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Reading, writing, recycling

Scraps from the lunch at Miltona Science Magnet Elementary School are given to pigs at a local farm instead of dumped in a landfill.1 / 2
The students dump their lunch waste into three separate containers - liquid, paper and food scraps.2 / 2

The pigs are happy, the students are learning a valuable life lesson, and the environment is better off because of it.

Everyone is in hog heaven.

At Miltona Science Magnet Elementary School, reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic aren't the only Rs in the curriculum. The school has incorporated four more: Reduce, reuse, recycle and rethink

"We're a science magnet school with an emphasis on the environment," explained Denise Jorud, kindergarten teacher at the school. "We want to increase the students' awareness."

The eco-friendly theme is evident throughout the school - from the large containers for paper, cans, plastic and old clothes to the butterfly garden, nature trails, woods, meadow and pond on its 12-acre grounds.

"We have a lot of ways we help kids connect with nature," Jorud said. "It inspires kids to recycle more."

The four-R theme has even trickled its way to the school lunch line.

When these Earth-conscious kids finish their lunch, they don't haphazardly throw the leftovers into one big garbage can. They now have their dumping down to a science - liquids in one bucket, paper in another, and food scraps in a third.

For the third year in a row, the school is implementing a food recycling program, in which the scraps are collected, weighed and graphed.

The beneficiaries of their stewardship are some hungry porkers. Each day, a school volunteer transports the scraps to a local pig farm.

The volunteer weighs the bucket of scraps. The students then record those amounts each day on a graph, thus incorporating math skills through the project. Last year, a total of 3,245 pounds of scraps were saved from going to landfill and went to the lucky pigs instead.

"Our goal is to integrate [learning about the environment] into the curriculum, not to add on top," said Amy Revering, 5th grade teacher.

"We try to teach smarter, not harder. We find ways we can work in the environmental theme," Jorud agreed, citing several lessons used in reading, science and math.

Besides being an effective teaching tool, there's an added benefit to several of the school's recycling efforts. Both the can and clothing recycle projects net the school a monetary dividend. This money is put back into other environmental projects, such as buying birdseed, which in turn spurs on another learning opportunity.

"We tally and graph the different birds that come to the feeders," Jorud explained.

Another recycling effort that involves the entire school is the annual book swap held on November 15, National Recycle Day.

"The kids get so excited about new books and there's no money exchanged," Jorud said. "It makes them think, 'If I'm done with something, who can I find that can use it? Just because I'm done doesn't mean I should throw it away.' It saves resources and limits our carbon footprint."

Recycling paper is also stressed continuously. Since the introduction of the school's paper recycling efforts, Jorud said there has been a marked decrease in the amount of paper wasted.

"The kids are really thinking reuse, rethink," she said. "We're using less paper across the board."

The school even provides an extra-curricular opportunity for kids to learn about the environment. Several students belong to the After School Junior Naturalist Club, in which they plant flowers and other plants, make compost piles, construct a butterfly garden and other environmentally friendly projects. The program is run by parent volunteers.

Recycling has become such a natural instinct for the students at the school that they are taking the lessons home and are teaching their own families.

"It's our mission to teach our kids and they are encouraging their own families to be aware," Jorud said. "Our big thing is you can't have a change in action or attitude without awareness first. Hopefully, it's a lifelong decision to be environmentally friendly."

At Miltona Science Magnet Elementary School, "going green" isn't just the latest catch-phrase. It's a conscious effort to teach children to leave the world a better place by being aware of what they are leaving behind. And they, in turn, are carrying on those lessons to others. Even the pigs.