Elementary and middle school students celebrate Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Contest wins

In observation of Earth Month, HISD’s Energy and Sustainability Department held a contest intended to inspire creativity and environmental awareness by repurposing recyclable materials into art pieces. The department’s hope was that the contest would excite students and encourage a more active engagement with the environment and conservation both at school and at home.

Briscoe Elementary School Art Teacher SonHye Han’s fourth-grade students rose to the challenge, sourcing unneeded cardboard boxes and other unused recyclables from home to build their vision of a recycled model cityscape. They won the prize for the best and most innovative project: a class pizza party.

“They got really excited when we first started talking about the project,” said Han. “We talked about recycling, and they started bringing in items that we could use instead of throwing them away in the trash.” The students brought in everything from used-up markers to toilet paper tubes to build their recycled city, a modeled metropolis comprised of every essential business they could think of, including two Walmart stores, a Chick-fil-A, and a haunted house.

“It was meaningful for me to do this recycling project with them because it got their creativity going,” said Han, sharing how the students used depleted air fresheners as tiny streetlights and long boxes as skyscrapers.

Jazlynn Garza, one of Han’s fourth graders, explained how the class came up with their idea. “A lot of people recycle boxes, so we thought that we could make a little town out of all the boxes,” she said. “You can do a lot more with recycling, like help your art skills.”

Julon Pinkston, Art Teacher at Black Middle School, was glad to have a collaborative project for his students after two years of on and off isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “This year, I’ve found that the kids want to do things that are a lot more social,” he said. “They’ve pushed away anything that’s quiet because they’ve had enough of that.”

Pinkston’s eighth graders had a variety of recycled materials to choose from in his classroom, as his assigned art projects often include the use of found objects or unusual, repurposed materials.

Theeighth graders also earned a pizza party with a sculpture of a vase of flowers made from an old glass container and covered with painted bottle caps. The flowers were sculpted from recycled wire, a tribute to the beauty of the natural world that the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Program seeks to maintain.

“This was such a beautiful way to thank the earth for what it provides for us,” said eighth-grade student Andrew Hernandez. “Every time that you make something, you’re thanking the world for what it provides for you, and that’s just one of the million reasons there are to create.”

Stephanie Walker, a Quality Assurance Analyst with Energy and Sustainability, was present to thank students at both Briscoe Elementary School and Black Middle School for participating in the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Contest and to present them with their hard-earned pizza. She also brought cupcakes for the students as a special surprise.

“We’ll be doing a similar contest next year with more campuses competing,” Walker said. “The purpose of the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Program is to get kids involved and get them learning how to save our planet.”