Jay Heath

On Education, not Infrastructure
Recycling in the Walla Walla Public Schools

Recycling is a very important goal for the people of the earth; it is one of the crucial steps to saving our resources in the long run. Recycling is one of the crucial steps to the three R’s, reducing, reusing, and recycling. Perhaps the most important thing that can be done is to educate the children, the adults of the future, to take care of the earth appropriately. I think that the best way to approach this is to educate them in their schools to raise awareness and teach them to be environmentally aware from an early age. For my internship I have chosen to work with various members of the Walla Walla public school district to help educate the children of Walla Walla on various recycling ideas and techniques. I am not the first to work on this project, though perhaps I am the first Whitman student. I was happily surprised to find out much of the information about recycling in the school district, and I look forward to continuing to work on this project for the next few months month or so.

I remain in the education phase of this project, even though I have been working on it for the whole semester. Granted, I do know a good deal more than I did at the beginning of the semester, but the education process has been slow and long. I have met with all the members of the school district that I have been able to so far. This includes members at various schools (administrators, teachers, students, custodians, etc.), and the Director of Facilities, Dan Johnson. Much of this process has simply been listening and asking questions, I am not yet to the ‘doing’ phase of the project at this point; this is a huge school district with many members and people who have input on this topic. Furthermore, there are nearly ten public schools, each with their own unique different recycling programs. The learning process has been a slow one, but interesting one, as I was pleasantly surprised by my interview with Dan Johnson.

We met in the School District supply warehouse where Dan told me all about the recycling program. I learned here that my main motivation for doing this project was a fallacy; someone had told me that there was little to no recycling program for the public schools and I was now learning that the contrary was true. This misinformed person was completely unaware of the massive recycling infrastructure in place in the school district. There is a good deal of recycling that currently goes on, and Dan and his crew make it as easy as possible for each school to recycle, which is perhaps not easy enough. The recycling infrastructure can accommodate anything from paper and pop cans to laptop batteries and fluorescent light bulbs. Nothing short of impressive; again, whoever told me that there was no recycling the school district was grossly misinformed.

When I found this out, I was happy for the school district, but upset that my project might not work. I thought that there was a good chance that there was going to be nothing for me to do and my self-invented internship was going to be a disaster. With such a vast infrastructure in place, what was there left for me to do? The school district now picks up recycling from every school and places recycling bins in each classroom. All was not lost, however. Of course, the best of infrastructure means nothing without the right support network, which is what the school district lacks. Though they place recycling bins in many classrooms throughout the town, many students and teachers do not recycle or know how. This is where I come in.

I plan to be an educator and facilitator in this process. I am still learning, but I foresee working on an individual basis with each school to decide on the best way to create a better recycling program. Of course, with the infrastructure already in place, all I need to do is help facilitate education with teachers and students. The fact that I was told by many people that there was no recycling program in the public schools shows that someone is doing something wrong with publicizing the system, or at least making it work insofar as people know about it. If no one knows about, how can it get used and become successful? Once I am able to help students find out about recycling, they can grow up good stewards of the earth and fix all the environmental problems that we are currently finding ourselves in.

There are many difficulties associated with this internship, mostly involved in meeting with members of the school district. As a busy, working college student, it is very difficult to find time to meet with teachers and administrators. I have work from 9-12 every morning and class from 1-4 every afternoon, leaving only times after 4 o’clock to meet with the people. This has been a difficulty in learning about the programs, leaving a lot of email correspondence. Furthermore, because this internship was not previously established, I have put a lot of work simply into figuring out how to make it work. I would like this internship to be one that can be continued in the future, one that I am laying the groundwork for so that other students can more effectively help to keep the recycling programs going.

Much of my work was simply learning about the process, and in the future I would like to compile some type of contact list for future students to be able to easily work on recycling issues in the public schools. I have found this to be a worthwhile project, one that I am glad I pursued. I have found it difficult to sculpt the internship, but it has been very meaningful. I understand that this is something that is extremely important in the grand scheme of things, getting children to learn about recycling early in their lives so that they become better stewards of the earth. If successful, this program could be of great value to the greater Walla Walla community, in educating its youth, in recycling more in general, and in simply garnering more community support. The program can only go up from here, really. The infrastructure is in place; they need a motivated individual to help it along its way. I hope that I am successful in increasing the amount of recycling education, and that my work can be elaborated on in some future semesters; next semester I plan to continue this project, those plans are detailed later in this report.

Since I wrote the mid-semester report, I have made a few interesting developments in the internship. I have met with a few new schools and teachers, but perhaps the most interesting is my relationship with the Americorps volunteers stationed at each public elementary school. These volunteers, led by Kim at Green Park, are very interested in helping me out. As well as briefing me on the recycling programs at their school from their point of view, they have been indispensable as inside contacts. Since contacting them, I have a new goal for this internship that I plan to further implement next semester if I choose to stick with this.

I think that some kind of notebook or compilation of data would be extremely useful for any students interested in pursuing recycling improvement in the public schools. This notebook could serve as a principle resource for people interested in helping improve the recycling programs by providing contact information, program history, and other information specific to each individual school. If such a document existed, members of the Walla Walla community who wanted to augment or improve the recycling system would have a starting point, that is, where ever the last person left off.

In the end, I was not able to get into contact with all of the schools. There are probably 4-5 schools that I did not contact directly, though after learning about practices from the Americorps volunteers, I know more or less what most of the schools are doing. The biggest reason for me being unable to learn about the practices at each school was the difficulty of contacting people. If I had had some kind of document telling me who to go to at each school, things would be much easier and I don’t think that I would have to continue another semester. Once I found people to discuss the issue with, the next obstacle was being able to plan a meeting with them. I am a pretty busy student; I work 20 hours a week and take on average 18 credits. Put that together with a busy, overworked public school administrator or teacher, and the schedules nearly never match up. I plan to be more persistent and put more time aside for this n the future.

I would call my internship a success, though I may not have accomplished many tangible results. I am really happy that I did something that I wanted to do, and made it into an internship. I really wanted to do something that would make a real difference, not simply something collecting data for an agency. If the purpose of the internship at Whitman is to give real experience to students for real jobs they might possess, I think that the internship program should include more environmental activism programs that student could work on making real change. I am glad that I did something that made a difference, and I look forward to continuing to try to help improve the recycling system in the Walla Walla public school system.

Next semester, I plan to work more directly with teachers and students, trying to spend more time in the classrooms teaching the children about the importance of recycling. I want to find one classroom or teacher, or perhaps some kind of rotation, who will be responsible for collecting the recycling at each school. As far as I have found, this is the most effective way to both educate students and create a good system for recycling. I plan to work with the Americorps volunteers at each school and solicit their help in recycling education. These volunteers are priceless help, and I foresee them as very helpful in the successful implementation of this project.

As I have already noted, with this project I was really excited to have done something real, useful, and tangible. I did not want to get stuck doing research for some organization that might never get used again. The internship is meant to give an example of what real environmental work might look like. In my life, I don’t plan to collect data, but to make a difference and make positive change where it is needed. As the Walla Walla Public School district’s mission statements says that “Walla Walla Public Schools will provide academically challenging programs to meet the diverse needs of all students in a safe, supportive environment and, in partnership with families and the community, prepare students to become competent, creative, and contributing citizens of a rapidly changing world.” By improving the recycling system and educating children, faculty, staff and administration the importance of recycling and environmental stewardship I am directly serving their mission statement, helping prepare students for a world in which increased environmental protection is no longer an option. I look forward to continuing this internship in the future and continuing to make a difference.