“I tell the students, who join the environmental club, we are a service club. All we do is service. And that means work all the time. They still join and they like it,” faculty adviser Jeanie Cuervo said.
The award-winning program was recently recognized at a University of Tennessee football game in Knoxville.
Cuervo and Samantha Douglas, EAA vice president, were treated to a fancy tailgate and cheers by cheerleaders before being presented an award and $1,000. They lined up on the field during a timeout to be presented to the orange-stained crowd.
“The coolest thing was when they called out Cleveland High School, there was a group from the crowd who cheered for us. I guess we had some people in the crowd who either attended or knew about us,” Cuervo said.
The program is called “Good Sports Always Recycle” and it is sponsored by UT-Knoxville, Eastman Chemical Co., Food City and Waste Connections. The award benefits the recycling club, but Cuervo is adamant the entire CHS family made the win possible.
Cuervo, Laura Gheesling, Holly Gobble and Andi Wendorf advise the 35 CHS students eager to make a difference in their world. EAA members work with students and teachers schoolwide to run their weekly recycling program. It began 13 years ago and has really taken off thanks to a partnership with Coca-Cola.
Containers for bottles, cans, paper and cardboard are scattered throughout halls, classrooms, the cafeteria and offices. Some of these containers are in the shape of large Coke bottles and others were donated by M&M Mars. Teachers have two containers in their rooms: one for paper and another for bottles and cans. These are collected every Friday.
According to Cuervo, selected classes held each Friday are given an area of the school to collect recyclables. They arrive to class, receive their passes and grab the rollable bins. Teachers expect the students at the beginning of their class. The materials are collected and the bins are placed in a storage area.
“Recycling is not the only thing we do in the environmental club, but it is something we do every Friday. It is always there. Once you get a recycling program as big as ours, you cannot miss a day,” Cuervo said.
EAA members arrive to the club meeting following school on Friday. They discuss new events or potential activities before heading out to sort the recycling. One group covers paper and cardboard, while the other is in charge of plastics and cans.
All the sorted materials are placed outside of the school’s science wing in large containers. All materials are picked up by Coca-Cola. Everyone works together, even those who gain more work from their involvement.
“We have a maintenance staff who will take recyclable materials from the trash and place it in a separate bag. They place the bag next to my desk because they know we recycle,” Cuervo said.
“This benefits them nothing. That is extra work for them. It is just the most incredible thing I have ever heard.”
Leaders from other school-based recycling efforts ask Cuervo her secret.
“I reply, I don’t have to get them to do anything. I have to run to keep up with them. They are awesome, recycle maniacs,” Cuervo said.
She said teachers will call her if students forget to collect their recyclables. They also call in warnings to grab more rollable bins for all of the awaiting materials. They are just as instrumental as the students of whom Cuervo speaks very highly.
“They come Friday after school again and again, and stick their heads inside stinky, filthy recycle containers to pull out bottles and cans. They haul cardboard and paper outside and sort it. They do this in the heat, cold, and in the rain,” Cuervo said.
“While they are doing this they smile, laugh and exhibit the most incredible teamwork you can possibly imagine.”