For more than a decade, students in Ben Breazeale's L1 Leadership class at Mission San Jose High School have made the rounds to service the campus' recycling bins. Over time, the efforts have paid off- the school has won multiple waste-reduction and recycling awards- but more importantly, they have created a system that runs like clockwork and diverts tons of material from the landfill each year.
According to Breazeale, "Leadership is defined by action and service. This is not a class where we just sit around and talk about leadership- we take practical action."
To organize the actions of the class, Breazeale has created a group of committees dedicated to providing a range of services on campus. "About 75% of the students are assigned to the recycling committee because it's the biggest job- I also think it is important that we are environmentally sound."
Working in teams of two or three, each small group on the recycling committee is assigned to service one of seven areas of the campus. Additional students are assigned to "trash can recycling" – using grabbers, they poke through the courtyard trash cans to capture recyclable items after lunch; or "poster recycling" – keeping the hallways and walls on campus clear from expired or misplaced student activity posters.
Other committee jobs include restocking the student store and breaking down cardboard boxes for recycling; campus beautification (weeding, watering and planting gardens); and service-learning support (helping to deliver service-learning confirmation messages and file student service hour forms).
The entire class of 32 students is sent out each Tuesday and Thursday to complete their committee work. Before heading out, students report to class to have their attendance recorded and to hear any updates or announcements from Breazeale. On a recent Tuesday, he shared that teachers in the M-Wing were reporting overflowing recycling bins and that the district's waste hauler will accept clean cardboard lunch trays for recycling.
After checking in, students grab badges identifying their role and head out to storage closets to gather their tools. Students on the recycling teams pick up rolling toters and picker/grabber tools from a large closet in one of the cafeterias on campus.
Each team then heads out to their assigned area of campus to gather recyclables from each room. Working in teams, students quietly and politely open each classroom door, grab the recycling bin near the door and empty it into the toter.
Freshman class secretary Yvonne Chen explains, "It's important that we are quiet and don't let the doors slam shut- there is always a class taking a test and we're never sure which one it will be, so we have to be quiet at each room."
After each room is serviced, recycling teams roll their toters to the recycling dumpsters behind the school, empty them and return the toters to storage.
Mission San Jose does not separate bottles and cans from paper in their recycling system. They place all mixed recyclables in the single-stream dumpsters, similar to how students recycle at home.
According to 11th grader Zeki Wasar, "Overall, the system works pretty good. Our biggest problem is the occasional full coffee cup spilled in a recycling bin, or people putting plastic bags in the recycling- but mostly we see a lot of paper. We pretty much fill up two dumpsters with recycling each time we do it."
Other key features of Mission's program include recycling bins located directly next to the copy machine and others located next to the teacher mail boxes. "These are always full," noted 9th grader Raquel Crites.
Assistant Principal (and former SLWRP site coordinator) Diana Brumbaugh has high praise for the student leaders and their efforts, "The recycling program at Mission San Jose High School is truly a seamless operation. The infrastructure is solidly in place, so the students know exactly how to reduce the amount of landfill waste from our campus. Mr. Breazeale and his L1 students are to be commended on their leadership and dedication."