Students brush up on recycling, giving back
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."
The class was given a tour of Covenant House by its executive director, Ellen Allen, who showed students around the building and described the organization's purpose -- to help unemployed, homeless and low-income people find housing opportunities, receive food vouchers, get everyday supplies and even do laundry or take a shower.
"It was founded in the community and remains that way today," Allen told students during the tour.
Covenant House is not a shelter; it is primarily an advocacy organization designed to help people with the programs it provides or direct them to its partner organizations in the community.
"We provide compassion and support," said Wilsie Herlihy, Covenant House's drop-in center coordinator. "We are unique in what we do, but we all work together. We're sort of the hub everyone comes to; if you don't know where to send someone with a certain problem, send them here. We won't drop the ball; we will work with that person until we can get them to the resources that they need."
Covenant House is always in need of funding and supplies, Herlihy said, and the donation made by Charleston Montessori School will amount to two months' worth of toothpaste for the agency to give out.
This is not the first time that a national company has recognized Charleston Montessori School's recycling efforts.
In July, Huggies gave the school diapers that they plan to donate to the YWCA in Charleston.
Meera Hartman, 10, said that the school has also collected items during the summer, and that she and her family have been recycling at home through the program.
"I think it's important to help our environment, because we cause problems, and we did things that made everything worse, and now everybody's complaining about how things are and nobody's doing much to fix it," Hartman said. "I thought it was time people started doing things and stepping out of their comfort zones to help the environment."