City’s environmental efforts take a turn in Oakdale schools

For the month of April, elementary school students will play a role in Oakdale’s efforts to get the word out about recycling.
That is the goal of the City Council, at least, when its administrative staff teaches four sessions about recycling to students at area elementary schools.
The Administrative Services Department is working on this effort and oversees environmental activities for the city, director Ron Rogstad said.
In 2005, the city started teaching the classes at Eagle Point Elementary and Castle Elementary. The classes are funded by Municipal Recycling Grants from Washington County, which provide up to $5,000 for each of the four project ideas a city is allowed to submit, Rogstad said.
The county’s grants are based on fees of 50 cents per household in Oakdale and can total about $21,000, Dan Schoepke, a Washington County environmental specialist, said.
Past projects for grant applicants have included school programs, community events, distribution of recycling brochures, or developing a Web site, Schoepke said.

In the schools
This year second-graders at Oakdale Elementary and first-graders at Skyview Elementary will be the city’s focus in the recycling program.  “As part of our 2004-05 grant application, the county did suggest that it would be an eligible project — with the intent of covering four elementary schools in a two-year period. It gives (students) a good foundation early in their learning experience. We’ve seen that you can make a difference,” Rogstad said.
Cathy Hannigan, who works in the city’s administrative services division, is teaching the four sessions. During the first session on April 7, Hannigan focused on defining what “waste” is for the students. “It sounds simple but I just want them to understand that it’s not just garbage that you throw away. It goes somewhere,”  Hannigan said.
The first class included visuals such as a “garbage pizza” with each piece representing different items that are thrown away, she said. “The next three Fridays will be the three R’s — recycle, reuse and reduce — to just really simply introduce the words to those kids,” Hannigan said.
Prior to hearing about the city’s outreach classes at Oakdale Elementary, second-grade teacher Michelle Finn said she already had some recycling activities planned for her class this month. Students brought in milk jugs to transform into holiday baskets, and they will make Mother’s Day gifts out of tin cans, Finn said. “This year’s group of second-graders are very functioning. I’m sure they’ll really enjoy it and get a lot out of it. For teachers to be reminded about recycling is always good,” she said. 
Both Hannigan and Rogstad said these classes may be the first time both students and, in turn, their parents learn about recycling and start to do it at home.
“It’ll just make the (students) more aware of how they can just help their world on a day-to- day basis and be more aware of what they are using in their classroom and at home. Then in turn they might just inform their parents,” Hannigan said.
For Rogstad, if his children discuss something they learned at school, for example, how to recycle a plastic bottle, it influences his activities as a parent, he said. “Those students will go home and instruct their parents and have their parents work on doing that. That’s where we win the battle,” Rogstad said.
At the end of the classes students will receive pencils and coloring books, along with pamphlets for their parents, Hannigan said.

Continuing effort
To continue recycling projects and education in Oakdale, the Environmental Management Commission will suggest ideas for additional grants this month.
At its April 17 meeting the commission will determine which projects to propose to the county, Rogstad said.
The commission is working on an educational program for recycling at multi-family housing units and producing a video on what can and cannot be recycled, he said. After the commission’s meeting a recommendation will be made to the Oakdale City Council.
“I think they’re doing really well. Oakdale always gets the maximum of four projects,” Schoepke said.
After this month’s classes at Oakdale and Skyview elementaries, Rogstad said he hopes the information can be used in the future.
“It’s a very good asset if (the teachers) will embellish on the program that is provided. It’s important to realize that they can have a significant impact on the environment,” Rogstad said.

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