ZEPHYRHILLS — Four mornings a week Summer Sullivan, 10, dons a green vest and meets up with the West Zephyrhills Elementary Earth Patrol. They grab blue barrels on wheels and start collecting recyclables. Sometimes they monitor water conservation, help to maintain the school gardens and promote litter prevention. They also check to see if computers, lights and appliances have been left on in classrooms and look for recyclables in the trash.
"I like to help the earth," Summer said.
"And we help teach other kids about what we can recycle," said Evlyn Woody, a 13-year-old fifth-grader. "Sometimes people throw away batteries, computers, things that can be reused."
Throughout the year about 60 students take turns rotating through the Earth Patrol program under the watchful eyes of Herb Roshell, the school's plant manager and conservation liaison.
"Just about anything can be recycled," Roshell said. "We need to teach kids from a young age how to recycle, to take nothing for granted."
Tony Bartenope, conservation and recycling coordinator for Pasco County schools, reports that during the 2013-14 school year, West Zephyrhills Elementary has recycled and/or kept out of the landfill 2,300 metal food cans, 10,680 plastic bottles, 21,160 pounds of paper and cardboard, and 1,674 pounds of household batteries.
Districtwide, Earth Patrols have been keeping campuses clean and ecofriendly since 2007.
When Earth Patrol students visit classrooms and find recycling, water conservation and energy management activities that are correctly followed, a green door hanger is left stating, "Thanks, you are making a difference," said Bartenope, who oversees the district's efforts at more than 85 school, administrative, maintenance and transportation sites. Areas needing improvement receive a yellow door hanger that says, "Gotcha, wasted resources are gone forever," and on the back students check off areas that need improvement.
"Students become a strong enabling force in helping schools discover recycling, water- and energy-saving strategies," Bartenope said. "The No. 1 goal of the district's conservation and recycling program is to foster environmental stewardship and show the students (and the) community that we can all help make a positive impact on the earth. Additionally, programs like the Earth Patrol save taxpayer dollars by keeping these recyclables out of the solid-waste stream."
As part of their education and leadership training, Earth Patrol members also visit off-campus recycling centers.
The West Zephyrhills Earth Patrol goes on an annual field trip to MARS — Managed Asset Recovery Services — in Hudson to learn about the recycling of computers, batteries, aluminum, cameras, printers and other occupational and industrial equipment.
In early April the patrol converged on PAW Cos. in Odessa.
Wearing their signature green vests, Earth Patrol students were guided by Roshell, the school's plant manager and conservation liaison, and kindergarten teacher Brenda Dougherty. Shawn Faulkner, PAW scale manager, led the group on a tour of the trucking and service company that since 1983 has been "creating alternative products made from materials pulled from the waste stream and manufacturing them into usable 'green' products."
PAW transforms nature-made debris such as tree trimmings, stumps and dirt into mulch and organic topsoil. It recycles concrete, marble, tiles, porcelain and other solids.
Students watched as PAW trucks and machines set to work and waved at drivers as materials were reprocessed.
"We're learning what you can reuse and what you can throw away," said Dawson Lindsay, a 9-year-old fourth-grader.
West Zephyrhills Elementary principal Wendy Lane says these kids are learning much more than that: "The kids take ownership of the school. We're raising future leaders."