Egg Harbor Township High School celebrated a school victory with a pep rally Feb. 26, but no athletic teams were involved.

Instead, cheerleaders and the school's Silver Eagle mascot joined students, staff, county and municipal officials to celebrate the fact that EHT was named "Most Improved School" in the national Keep America Beautiful Recycle Bowl competition.

The high school increased its recycling rate by 190 percent over the past year, and placed first out of 461 schools nationally in the division, Recycle Bowl organizers said.

The competition, which took place between Oct. 19 and Nov. 15, tracked the recycling efforts of participating elementary, middle and high schools within that time span.

Of the 26 New Jersey schools registered in the competition, 23 were Atlantic County schools, said Maria Mento, the executive vice president and chief finance officer of the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, which encouraged schools to participate in the competition.

The competition is a partnership between the Keep America Beautiful nonprofit and the Nestle corporation and is designed to promote environmental responsibility.

For the "most improved" category, organizers compared the participants in the School to School division and compared the per capita recycling rates of the schools in previous years to their 2013 rate.

"What you achieved was phenomenal," Mento told the students. "It says a lot about your commitment to the environment."

For its efforts, the school received $1,000 to use for the purchase of recycling containers, she said.

"This is amazing: We are No. 1 in the country," Principal Terry Charleton said to the applause and cheers of students.

About 150 students from six sections of the school's environmental science classes attended the assembly along with faculty and staff.

Charleton credited not only the students, but the custodial and food service staff for the school's success. Those two groups represent the front line in the war of trash, he said.

It was the custodians who made sure recycling receptacles were in place around the cafeteria and the school, and the food service staff worked hard to educate students during their lunch periods of what could and could not be recycled, he said.

With 2,600 students housed in grades 9 through 12, the school is one of the largest in the county.

School District Superintendent Dr. Scott McCartney congratulated the student body for not only "talking the talk, but walking the walk" to make the school's recycling program so successful.

More than $3 million was saved last year in waste disposal fees due to Egg Harbor Township's recycling program, he said.

Egg Harbor Township Mayor James "Sonny" McCullough commended the students and the school staff and gave a brief overview of the township's recycling history. He commented that recycling offers a tremendous savings to taxpayers by saving on landfill fees. The township has always been proactive in encouraging recycling efforts, he said.

Egg Harbor Township Committeeman John Carman Jr., who also serves on the ACUA board of commissioners, told the students they accomplished an "unbelievable" feat and encouraged them to expand on the school's success next year.

According to contest sponsors, if all students in America recycled at the rate of this year's Recycle Bowl competitors, approximately 3.2 million tons of material would be diverted annually from landfills. That would be the weight of 302,033 school buses.

Also during the assembly, Charleton announced the school's new composting initiative.

Led by environmental science teacher Jim House, who is working closely with teacher Christa Fritz, the composting project is a natural extension of the school's recycling program.

House explained that the first part of the project will begin later this year as the school figures out the logistics of setting up the program. He said he hopes to begin the program with the start of the next school year. Biology teachers Kristian Troster and Jonelle Scardino are also working on the project by documenting it as an educational model, which will be used to support their graduate degrees.

"We couldn't be more proud of our school leaders," said ACUA Board Chairman Marvin Embry, who added that he hopes the Recycle Bowl serves to inspire all schools to initiate their own programs.

Last year, more than 1,500 schools around the country, representing nearly one million students, participated in the event. Program sponsors stated that getting schools enrolled in the program is crucial because statistics show that schools that participate in the Recycle Bowl competition generally recycle 10 percent more than schools that don't participate.

First place in New Jersey went to Egg Harbor City Community School, where students recycled 48.67 pounds of waste per child. The Charles L. Spragg Elementary School, also in Egg Harbor City, was named the third best recycling school.

Other Egg Harbor Township schools that participated in the Recycle Bowl were the Alder Avenue Middle School, the Dr. Joyanne D. Miller Elementary School and the C.J. Davenport Elementary School.

A recognition ceremony is planned for all Atlantic County Recycle Bowl participants during ACUA's Earth Day celebration on April 27.

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