MINT HILL – Local students recently pulled out their paintbrushes to decorate school recycling bins and were honored for their creativity.
Mecklenburg County Solid Waste teamed up with Coca-Cola Bottling, Republic Services, ReCommunity, Sherwin-Williams and Keep Mecklenburg Beautiful for the second year to sponsor the 2014 CMS Paint-A-Can Program. Elementary, middle and high school students throughout the county decorated their recycling bins to honor recycling for a chance to win cash prizes, with Mint Hill’s Northeast Middle School taking top honors.
“The Keep Mecklenburg Beautiful committee wanted to incentivize recycling in the school system,” said Derrick Harris, the residential waste reduction supervisor of Mecklenburg County Solid Waste Services. “The program helped figure out how students can … send out a message of recycling.”
Jan Burlee, a senior county environmental specialist and coordinator of the CMS Recycling Program for Mecklenburg County Solid Waste, said the contest was a way to get the message of recycling out to the school system.
“We essentially wanted to put some cash back in CMS schools using a program that gets the kids excited and participating,” Burlee said. “We also needed to get out the message of recycling across the school system.”
Five schools rose to the top and took home their share of the $12,500 bounty. Northeast Middle in Mint Hill claimed the first-place prize of $5,000. Piedmont IB Middle took $3,000 for second place and Hough High came in third, winning $2,000. Matthews Elementary took the $1,500 fourth place prize and Highland Creek Elementary came in fifth, winning $1,000.
There was a list of criteria to select a winner out of the 60 registered schools, with the two main criteria being that the project was designed and completed by students and that the can included a central theme of recycling that can be clearly seen through the images painted.
Northeast Middle School principal Alicia McCree said she knew the school’s art teacher, Lakeesha Mitchell, would be excited about the project. Mitchell, who McCree said often encourages students to participate in competitions, formed a team of kids from all three Northeast Middle grades from her Art Club.
And although Mitchell headed the project, she allowed the students to take the reign on their creative vision, McCree said.
“Lakeesha gave them guidance, but allowed the students to initiate the idea for the project,” she said.
For fourth-place finisher Matthews Elementary, the paint contest wasn’t the only initiative the school used to teach students about environmentalism.
“We’ve done a school wide recycling program with not only a focus on paper, but bottles and cans – especially milk cartons,” Matthews Elementary principal Mike Miliote said.
Allison Dundorf and Anne Kieffer, two of the school’s art teachers, had a significant hand in coordinating the project, Miliote said. They worked with four fifth-graders after school to paint the can for the project.
“Our art teachers knew it was a good cause and that it teaches environmental stewardship,” Miliote said.
Dundorf said she was proud of the students for putting in five weeks of work to complete the project, which was completely student-designed and completed.
“I just wanted to encourage them to use their artistic abilities to show their voice,” Dundorf said. “Most kids don’t think that because they can draw that it means anything, but I wanted to show them there is power behind their thoughts.”
The final product revealed the school’s mascot, Stinger, taking Coca-Cola bottles out of the trash and into the recycling bin.
Miliote is proud of what the students were able to accomplish and the message they presented.
“I just think the kids went above and beyond to try to win this for our school,” he said. “They really got their hands dirty.”
Mecklenburg County Solid Waste Services conducts various activities and initiatives to get out the message of waste reduction. The organization works to increase the level of landfill diversion in the county’s schools, reduce the volume of waste and offer educational content and instruction to teach students about recyclable material. Burlee said the majority of waste in the school system is recyclable material, which is why Mecklenburg County Solid Waste Services provides bins and materials to accommodate recycling.
Burlee is pleased with the enthusiasm students have for the contest, despite the contest occurring during end-of-grade testing, a stressful time for many students.
“It was wonderful to see them immerse themselves in the project and get a lot out of it,” Burlee said.
Find more information about the Mecklenburg County Solid Waste Service’s School Recycling Program at http://charmeck.org/mecklenburg/county/SolidWaste/SchoolandKidsRecycleCorner/.