CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Emily Capece stood with the 11 children from her elementary class at Charleston's Covenant House Thursday morning as each student listed his or her name for the staff.
"I need five volunteers to go get some boxes," Capece said.
Five students raised their hands in quick succession, and returned a short time later with boxes filled with 200 tubes of toothpaste to donate to Covenant House. Covenant House will, in turn, distribute the toothpaste and other hygiene products to the thousands of homeless, low-income and mentally disabled people that it serves in the Charleston area.
The kids, ages 9 to 11, are students at the Charleston Montessori School on the West Side of Charleston, and were given the tubes of toothpaste by Tom's of Maine as a reward for their school's unique -- and successful -- recycling program.
According to Emily Hopta, a parent and the director of the school's recycling program, the school began a program through TerraCycle last spring that targets difficult-to-recycle items like foil juice packets, No. 6 plastic cups, toothpaste tubes and cosmetic containers, that might otherwise end up in landfills.
TerraCycle specializes in repurposing and reusing difficult-to-recycle items.
"I feel like it's really important to teach children about the opportunities to use renewable and recyclable resources," Hopta said. "We only get one shot at taking care of the earth, and that's it. You can throw something away, or you can recycle it and reuse it."
Different items are collected in each classroom and in the children's homes and shipped away to TerraCycle. Local businesses; including Taylor Books, Edgewood Country Club and the Kay, Casto and Chaney Law Firm; have also partnered with the school to participate in the recycling program. The school has adopted other green initiatives -- it composts some of its waste and has a school garden.
Capece said the 4-year-old school, which has 57 students and focuses on the Montessori style of teaching centered on self-discovery, is always looking for ways to impact the community and expose students to new life experiences.
"I firmly believe that all of this is just as educational as what we do in the classroom," Capece said. "Any time we can be in our community and interact with Charleston, that serves as much to educate as anything else we do. It's about becoming a student of the world, not just a student of math or geography."