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Whitlow Elementary wins national award for recycling efforts
Whitlow 2 WEB
Whitlow Elementary School students recently won the title of Recycle Bowl Waste Reduction Champion. Nearly 1,300 schools spanning 47 states competed in the 2016 event. - photo by For the Forsyth County News

CUMMING -- When people think of worms, most may picture slimy, wiggly ground creatures that serve little other purpose than good fishing bait.

Whitlow Elementary School students have a different appreciation for the invertebrates, which helped the school recently win the title of Recycle Bowl Waste Reduction Champion.

“To think that third and fourth graders know what’s up [about worms], that’s cool to me,” said Keith Furstenberg, third grade teacher and Whitlow’s green school coordinator.

Though the competition ran from October to November of 2016, Keep America Beautiful, or KAB, a nonprofit dedicated to beautifying America’s communities, announced the results in late March.

The local organization, Keep Forsyth County Beautiful, or KFCB, is an offshoot of KAB.

Recycle Bowl, a national recycling competition for elementary, middle and high school students, teachers and school communities, is one of the ways KAB engages communities across the nation.

Nearly 1,300 schools spanning 47 states competed in the 2016 event, with Whitlow winning the national title for being the school that creates the least waste per person.

The school will receive $500 worth of recycling bins as their prize.

Furstenberg said the win was largely due to the school’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, website and other recycling initiatives, as well as its vermicomposting — a form of composting that uses various species of worms to create a mixture of decomposing vegetable or food waste.

This is only the third year the school has participated in the event, making the award even more exciting, he said.

“To be a national champion at anything says something,” Furstenberg said, “but it’s more that it’s tied to our conservation theme at [Whitlow]. I think it’s hard for an 8-year-old to wrap their mind around that, but teachers have been celebrating and it’s very uplifting.”

When Furstenberg started at Whitlow, he came on as the school’s physical education teacher, later moving to third grade.

Almost immediately, he said, he became the school’s green coordinator.

“Whitlow is relatively new and we didn’t have anyone [in the position] so I just kind of took it over,” he said. “We set a goal to see if we could get green certified, and I created a green team after school.”

Furstenberg said the school put more emphasis on “going green” during the certification process, and it paid off.

“A big piece of it was keeping track of data, and we started noticing trends, such as at certain times of year, such as holidays or the end of the year, we’d have a huge spike in the amount of waste and the numbers would double or triple as people were cleaning stuff out.

“We actually [started] weighing garbage and recycling materials and keeping track week to week through bar graphs and such. Then we started doing things like a weekly earth fact in morning announcements, and it became a [schoolwide] thing.”

Each grade at the school has a theme, Furstenberg said, with the overall school motto being, “think global, act local.”

The third grade’s theme is conservation.

Nationwide, more than 700,000 students and teachers participated in Recycle Bowl, recovering 2.2 million pounds of recyclable materials.

This prevented the release of 3,150 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is equal to the annual emissions from 655 passenger cars, according to KAB.

Furstenberg said he is proud Whitlow could play a part.

“It’s great these kids can have an experience of doing something good for the environment,” he said. “It’s a lifelong lesson and they’ll have something to hold on to, to look back and say, ‘We did all that.’

“Our goal is to keep pushing forward to increase sustainability and shine a positive environmental light on Forsyth County.”