A group of about 13 students is helping to make Upper Arlington High School "greener" during the school day by serving as a recycling hub and manager for the school.
On Trash Less Thursdays, every week, students work with team leader Kim Wilson, an intervention specialist at the high school, and other staff members at a table in the cafeteria to sort recyclables, compost food waste and save unopened foods and untouched fruits for the nurse’s office. The students have also placed recycling containers throughout the school to promote recycling anywhere at anytime, and they go through the school on a regular basis to collect the recyclables.
The Trash Less Thursdays initiative grew from a desire by Wilson to create a service-learning partnership between an environmental science class and students in her multiple disabilities class last school year. They learned of the Teen Eco Summit at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, an event for groups of students from local high schools.
“This is where the idea for our ‘Trash Less’ table started,” Wilson said. “Every material was compostable or recyclable. They had a table set up with workers collecting our trash to make sure it was deposited in the correct container. There were no trash cans in the building.”
At the summit, the teams of students presented their plans for improving the environment in their schools to a panel made up of zoo employees and environmental changemakers.
“While we were not chosen to receive a grant from the Teen Eco Summit program, the employees at the zoo liked our plan so much that they decided to give us a separate grant from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium,” Wilson said. “The money was used to fund our compost tumblers that allow us to compost some food waste from the cafeteria. It was also used to purchase our t-shirts that we wear so students know where to deposit their waste.”
The “Trash Less” team borrowed ideas from the Eco Summit to make the UAHS program more effective and engage all students in the recycling initiative. They remove trash cans from the cafeteria except at the “Trash Less” table, post reminders on the cafeteria tables and make announcements in the morning. And the “Trash Less” table will also feature its own sign created by the students from recycled bottle caps.
While the initiative began last school year as a partnership between students in Wilson’s two classes, it is now being carried forward by her multiple-disabilities students and giving them valuable experiences.
“It has developed into a job site where students are learning job skills that they can bring with them when they graduate,” Wilson said. “They work on sorting, communication, janitorial skills, following written directions, following verbal directions, among countless other skills. The biggest bonus is having my students out in the building making a difference!”
UAHS Principal Andrew Theado is grateful for the effort that Wilson and her students have put into this initiative.
“It’s been amazing seeing Kim’s students interact with their peers and make a positive change for the high school,” Theado said.
Eventually, Wilson hopes to partner with a community garden, possibly at one of the elementary schools, to donate the compost from the high school’s tumblers. She also hopes to someday expand “Trash Less Thursdays” to every day of the week.
“I would love for the table to make all students more aware of what they are getting rid of and to think twice before they just dump everything in the trash,” Wilson said.