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Recyclebank to fund greener education

Written by Alexis Abate, South Philly Review
Published: March 3, 2011

Ever since Mayor Michael Nutter introduced Greenworks Philadelphia in spring 2009, the city has been hailed as a top innovator of all things eco-friendly. Two local public schools plan to add green to their respective locations with positive environmental project proposals for the community at large to enjoy.

Next month, Andrew Jackson School, 1213 S. 12th St., and Chester A. Arthur School, 2000 Catharine St., will be rewarded with grants in excess of $4,000. They’re two of only 15 schools to receive national recognition as part of Recyclebank’s Green Schools Program this spring. Both local institutions proposed plans to benefit their neighborhoods.

Each school choose to focus on one of four categories including land beautification and cultivation; recycling education and practice; natural resource preservation and management; or eco-conscious food supply and waste management. But the team at Jackson came up with a new idea: Green economics and sustaining a 2,800-square-foot rooftop garden filled with seasonal vegetables native to the children’s various cultures and homes. With 28 cultures and nine languages, the concept stays true to Jackson’s mission of coming together and embracing differences.

“It’s a whole school method because Jackson is a very diverse community,” Principal Lisa Ciaranca-Kaplan said.

The first of many projects on the horizon, the garden acts as an impetus for future eco-conscious initiatives.

“We’re celebrating our diversity and trying to engage the community more into Jackson being at the heart of the [neighborhood] so the garden is also an instructional piece connected to the science curriculum,” Ciaranca-Kaplan said. “We have one of the highest percentages of recycling in the city in our catchment area so we want to continue to bank on that and expand it.”

Since obtaining the recycling points needed, the space will become a classroom of its own creating eco-conscious citizens, Principal Intern Mary Beth Bongiovanni said. The children are expected to observe habits within their own neighborhoods to cultivate ideas and implement change in their homes and communities.

“We want them to learn what happens when the pipes in this neighborhood in particular get flooded, what happens when the water that’s gushing is going over filth and toxic waste,” Bongiovanni, a resident of the 1500 block of South 12th Street, said.

Although mostly fifth and sixth graders will be included in the curriculum set in place by the Philadelphia Water Department, all 350 students will use the space whether through a symposium on sustainable energy or a green project relative to the developing ecosystem of the rooftop garden.

Since her first meeting with 1st District Councilman Frank DiCicco and Councilman at Large James Kenney when she learned about this opportunity, Ciaranca-Kaplan has been determined to make this a community effort. Organizations such as the Passyunk Square Civic Association, Columbus Square Advisory Council, the Philadelphia Water Department’s Office of Watersheds and local businesses have become integral partners with Jackson in volunteering and lending their support, expertise and supplies, but Jackson still needs donations of 10 32-gallon containers and 30 buckets for in-classroom recycling.

Bongiovanni encourages residents to join and become a slice of the green economy at Jackson, a neighborhood registration site for Recyclebank.

“Your funds, your people funds and people power are the sustainable piece and are the connections that really help it grow,” she said.


The privately-owned Recyclebank was the engine behind Philadelphia’s recycling rewards program where residents sign up, earn points and receive incentives, Christine Knapp, Passyunk Square Civic Association president, said. Collection trucks, fitted with E-Zpass technology, read stickers on residents’ blue bins.

“You earn points for participating in recycling, reducing trash and for having less overall waste,” Knapp said. “There’s a formula based on how many people in your neighborhood are participating so a certain number of points are allotted to you each week.”

The more a select community recycles, the more points they receive to use toward discounts at retail giants such as Sears and Bed Bath & Beyond, magazine subscriptions, restaurant gift cards and more. If individuals aren’t interested in using points for discounts, they can donate them to specific institutions accepted into the Green Schools program. Each school receives $10 for every 100 points contributed.

The grant application process included an environmental plan, a 600-word essay detailing a green initiative, as well as gathering community points and signatures from recycling neighbors. Although the latter isn’t a requirement, it’s suggested to increase community involvement.

At South of South’s Arthur, three viable courtyards are in need of sprucing up. Ralanda King, a parent and community ombudsman at Arthur, created a green wish list. And, with the help of South of South Neighborhood Association program coordinator Andrew Dalzell, she can now check off a few of those bullet points. Arthur recently reached its Recyclebank point goal —– within less than a week’s time — and was awarded a $4,500 grant. SOSNA agreed to chip in the remaining $500 of the $5,000 requested.

King, Dalzell and eighth-grade science teacher Michael Franklin plan on using the funds to transform the vacant spots into a vegetable, Pennsylvania native plant, and butterfly and insect garden.

“We want to really get back to nature and show children how to cook and eat a nutritious meal on top of growing it — from the cradle to the table,” King said about the importance of the vegetable garden.

Focused on the multi-purpose function of these spaces for the community, she already started working with a local chef and partnering with companies such as ShopRite to enhance the project’s development.

“We have a lot of people who are interested in trying to help us take this school to the next level,” King said.

The gardens will be incorporated into Franklin’s coursework while helping students become more connected.

“The vast majority [of students] realize this is helping the neighborhood they live in,” Franklin, a resident of 17th and Reed streets, said.

Both Jackson and Arthur’s renewed interest in sustaining the environment where they are located has already started to make an impact.

“The kids don’t have much exposure to this, but the tools are there now,” Dalzell said. “It’s a great opportunity and the key is to make it last for many generations of students.”

You can also view this story here.

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