On Any Given Friday

By Fai Walker, Greenpoint Eco-Schools, MS 126 Sustainability Coach

As part of the Greenpoint Eco-Schools program, MS 126 has pledged to reduce waste at the school by 25% or more.  This is truly a team effort and requires the collaboration of every student and staff member in the school building. Student leaders have taken responsibility for teaching and supporting each other, and monitoring waste systems in their efforts to become a Zero Waste school.

On any given Thursday or Friday from 12-1 PM, you will find MS 126 soccer and basketball teams suited up in school uniform and latex gloves, strategically placed behind the organics bin, the landfill bin, and the metal/plastic/glass/carton bin.

Their coach, Mr. Justin Block, makes monitoring the waste bins in the cafeteria a team requirement. “I want my players to understand that it’s not just what happens on the court or on the field that matters. Professional athletes are always giving back. They show you that during halftime how some athlete is engaged in service to their community.”

Every class at MS 126 takes two weeks of monitoring the waste bins in the cafeteria. They become Recycling Champions and earn community service hours, which is a plus on their academic transcripts when applying to high schools.

Typically, students who play sports, are admired and respected by their classmates for their athletic ability and prowess. Mr. Block is making sure that his players are adding “civic engagement” and “community service” to the list of desirable attributes.   So it’s a big deal when students look up and see athletes recycling.

The response to the sports teams recycling has been inspiring. It just proves that recycling, like sports, has the ability to create strong school spirit and culture.

“In the beginning, not every teammate wanted to participate, “ recalls Jullian Narvaez,  an 8th grader who is a center on the basketball team. “ I know that we are saving the environment. ”  

Sometimes it takes a little longer for “civic engagement “ to kick in. Basketball player, Ricardo Alvarez would eat his lunch so slowly by the time he finished —  ah shucks!!! … recycling was done.  It was a cat and mouse game of “catch me if you can”—with mostly Ricardo winning.

Then one sunny day, when all the scheduled Recycling Champions wanted to go outside, Ricardo requested gloves and began to collect trays from tables, picked up paper from the cafeteria floor, and reminded his classmates to recycle before they left for the playground. So I asked him, “Ricardo, what happened? You usually avoid helping with monitoring the waste.” With an apologetic smile he says,  “ I went online and I saw what happens to the animals and it’s sad how they get trapped in plastic bottles and plastic soft drink rings….. So if nobody but me and you monitor the bins today, we make a difference.”

Mr. Block is right, students get it when the adults get it. So whether they are champions on the court or on the field is not important. They will always be (Recycling) Champions at MS 126 because their participation and dedication really make a difference!