Botlecap benches donated to O.J.N.

By Mandy Underwood

On Wednesday, Jan. 8, two benches made from plastic bottle caps were placed on either side of the entrance of O.J. Neighbours (OJN) Elementary School.

Each year, eight million tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans and eco system, and this number continues to grow. When the Kaleidoscope Kids, a group of high ability learners at OJN heard this fact, they were shocked.

“This year, my third and fourth grade kids started talking about the plastic pollution problem because they felt shocked after they learned about what was happening with our oceans and our eco-systems and how much plastic is going into our landfills and our oceans. They felt powerless and so we wanted to do something.,” said Anne Eddingfield, the High Ability Teacher at OJN.

Eddingfield works with about 20 students ranging from first to fourth grade who have tested well and show a high level of educational ability. She works with each student 90 minutes per week, and although they are “high ability,” a term coined and used by the state, she chooses to call them Kaleidoscope Kids in order to remind them that they are not better than other students, but that they are unique with a lot of different facets, just like a kaleidoscope.

During the 90 minutes that she works with these students, she helps them look into major issues.

“One of the things I try to do with the kids I work with is a lot of critical thinking, so we try to take a problem or an issue and delve into it more deeply and look at it from different perspectives and maybe not just take it at face value,” she said. “We try to look into it and form our own opinions based on evidence.”

This is what they did with the plastic pollution problem.

The students brainstormed and eventually landed on the plan to collect plastic bottle caps and get them made into benches.

Their goal was to collect 200 pounds of caps, which was easily done in just a few months.

“It took some time and effort to do this,” said Martha Steller, a fourh grade Kaleidoscope Kid. “We had to go through and tell everyone about it so that we could get them to bring all of the bottle caps in.”

Caps were also collected at Modoc’s Market in downtown Wabash.

“Modoc’s is a huge help and a partner with us in fighting the plastic pollution problem,” said Eddingfield.

“They have actually come in and given presentations and talked with the kids because they have really led the way with reducing single use plastic by using paper straws and offering to serve their drinks in glass mugs, and all of their drink containers and trash bags are biodegradable.”

Once all the caps were collected, they needed to be washed.

Each Kaleidoscope Kid took home a large bag of caps and made sure they were clean.

Adrian Haughn described the cleaning process as “agony.”

“After all of the agony we went through having to clean the caps, the benches are finally done, so it feels good and it was an accomplishment,” said the fourth grader.

Once the clean caps were accumulated, Jen Rankin of Wabash County Solid Waste Management District helped to execute the rest of the project. She took the caps to Evansville and then picked up and delivered the benches when they were finished.

“We have had a hard time for many years with caps. They get lost down in the machine when they are trying to be recycled,” said Rankin. “I take them to Green Tree Plastics down in Evansville and they create these beautiful benches. These kids loved this project. They collected caps constantly and fed them either through Modoc’s or through me with the Solid Waste District. Twice a year I go down and pick up benches and so today we have two benches that we will be dedicating to the school through the program.”

The benches also cost money to make along with providing the material. Thankfully, the OJN Parent Teacher Organization donated the funds for one of the benches, and Mitch Figert, the former PTO president personally donated the funds for the second bench, in honor of his grandfather who recently passed away.

Once the benches arrived to OJN, all of the Kaleidoscope Kids gathered outside to watch them taken out of the bed of a truck and placed by the entrance of the school.

The kids screamed and laughed with excitement and pride as they took turns trying out the benches made from their hard work.

Adrian Haughn read a small speech to dedicate the benches.

“May these benches provide many years of comfort and rest to those who seek it,” he said.

Fourth grader Grant LePage imagines the joy that these benches will bring to his classmates.

“Kids are going to be happy about what they have done for our school to make those beautiful benches.”

Although this specific project is finished, Eddingfield and her students all feel very passionate about continuing to make changes to put a dent into the plastic pollution problem.

“Me and some of my family members like to discuss ideas of how we can stop some plastic pollution,” said Taylin Shepherd, another fourth grader who participated in this project.

Along with raising awareness and discussing ideas to help the issue, the students also plan to continue encouraging their school and restaurants in the community to reduce their use of single-use plastic.

“Last year we went to all locally owned restaurants and asked them to only give out plastic straws upon request,” said Eddingfield.

“They were all very cordial and listened to us and took the brochure we made bout the damages of single use plastic, but to our knowledge, we are not sure that any changes have been made, so we intend to revisit those restaurants and ask them how it’s going and find out if there is anything we can do to encourage them to try only giving straws upon request.”

Martha Steller was proud of the work that her and her peers had put into this project.

“Just thinking about how many plastic caps we collected and have saved from the oceans and landfills just makes us feel good,” she said.

Eddingfield was also proud and imagines ways that these students can continue to make a difference.

“I look at these kids and I think they are tomorrows leaders and I think they are very bright and articulate and very sharp,” she said. “They will be inheriting this problem, but I can see that they are all equipped and ready to go and will come up with some great solutions. We know that plastic use is just ingrained into our way of life, but we know that once you have an awareness, it becomes easier to make small changes, and that is kind of what we are wanting to do. We know that we won’t be able to solve this problem all at once, but we can make little changes and do our part and make a ripple effect.

“We have to change this, it’s not too late, and I know that we will keep fighting this fight.”

Posted on 2020 Jan 14