Seventh and 8th-grade students from the Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School and 4th and 5th-grade students from Lockhart Elementary School were recently honored for their participation in campus-wide recycling initiatives to remove thousands of single-use water bottles, plastic bags and hundreds of aluminum cans from their schools and neighborhoods during the latter part of spring 2017.
The “Keepin’ It Clean in 2017” project was funded through a grant to the University of the Virgin Islands from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program, that paired UVI Masters in Marine and Environmental Science students, Kristen Ewen and Vernita Smith, with Topaze Lake of Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School and Juelis Hodge of Lockhart Elementary School and their students.
“Making a difference starts with teaching the next generation,” UVI MMES student, Vernita Smith said.
“These kids will go home and share with their parents what they’re learning in school. It starts small, but can lead to big changes,” she said.
Combined, the students removed over 2,500 plastic water bottles, 1,300 plastic bags, and 900 aluminum cans. In a short video PSA created by Bertha C. Boschulte Middle School students and their teacher, Topaze Lake, several students shared the goals of the recycling drive and were later shown assessing those goals by counting the amount of plastic water bottles, plastic bags, and aluminum cans collected. The items were shipped to Terracyle, a stateside company, which recycles and upcycles materials into products that can be reused, like shoes and benches.
“A project like this is unusual in public schools and we were so thrilled to partner with UVI to make this happen,” Juelis Hodge, assistant principal at Lockhart Elementary School said. “The students took ownership and exerted great energy into the recycling project. It was refreshing to see them light up about this initiative to preserve the health and beauty of our island’s ecosystem,” she said. Through this project students created educational posters and public service announcement videos, to encourage their peers, teachers, and families to participate in the collection of recyclable materials and to promote the reduction of marine debris in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“It’s been so exciting to watch these community projects take shape this spring,” Kristin Wilson Grimes, UVI assistant professor of watershed ecology said. “They’re making a big impact by empowering people to see that they personally can make a difference in the amount of marine debris entering our ocean and coasts,” she said.
A ceremony was held to thank students and teachers for helping to make a positive difference in the community and participants were given reusable grocery tote bags, in addition to other reusable items donated by Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research. This project was one of seven Community Transfer Projects funded on St. Thomas and St. Croix to increase awareness and reduce marine debris in the USVI through the NOAA grant. The public can help too by using reusable items, such as cloth grocery bags and multi-use water bottles, reducing single-use plastics, like straws and plastic cups, and picking up trash when seen.