The Cousins Middle School Community Based Instruction Class received first place national and state Youth Recognition Awards at both the annual Keep America Beautiful (KAB) National Awards Dinner in Washington, D.C. and the annual Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation (KGBF) State Awards Luncheon in Atlanta. The class was nominated by Keep Covington/Newton Beautiful (KCNB) for its outstanding recycling efforts in our community.
Because a trip to Washington, D.C. was too expensive for the group to take, Laurie Riley, KCNB Executive Director, presented the national award to the class at the All A’s Celebration at Cousins Middle School earlier this month. The surprised class was greeted with thunderous claps and cheers from the audience of students, teachers, and parents and posed for pictures.
The Cousins Middle School Community Based Instruction Class program is set up to serve disabled students. Two teachers and two para-professionals teach 5-15 students each year. The Newton County School System provides a school bus and a driver for the class to take students on short trips out into the community each week for experiential learning. However, the class needs extra funding to support the trips. Teachers began looking for a way to fund these outings for their students so that they could better teach practical life skills—things like how to buy groceries at the supermarket and how to order food at restaurants.
They learned that KCNB, the City of Covington, and Newton County offer a program through which school groups, clubs, and nonprofits can recycle and earn money. They began participating, at first by expanding the recycling program at their school. Then they asked parents and friends to help collect items. Finally, they had a breakthrough idea—they decided to offer to go to local businesses and organizations on the school bus and pick up recyclable items. (In order to recycle, these businesses would often need to contract with a private hauler or take their items to the recycling centers themselves.) The class found that many are very willing to allow them to take the proceeds from the recyclables in exchange for the hauling service.
In addition to all its benefits for the environment, recycling has given the class a way to earn money and is also educational for them. It has taught students important life and socialization skills such as meeting people, learning to speak to adults, practicing signatures, collecting and sorting items, and scheduling pick-ups.
Catherine Bickel, one of the class teachers says, “Remember my students have severe disabilities. When I see one of my students reach down and pick up a piece of trash and put it in the garbage can, I know all the hard work is worth it. If my students can learn to recycle and put trash in its proper place, then we can all do a better job.”
Over the last year alone, students have raised $3889.60 through recycling. Always the top recyclers in the program, in 2014, they recycled 12,700 pounds of aluminum and 7960 pounds of cardboard. They receive 30 cents per pound for aluminum and 1 cent per pound for cardboard. They have used the funds to buy hygiene products for the classroom. Their largest purchase was thirteen Kindle tablets for the students to use at school.
“We wanted to recognize the class, and we were thrilled to learn that they won first place in both state and national awards competitions. The students were genuinely surprised, happy, and excited--fist-bumping, high-fiving, and jumping up and down,” said Riley. “They don’t know it, but they are a source of inspiration in the community. The KCNB board tracks their recycling progress with great interest and awe. At meetings, board members are sure to ask how much Cousins has earned ‘this time’. “
The class partners with community organizations, businesses, and offices that allow them to pick up recycling. Currently these include: Beaver Manufacturing; Newton County Administration Building; Game Time; Newton County Library; Troy University, Newton Campus; the City of Covington; Newton County Courthouse; Newton County Board of Education; Apollo Staffing; and several local doctor’s offices. The class also recognizes students’ and teachers’ parents, families, and friends as essential partners.
“It’s my privilege to honor the Cousins Middle School Community Based Instruction Class and celebrate their dedication to making the community become more socially connected, environmentally healthy, and economically sound through their recycling efforts,” said Jennifer Jehn, president and CEO of Keep America Beautiful.