For Aileen Madrid, a junior at Pleasantville High School, staying for the duration of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority assembly on recycling was not obligatory, but to her, the topic was important.
As juniors and seniors were called down for the 30-minute presentation, several of her classmates opted not to go. Some left to watch a movie in class, but she stayed.
"It's a hired job. If you recycle more, it gives more jobs to people," the 16-year-old recalled learning from the assembly, presented by two ACUA representatives on a recent Thursday.
The assembly touched on the benefits of recycling and the technology involved in its process.
"It helps the environment," she said. "It makes you feel better about yourself knowing that you recycled."
Madrid may have a vested interest in recycling after recently becoming one of 26 members of Key Club International, the oldest and largest youth service/leadership organization for high school students across the globe.
The Pleasantville High School Key Club, advised for the past eight years by biology teacher Denise Kubaska and physical education teacher Michelle Stevenson, just brought recycling to the high school - a dream the club has for years.
"We just wanted to be a part of it because the middle school has it, but we don't have it. We weren't recycling here," Stevenson said.
The club, which meets every Thursday for an hour after school, joined forces with the environmental science classes, led by teacher Susan Swezeny, to collect recyclables twice per week. On the day of the assembly, the receptacles were overflowing.
"We always had trouble getting it started. This year, we finally got approval, and we were able to get buckets," said senior Mihir Jani, 18, Key Club president of the past three years.
The small blue buckets, painted with the recognizable white recycling symbol, sat outside every classroom and office, but the plastic containers were difficult to come by, Stevenson said.
"We realized (ACUA) weren't going to give us buckets," the teacher said. "(They) are a fortune."
Through fundraising efforts, buckets were purchased last June and the start of a recycling program officially took off this month. But it's all a work in progress, Kubaska said.
"We are really working out the kinks here," she said at the most recent meeting. She mentioned the heavy workload of the custodial staff and that, without a designated spot for removal, the process can get confused.
That day, two Key Club volunteers had to haul a recycling receptacle, twice their size, up a flight of stairs in order to collect in the school's second-level wings.
"It seems like the right time for it. … I'm really hoping we can sustain it. Our goal now is to see if this nice start can really be sustained," Kubaska said.
And as the Key Club works on several projects and special events throughout the year, recycling should remain a crucial feature on their list of priorities.
"It's their world. They are growing up into this world," Stevenson said of her young Key Club members. "We are fading out. They're making the mess they are going to live in. It starts on the street corner of their own homes."
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