Green Team co-advisors Kate McKee (furthest left) and JoAnne Anderson (middle) pose with some of the elementary school students in the sustainability club.

Green Team co-advisors Kate McKee (furthest left) and JoAnne Anderson (middle) pose with some of the elementary school students in the sustainability club.


Late last month, TerraCycle, a private waste management company, announced that the Dryden Central School District will be receiving materials partially made out of recycled oral hygiene products to build a new school garden after the school district finished in second place in the 2020 Colgate & ShopRite Save Water Challenge.

The contest ran from July 5 to Sept. 30 and was open to all schools – public, private, colleges and universities – from the following states – New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Entrants were challenged to gather the most “pledges” to save water from their respective communities. The top three schools with the most pledges won a prize of a garden partly made with recycled materials.

A total of 40 schools participated in the contest. Dryden was one of seven districts in New York to compete and was the only one to finish in the top three. The district gathered a total of 1,488 pledges to finish in second place.

As the second-place finisher, the school district will receive the following – 48 pieces of garden lumber, two picnic tables, one flat bench, one high-back bench and recycling receptacle valued at $10,000.

Kate McKee, a teacher at the Dryden Elementary School and a co-advisor of the Green Team, a sustainability club made up of about 25 students across the fourth and fifth grades, said she decided to enter the school district into the contest in hopes of winning a new garden for the elementary school.

“I knew that our school garden was seriously hurting,” McKee said. “It’s been a few years until there was a lot of involvement. The raised beds were falling apart and needed to be replaced, and it was something that we wanted to have happen this year or some time.”

The news of the district coming in second place was quite a surprise to McKee.

“When you look through there are some from New York City, some in Baltimore, all over big, big school districts,” she said. “We are a very small school district compared to that. On the first day, I saw that we were up on the leaderboard and I was like, ‘Wow.’ But then as it went on and we really sustained that and kept that place, it was really exciting; it was something for the school community – the district community – to look forward to.”

The Green Team began collaborating with TerraCycle last school year by shipping out waste, such as used applesauce pouches and Little Bites muffin packages, to the company to either recycle or repurpose them.

“Last year, our fourth and fifth graders, they were assigned to lunchtime cafeteria duties that they volunteered for and they would actually pick through – with gloves on – and pick out of the garbage things that would typically be trash, but that TerraCycle has the facilities and the ability to recycle and repurpose into other things or create something new out of that,” McKee said.

TerraCycle also accepts used art supplies, like dried-up markers or glue sticks. McKee said last school year the team sent out separate shipments of 477 and 1,143 pieces of used art supplies to TerraCycle.

The elementary school is expected to receive the gardening materials by February 2021. From there, McKee said she hopes to have the new garden completed by the spring of that year.

“I think all of the pieces are going to have to replace what’s there,” she said. “There’s little that’s in good shape right now. … I’m trying to figure out where a good place is to utilize the picnic tables and benches so that the whole school can enjoy them.”

She said there are no official plans for how the garden will be utilized among the students at the school.

“I’m hopeful that we can have different grade levels become involved in different ways that are possibly connected to their curriculum, and hopefully we can actually grow some food that could be utilized by the school community, too,” she said. “We’ll definitely have to do some planning and connect with some community resources to get set up with that.”

She would also like to have members of the Green Team help construct the new garden, but that will depend on the status of the COVID-19 outbreak this coming winter and spring. Presently, though, members of the team are eager to begin preparation. 

“I do a recess with some fifth graders that are on the Green Team and they are already starting to do some weeding … they are very excited for it,” McKee said.

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