Kasandra Gaudin looks forward to Tuesday and Thursday mornings. The fourth-grader sprints from the bus loop to Herb Roshell's office at West Zephyrhills Elementary so she can get to the business of recycling.
Like others on the school's Earth Patrol, she checks off her name on a waiting clip board, grabs her green vest and heads out with a blue trash barrel on wheels. While others are still arriving or having breakfast, she visits a half-dozen classrooms and collects buckets of paper that will be dumped into a giant Green Fiber bin and eventually turned into insulation.
"It makes me feel really good," said Kasandra, 10. "I feel like the school is doing a good thing in helping the Earth."
Kasandra is one of about 127 students to join this year's Earth Patrol at West Zephyrhills Elementary — quite a jump from when the club started in 2007 with 26 kids.
So what's the appeal?
According to many, "saving the Earth" pretty much tops the list.
"You get to help the world be a better place," said Bryce Dunn, 10.
"I wanted to help because I don't want the Earth to be a big pile of garbage," said Danny Wade, 10.
Hanging out with your friends comes in a close second.
There's the fun quotient, including the celebration at the end of the year paid for with money earned from recycled cans. And the recent field trips to places like MARS (Managed Asset Recovery Services) in Hudson and PAW Materials, Inc., in Odessa where you learn just how much trash can be turned into something else.
"You can recycle mostly everything," said Allyson Brown, 11.
Turns out there's gold in those outdated computer motherboards, Allyson said. And did you know that old cement can be crushed up and made into new roads? That old plastic bottles can be made into new plastic bottles? That soda cans can be turned into fashionable jewelry? That all that paper and cardboard can be turned into housing insulation and make some money for the school?
That's just part of the learning experience for students, and often their families, said plant manager Herb Roshell, who oversees the school's Earth Patrol. And while the club teaches students about the importance of stewardship of their planet, it's also an outreach to youngsters, Roshell said, one that complements his work as a pastor at Inspirational Praise and Worship Center in Tampa.
"Sometimes (Earth Patrol) it's an out for the kids — a place to fit in," said Roshell, who oversees three local outreach programs and serves as captain of the Land O'Lakes Toys for Tots program. "But the club is also centered around character traits: work ethic and manners."
"You have to be quiet and try not to disturb the class when you go out," said Norma Jean Strokus, 10, whose job on Earth Patrol is to help inspect classrooms to make sure students and teachers are recycling items properly and not wasting energy by leaving the lights on when no one is in the classroom. "You have to say, 'good morning,' and 'excuse me.' "
And sometimes you find that you had skills you didn't realize, Roshell said.
"Kids love to find something they can be involved in that connects them," he said. "Some are natural leaders, and sometimes this brings that out in them."