Park Place ES receives long-awaited honor for innovative, school-wide recycling program

Recycling isn’t something an afterschool robotics club would typically dedicate its time to, but the RoboTigers at Park Place Elementary are no ordinary club.

The RoboTigers won first place in the All-Earth EcoBot Challenge last year after launching an ambitious, school-wide recycling program and contest that resulted in 23,000 pounds of recycled material.

The impressive accomplishment was initially overshadowed by the pandemic. But nearly a year after being declared winners, Park Place finally had its time to shine last week as the RoboTigers received a plaque honoring their contributions to sustainability.

The plaque was presented by HISD Energy and Sustainability representatives, who were so impressed with the recycling program that they are now considering how it might be implemented on a broader scale.

“We really appreciate this because it is the only way we can acknowledge that we won something really big,” Park Place teacher and RoboTiger advisor Yasin Puertas said.

The All-Earth Ecobot Challenge is a physics-based robotics competition that encourages elementary school students in underserved communities to learn more about robots and the environment through hands-on, project-based learning.

One of the largest robotics events for students in Texas, the competition is funded through the Harris County Department of Education’s Center for Afterschool, Summer and Enrichment (CASE) for Kids.

Last year, participants were challenged to build and program robots from LEGO Mindstorm kits and create a recycling program. The challenge sparked in Puertas an idea for a school-wide contest.

The response was overwhelming. Classrooms were eager to earn points by completing tasks that focused on reducing, reusing, and recycling.

Some designed their own recycling bins and collected paper, glass, and aluminum by the pound, while others worked to reduce paper waste by committing to electronic communications and reusing paper.

“When we did the recycling, that was probably the most fun,” fifth grader and RoboTiger Jayden Pulido said. “I told my family that we should start recycling at home, too, because it helps the environment. Now we recycle our food and create biofuel.”

Three months into the challenge, the contest came to a halt as HISD — like schools across the country — were forced to close their doors due to COVID-19. But that didn’t stop the RoboTigers. They created a video submission for the challenge and won.

“Park Place did something that was new and innovative and took a step that will have a ripple effect for years to come,” said Ecobot Challenge Curriculum Director ‘Robo Joe’ Paneitz.

For Park Place Principal Nimmi Thomas, long-term effects are the goal.

“We hope to continue winning,” Thomas said. “We hope to continue to find sustainable ways to reduce pollution on earth and definitely in HISD,” Thomas said.