Green Team: Seventh graders are successful eco warriors at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Belle Chasse
When the 26 seventh graders at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Belle Chasse learned last January that pickup of recyclables from Plaquemines Parish’s 18 public recycling bins was in danger of being halted, they didn’t take the news lying down.
Initially selecting coastal restoration as their 2015-16 social justice project in religion class, the seventh graders switched gears, launching a successful awareness campaign to save recycling in the civil parish. Their ultimate hope is to convince residents and parish officials to initiate a curbside recycling program.
“After Christmas break, we noticed some of the drivers weren’t coming to pick up the recycling from our bin at school. Our maintenance man said, ‘Something’s going on,’” said the students’ religion teacher, Heather Giordano. Giordano’s students started calling around and poring over the parish website, discovering that the word was that the parish had decided to eliminate recycling because the cost of recycling items from its bins was about to double from $20 per ton to $40.
“We held a Co-op meeting here on campus to spread awareness. It was all of our class and all of our parents, too,” explained seventh grader Sheridan Arnold.
Significantly, the seventh graders also invited local officials to the meeting, drawing Parish President Amos Cormier Jr., as well as the parish’s chief financial officer, head of solid waste and one member of the parish council.
“Throughout the meeting, they kept on changing the numbers (of the cost per ton to recycle),” recalled seventh grader Hannah Bassett. “The information they were giving us kept changing.”
The four officials also learned something at the meeting. When they asked attendees if they were willing to pay more to recycle, every hand went up.
“I think they thought the people didn’t care about (recycling) if it affected their pocketbooks,” Giordano said. “They’re realizing now that people do care about it – whether it costs money or not – because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s care for God’s creation.”
As they were doing research for a social media blitz that includes Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; PowerPoint presentations to take to the community; and building their website – www.olphsocialjustice.com – the seventh graders came across the Facebook page of Plaquemines Parish Councilman Beau Black, who through his own research had found that the cost of recycling was not going to rise to the previously announced figure of $40 per ton, but to only $31.
After crunching the numbers, the seventh graders discovered that even if the cost had risen to $40, that figure still was less expensive than having to take all the added waste to the dump.
Victory came at a subsequent meeting to discuss the issue – this time drawing seven parish officials. Afterward, the parish website proclaimed: “Plaquemines Parish Reinstates Recycling.”
“But we like to say seventh grade saved recycling,” said Giordano, noting that her students now are focusing on increasing use of the existing bins so it can make a case for curbside (Ironically, it was Giordano’s students who established recycling in the parish in the 2008-09 school year).
The class is studying monthly invoices from recycling pickup to track public interest; learning about the bidding process related to curbside; and hoping to launch a parish chapter of “Keep Louisiana Beautiful.” They also adopted a mascot for their campaign – “Ricky the Recycling Bin” – a cartoon image symbolizing the wheeled bins students hope one day will grace curbs throughout Plaquemines Parish.
Because Our Lady of Perpetual Help seventh graders study Catholic social teaching in religion, Giordano organizes an annual project around this theme, putting her students in the position of advocates for the given cause. Past religion class projects over the years include replacing more than 5,000 trees lost after Hurricane Katrina; placing cages filled with oyster shells to encourage new oyster beds; working with parish officials to get a skate park in Belle Chasse; working with the Plaquemines Parish Recreation Department on a system to teach children how to bat properly in baseball; campaigning to get crosswalks across Belle Chasse Highway; trying to get reverse osmosis systems put on school water fountains; and launching a public awareness campaign on coastal erosion, using Cat Island as a Case study of the state's disappearing wetlands..
For more information on the recycling awareness effort, visit www.olphsocialjustice.com or type in “savingrecycling” to access the group’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts.