August 8, 2019

Tune in to hear my interview with second-grade teacher Anese Forsyth. Learn how Anese started recycling in her 2nd grade bilingual classroom in Reagan Elementary and how it soon spread to become a resource for the entire community. 

Meet Anese Forsyth!

Anese attributes her passion for nature to her parents. Anese was raised in Pakistan and in Latin America. "It made us appreciate the world as entire planet and how amazing it is." said Anese.  "We're not all that different." 

Anese has been a teacher for 28 years and previously helped with a garden at her previous school. Anese began working at Reagan Elementary with Ector County Independent School District in Odessa, TX in 2016.  Anese teaches in a bilingual second-grade class. The kids in the classroom are Spanish speakers, mostly from rural areas. 

Recycling at Reagan Elementary

Anese started by reading books to her kids, including The Lorax and The Wump World. This set the foundation of why it's important to care for the planet.

Next, Anese helped her kids start recycling plastic bottles, from their school breakfasts. Anese explained to the kids, "This plastic is from fossil fuels, a natural resource that comes from the ground. We live in the Permian basin. This is why many of your parents have a job. We need to conserve this precious natural resource." She then added recycling of cardboard, paper and aluminum in the classroom.

From there, Anese coordinated with her principal, Mr. Wayne Squires, to get approval to expand the recycling program schoolwide. "It's important to have the support of your principal, custodians, teachers and parents." 

Anese's journey with recycling follows what many teachers do. She started by buying her own bins for her classroom. From there, she went out and found several partner organizations that each supported the program: 

  • She wrote a grant request on Donors Choose for worm composting, seeds and recycling bins. 
  • To spread the recycling schoolwide, Anese  got labels through Recycle Across America. They found two organizations, Merchology and 1% for the Planet, that paid for labels. 
  • The City of Odessa provided a large dumpster in the alley, which Anese's class dubbed "the jolly green dumpster". 
  • Keep Odessa Beautiful provided paper bins for all the  teachers for their classrooms.

Anese participates in the Pepsico Recycle Rally program. She tracks and reports how much plastic is being recycled. In return, Anese earns points that are then used for gift cards, prizes and recycling materials. 

Reagan Elementary School

Second-graders in Anese Forsyth's class at Reagan Elementary thanked sponsors Merchology and 1% for the Planet. The organizations paid for labels through Recycle Across America to help spread recycling schoolwide and to the community. 

Keep Odessa Beautiful

Keep Odessa Beautiful shares the results of Reagan Elementary on social media

Keep Odessa Beautiful Recycling Ambassador

Anese (center) volunteering to promote recycling with Keep Odessa Beautiful

Recycling bins at Reagan Elementary

Recycling bins at Reagan Elementary

Spreading Recycling to the Community

Odessa doesn't have curbside recycling pick-up, and there are very few places that residents can recycle their plastic. So, in 2019, residents were invited to recycle in the school's collection area. 

In 2019, Anese was awarded the Recycling Ambassador of Odessa award by Keep Odessa Beautiful. Anese shares the recognition with her students, her principal, the rest of the school and the community. 

Odessa College also picked up on recycling. Anese' sister, Kim Surgeon, told her ESL students about what Anese was doing. College kids from around the world decided to start plastic recycling.  

Odessa College Students Recycle

Odessa College students collect their plastic, which is then taken to Reagan Elementary to recycle. 

Odessa College Students

Kim Surgeon's ESL Students at Odessa College created a sign for Reagan Elementary using all recycled materials. 

Ladder of Engagement

Recycle Across America is an organization whose goal is to have consistent recycling guidelines nationwide. The organization is promoting a bill to set recycling labeling standards and help provide funding for cities to recycle right. At the request of Recycle America Online, Anese wrote a letter to Congresswoman Betty McCollum from Minneapolis, MN  and to EPA Administrator Wheeler to share the Reagan Elementary experience in Odessa, as a way to show the need for the bill. 

Anese' experience demonstrates how to make a big impact using the "ladder of engagement". By starting in the classroom, then expanding to the whole grade, schoolwide then to the community, and then to the national level, this is a very fulfilling experience! 

Advice for Others

Asked what advice she would give to a teacher who want to start something similar in the schools in their community, Anese said, 

  • Have a big idea of what you want to do, but start small with your classroom.
  • Change the routine to include recycling, and let the kids cycle through so they all learn how to do it.
  • Be able to motivate people and encourage people. rather than pushing people to do something they don't want to do.
  • Be ready to support them when they're ready to change.
  • Be positive, helpful and patient!
  • Use social media to highlight progress and generate interest.
  • Tell your students that they are leaders, and that they will take care of the planet going forward.
  • Don't give up! Be the light. Be the change. 

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Future of Recycling in Odessa

In the 2019-2020 year, Anese is now adding an eco-club. This will be an opportunity to take the next level of sustainability actions in the school. 

Odessa is a city of over 175,000, and now has only about two full-time employees at the current facility. Anese sees that if people do start recycling as they should, there will need to be more staff and more facilities at the city level. 

Anese hopes that in the future there will be consistent recycling at all the schools and universities, and throughout the community, with curbside recycling for residents.  

 "I want people to understand the importance of making the connection. Plastic is not trash. It's a natural resource that we're getting out of the ground, right here in Odessa, Texas. When we throw it away, we're throwing away petroleum," said Anese.  "This is our planet and we need to take care of it." 


Green Team Academy Podcast 57 Anese Forsyth

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