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Mrs. Burton
Means Business


Recycling Kids, Inc.-- a business run by El Monte, California, third-graders--teaches business skills while involving parents and helping the environment.

I like our business because it helps our Earth...It makes me feel good that I can make a difference.
---Lesely C.

I like that we take the monies we make from our business and adopt endangered animals and habitats.
---Jack K.

Recycling Kids, Inc. is fun because we make fun items from trash. We help Earth by not throwing this trash into landfills.
---Nidhi D.

Those are testimonials from three of the students involved in Recycling Kids, Inc., a program established in 1992 by the third-graders in June Burton's class at Twin Lakes Elementary School in El Monte, California. Since 1992, the students involved in Recycling Kids have sold thousands of useful gift items made from recyclable trash. They've used the profits from their business to adopt a handful of manatees and whales, several dolphins, an eagle, five acres of rain forest, and more.

What can we do to help our environment?

That simple question--asked in 1992 by June Burton's third-graders--started it all! Those students identified trash as a serious environmental concern at home and at school. They identified waste items--such as Styrofoam meat trays, plastic detergent bottle lids, and baby food jars--as common and readily available "target" materials.

As a homework assignment, students were asked, How can we use these discarded items? They were encouraged to work at home with their families to brainstorm responses to that question.

"The students came up with ingenious ideas such as converting Styrofoam trays into airplanes, baby food jars into pumpkin candy jars, and detergent lids into flower pots," says Burton.

Every student has an important role to play in the business. The students are given the opportunity to sign up to be part of one of four business "departments."

Think Tank Department - Students in this department

  • think of new products that can be made from recycled trash,
  • make a list of all materials needed to make each product,
  • suggest a selling price to people in the advertising department, and
  • give to the production department a list of required materials.

Production Line Department - Students in this department

  • make a sample of each product to be sold,
  • decide the easiest way to make each product,
  • list the steps needed to make each product,
  • are responsible for making a good product (quality control), and
  • must finish production of products on time!

Advertising Department - Students in this department

  • decide on a sales slogan,
  • decide on an advertising plan (for example, creating signs and visiting classrooms),
  • price items to be sold, and
  • evaluate what sold well.

Sales and Accounting Department - Students in this department

  • design and set up the sales booth,
  • sell the products, take down the sales booth,
  • tally items sold and graph sales results, and
  • report sales results and findings.

Notes: Each department group selects a "department chief" to be in charge of day-to-day operations. Because of hectic production schedules, all students participate in the production of goods.

"During its years of operation, our business catalog grew from 10 to 50 items that can be made from trash!" Burton said. The catalog, which was divided into five sections, one for each season of the year and a "general" section, described in detail how each of those items was made. Following are a few entries from the Fall catalog line:

Pumpkin Candy Jar - Make salt/flour dough mixture to be used to create a pumpkin lid to fit on top of a baby-food jar. Paint the lid orange. Use fabric paint to create a jack-o-lantern face on the jar. Fill the jar with candy corn and other candy.

Fall Seed Candle - Collect seeds, pine cones, pods, and other items from nature. Pour plaster of paris into aluminum plates from frozen meat pies. Place candle in the center of wet plaster of paris (which can be colored). Add seeds, pods, nuts, and glitter.

Pumpkin Candle - Use small store-bought votive candles in black, orange, or white. Use fabric paint to paint a face on each candle. Add lines for the pumpkin top.

Parent involvement was essential to the success of Recycling Kids, Inc. Parents were involved in many facets of the business, from generating ideas to providing needed supplies. A newsletter kept parents informed of the business's operations and needs. For example, the Fall issue of the newsletter encouraged parents to collect small baby food jars and aluminum tins from frozen pot pies; also, the newsletter notified parents of the need for small wrapped candies and other items required to produce the Fall product line.

"Parent involvement was very exciting and stimulating to our business," says Burton. "Practically speaking, parents feel good about contributing toward the environment and their children's education, and students see that their parents think school is important."

Sale profits were used to adopt a manatee, a whale, an acre of rain forest land, an eagle, and more. In addition, profits paid for a field trip for students to California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. There, students visited a special Earth-friendly dormitory program. Students in that dormitory taught the kids how they are able to conserve natural resources by raising their own food and fish, filtering their own water, and much more.

"Recycling Kids enabled all students to get involved--no matter what their socioeconomic status or their abilities--and to have an equal opportunity to protect and feel good about the environment," said Burton. "The kids saw the fruits of their efforts pay off in environmental protection."

"An unexpected offshoot of our business was that it was contagious," Burton adds. "Teachers and students from other classrooms contributed to our business and, consequently, become active in recycling waste without being directly involved."

Most importantly, the program taught many valuable skills--business and math skills, economics, cooperation and teamwork, to name just a few. It instilled feelings of pride in products well made and a job well done, added Burton.

Well done, Mrs. Burton and the Twin Lakes third-graders!

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 2005 Education World

Updated 03/30/2005