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Recycling Program Helps Special Education Students Practice Essential Skills

Logan Montaque and Matt Kuzava cannot contain their glee. It’s their turn to grab a two-wheel collection cart and walk from classroom to classroom to pick up the High School’s paper for recycling.

Logan and Matt gather the paper with a curious blend of gusto and respectful courtesy toward the teachers and classmates they encounter.

If a door is closed, they first check it to see if it’s locked, said paraprofessional Connie Brooks, who accompanies the students while they make their rounds. If the door is locked, they skip that room and move on to the next. If it’s unlocked, they knock before entering. They only speak to teachers or students if they’re addressed first. When they’ve collected the papers, they quietly close the door.

If no one talks to them first, Matt knows what to do.

“We don’t talk,” Matt said.

The following week, two more of the 11 special education students will get their turn to make the rounds throughout the two-story high school that houses 100 rooms, including the media center and main office.

The rotation continues until all the special education students have had their turn gathering paper that is then placed inside a Paper Gator bin behind the school for pickup. Their effort earns money to that is used to purchase yummy food like pizza as a reward for their diligent work.

Instilling IntegrityMatt Kuzava (blue sweatshirt) and Logan Montaque make the rounds with Paraprofessional Connie Brooks

The recycling excursion shows students the difference between who they are when others are around them and when no one is watching over their shoulder.

“We talk with them about doing the right thing and keeping integrity and what their actions should be when the teachers are not looking,” said special education teacher Jenny Rodgers. “They’ve proven to us we can allow them to have more freedom and independence.”

Occasionally a pop can or bottle good toward a 10-cent deposit is found lurking in the pile of recyclable paper, a find that confounds Logan who has learned the value of money through the recycling program.

“It’s like wasting 10 cents,” said an exasperated Logan.

Ensuring the paper is routinely collected has become something teachers and students alike have come to rely on.

“If we miss a couple of days, we start getting requests that the recycle bins in the rooms are getting too full,” said Rodgers.

And if a special education student spots something to their liking, it’s akin to the mother lode of finds.

“If they find pads of paper or pencils, they keep it all,” Rodgers said.

The Green Beat Goes On

Caledonia demonstrates it is serious about the environmental role it plays in other ways as well, said Gary Delger, director of operations, which includes ensuring all school buildings have Paper Gator recycling bins.

The district has achieved impressive results. In 2014, Caledonia Community Schools recycled 291,320 pounds of paper, Delger said.

In addition, the district was honored twice with the Chairman’s awards for energy savings and earned a Green Schools certificate.

And Paris Ridge Elementary was the second public school in Michigan to get a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design LEED certified level rating in 2010. LEED certification is a nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. The 70,000 square foot building project included recycling 75 percent of the metal, cardboard and plastic used to build it.

All students, like Logan Montaque, are taught to knock on closed doors first before entering the room for its paperFun That Serves an Essential Purpose

“It’s fun to go up and down,” said Logan, referring to the school’s elevator.

It’s fun that serves an essential purpose, said special education teacher Jenny Rodgers.

The students are learning skills that guide them toward independence, said Rodgers. They learn how to successfully complete an assigned task, how to meet expectations and instructions, how to find their way around the school and how to properly behave. If someone tells them “thank you,” they respond with a “you’re welcome.”

They learn etiquette has a place in the real world, added Rodgers.

“We want to expose them to social norms in different environments,” said Rodgers. “We want to instill meaning and self-determination. It’s a way to instill motivation with them, and teach them to be as independent as possible.”

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Michigan Green Schools Foundation 

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