Meek students embrace recycling program

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ARLEY — An effort by the Arley Women's Club to encourage recycling is catching on with Meek students of all ages.

It began last year as "Meek Goes Green." This year, students have a new name for the effort, "Meek Gets Bold on Recycling."

The students helped make the decision to begin recycling water bottles and cardboard within the school, with the goal of adding more items as it becomes feasible. The school's recycling bins, purchased last year by the Arley Women's Club, are being repainted from green to orange with black lettering, the school's colors.

"This is an opportunity for these kids not only to learn about their environment and build some skills in how they can take care of that environment but also to offer some leadership opportunities for kids that have demonstrated an interest in this area," said Ann Atkinson, chair of the Arley Women's Club's Environmental Committee as well as the recycling program.

Many of the club's 150 members relocated to Arley and Smith Lake from parts of the country were recycling was a normal way of life. When they realized there was no mechanism for recycling in their adopted hometown, they started a small-scale project. 

The club, which has collected 33 tons of material since launching a recycling program in July 2018, introduced an educational component in the local school system last January.

Instructors from Camp McDowell developed and presented a four-week science curriculum for all age groups. The inaugural year of "Meek Goes Green" was capped off by a visit from environmental educator Steve Trash.

The Walker Area Community Foundation awarded the club a grant to continue the educational program this year.

Instructors from Camp McDowell presented a new recycling curriculum during the final two weeks of January. Separates lessons and activities were developed for grades K-3, 4-6, 7-8 and 9-12.

A common theme at each grade level was what happens to a product when it's recycled versus when it ends up in a landfill.

Hannah Borgerson, the lead instructor and outreach director for Camp McDowell, said she was impressed by how much information the students had retained from last year.

"There were a lot of the students in all age groups and in each classroom who were really excited and wanted to engage further with the idea of recycling. I think because of the previous year's lessons, they had a lot more questions and curiosities about what's going on at their school," she said. 

Community members seemed equally curious about recycling while talking to Borgerson and four other instructors from Camp McDowell, which bodes well for the program's growth.

"It takes a lot of people talking about what recycling is and how you can logistically do it and how it's not a scary, big thing. The more you talk about it with kids and their parents and other community members, the less daunting it seems," Borgerson said. 

The club is using some of its remaining grant funding to send 12 students on an overnight trip to Camp McDowell March 31-April 2.

Last year, Jasper High students participated in a Venture Out trip. The Meek Venture Out trip will be offered student government leaders and others who have taken on leadership roles in the recycling effort.

"It's for these students who have been engaged as leaders at their school and those who are specifically interested in recycling or environmental science to gain some experience being in their backyard of the Sipsey Wilderness and really getting to explore that in a more intensive way than they could in the classroom or at home," Borgerson said.

Currently, Camp McDowell has only worked with Meek schools on a recycling curriculum, but the leadership team is open to working with other area schools such as Jasper High or Winston County High School.