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Sonny Bechler


When Sonny Bechler saw the custodians at her school emptying wastebaskets full of discarded materials at the end of the school year, she and fellow teacher Linda Lucke came up with a plan.

"We were rather appalled at the number and type of materials being thrown away, simply because students didn't want to carry them home," said Bechler. "Knowing there were students in other schools who really could use those discarded supplies, we decided to organize a collection drive the following year."

Bechler and Lucke, both teachers at Butterfield School, discussed the plan with administrators and then, at the end of the school year, set out boxes in each hallway with signs that encouraged students to pitch in rather than pitch out unused school supplies. The teachers publicized the drive in the school newspaper and "talked it up" with students.

Recycling by Bechler

As the self-proclaimed "recycling queen" of her school building, Sonny Bechler has developed several practices that benefit the school and the environment. They include recycling:

* plastic and cans from the lounge and district offices

* all paper items -- such as catalogs, construction paper, students' old papers, and so on -- from the copy rooms, office, and library

* plastic bags

*ink cartridges

Next year, Bechler plans to provide shopping bags in the classrooms so plastic juice and water bottles can be recycled. Several times during the year, she also collects unwanted teaching materials and donates them to less fortunate schools.

"We think students need opportunities to help others, and this is a way for them to make a contribution," Bechler told Education World. "Our students have been very positive about the drive. The first year, we gathered about six grocery bags full of supplies, including markers, notebooks, pens, pencils, rulers, scissors, scotch tape, erasers, colored pencils, and more."

The reach of the project increased when Bechler joined the staff of Copeland Manor School, another school within District 70 in Libertyville, Illinois, and introduced the project there. Her students often help sort supplies that have been gathered during the last few days of the drive.

Materials collected during the drive are organized by type and redistributed into bags for donation. At Butterfield Elementary, those supplies are used in two ways: The majority are donated to daycares in the area that have expressed a desire to receive materials. The rest of the collected supplies are kept for students who arrive at the school in the middle of the year. The families of new students often have relocated and typically still are unpacking and organizing, leaving their children ill equipped for school. Supplies donated by Copeland students are distributed to nearby elementary schools that can use them.

"The keys are convenience and communication," Bechler stated. "We work hard to make students aware of the drive, and we make it very easy for them to donate by setting up collection boxes all over the school and by the lockers they are cleaning out. Also, we stress how much other organizations appreciate the supplies, and we encourage participation by having students help with sorting and organizing."

A self-proclaimed "recycling queen," Bechler established her school's "recycling committee." When the school adopted a new reading series, she located a charter school that wanted the old books, unused workbooks, tapes, and transparencies for its students and teachers. She also found a home for used school furniture that had been replaced. Bechler even has been known to cut up old construction paper to make notebook paper for office messages.

At the end of the last school year, Bechler and other teachers in her building organized a "garage sale" of teaching supplies that took place after the children went home. Teachers left in their classrooms their own items for sale -- with prices marked on them -- and went room-to-room shopping. It was a wonderful way to shake up classroom dcor without breaking the bank. Bechler readily admits that she bought more than she sold!

"We need to be models for our students," added Bechler, who sees many ways for schools to make wiser use of resources. "I encourage teachers to use old bed sheets to cover up bookcases and shelves at the end of the year. The waste of expensive bulletin board paper is incredible."

Coming Soon...

If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected].

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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