I gave up my chair and my phone and I made sure that they didn’t get off track.”

The student’s goal was to find a recycling company that would merely take their paper; however, Abitibi-Consolidated agreed to pay the students for their discarded paper. The company accepts catalogs, magazine, newspapers, junk mail and office paper, but will not take cardboard or phone books.

Each school receives the funds from their paper and decides what they want to do with the money. Lee plans to use Grant County Middle School’s share of the proceeds as incentive rewards to continue the program. Her school averages approximately two tons of paper per month. Most schools get from $15 to $20 a month for their material.

According to Lee, when the students made their presentation to representatives from five local businesses and to a teacher and the principal of each Grant County school, they were all persuaded to come on board. Although the program was started by Lee’s class, it is maintained by the efforts of groups throughout the school system.

By developing a relationship with Abitibi-Consolidated, the students have also opened the door for other organizations to participate.

“Actually because we were able to get the program in the school buildings, that enabled a couple of churches to get the program, as well,” said Lee. “They were very easy to say no to the adults, because they didn’t know if anybody would be buying into it. I had even called a couple of times and, I guess, when they heard Grant County, they were done with it, but when my kids called, they talked to them because I guess they felt strongly that if kids call with a project for school, people will buy into it.”

There are five levels in the KGHS program and the students at Grant County Middle School are working on level three—“a school under development.” The final level is a “model green and healthy school.” Lee wants to continue to progress and collaborates with, Shelly Chestnut, chair of the science department, Beckie Hutchinson, language arts and science teacher and others to expand the environmental program.

Lee and her students are starting a promotion to get the community more engaged by encouraging parents to gather discarded paper from their homes and bring it to the school’s bins.

“To have a huge impact, it’s really going to take a lot of community involvement,” Lee said. “The average person, in a month, gets about 10 pounds of junk mail. I want them to just grab and bag.”