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Victoria kids on leader board for national recycling competition (w/video)

By Sara Sneath
Jan. 10, 2014 at 5:02 p.m.
Updated Jan. 9, 2014 at 7:10 p.m.

From left, Zhayvan Gayle, 9, and Michaela Saldivar, 10, both from Victoria, sort plastic bottles for the Dream Machine Recycle Rally sponsored by PepsiCo. Both Zhayvan and Michaela are part of the Brentwood Green Machine and pick up trash bags full of recycling from their neighborhood to sort and take to  Torres Elementary  for the contest.

Zhayvan Gayle, 9, of Victoria, stands over a Coke can in a Brentwood house driveway Thursday evening.

"One, two, smash," Zhayvan said, stomping on the aluminum can and throwing it in a bag of recyclables.

Zhayvan said he recycles because he doesn't want Earth to be "all messy and yucky."

Zhayvan is the only fourth-grader on the Brentwood Green Team - a group of six fifth-graders and Zhayvan from Torres Elementary School - who pick up recyclables from their neighborhood, which does not have city recycling service.

Victoria schools are participating for their third year in a national recycling contest sponsored by PepsiCo. The contest pits schools of the same size up against one another to compete for prizes based on which school can collect the most aluminum and plastic.

During their first two years in the competition, none of the 27 schools in the Victoria school district placed in the top 10.

This year, three schools from Victoria are in the top 10 among schools of their size. Torres Elementary is in second place.

In September, when the competition began, Kecia Garcia, the art teacher at Torres Elementary School, noticed that the kids in her neighborhood were only bringing a couple of plastic bottles Fridays, when the recyclables were tallied. Garcia called kids from the Brentwood neighborhood together and asked them whether they would like to team up to collect recycling together.

When the kids said yes, Garcia got permission from the Torres Elementary School principal to create a green team. With a couple of letters to the neighborhood, the kids were bringing in more than 70 pounds of recyclables every week, about 20 percent of the total number of recyclables for the school, Garcia said.

Every Thursday, neighbors hang or plop bags next to their mailboxes by 6 p.m. The kids then walk down the streets nearest their house wearing yellow vests that read "Brentwood Green Team" with their name on the back, picking up bags and bringing them to Garcia's house.

She said the neighbors were both eager to help out and good at separating their recyclables without too much direction.

"I think we've tapped into a lot of closet recyclers," Garcia said.

Danielle Gonik, 11, the president of the green team, said she helps to keep the team members in line and organized. She said her favorite part of the weekly recycling get-togethers is getting to see the other kids in the group after school.

"My favorite part is being with all these guys. I find it better working out here to help the earth than staying at home," said Antonio Becerra, 10, a green team member.

Antonio's mother, Sheryl Collins, said her family did not recycle before the program. She said she still has a hard time remembering to put recyclables aside, but her son is always on the lookout for thrown away recyclables and gives her a stern reminder each time he finds a bottle or can in the trash.

Garcia brings the bags of recyclables the kids collect from Brentwood to school with her Friday mornings. In her classroom, the kids and several parents sort the aluminum from the plastic, crush the bottles and place the recyclables in large black trash bags to be weighed with a hand scale.

Hunter Baros, 8, said his job is to crush the cans and bottles. He likes having something to do each morning, he said. His favorite part about the morning routine is crushing the big plastic bottles.

The annual Dream Machine Recycle Rally ends April 29. Within the competition are smaller biweekly and semester competitions. The first semester competition for 2013 began Sept. 3 and ended Dec. 10.

The results for the semester challenge came out Friday. Torres Elementary School was one of three schools to win a prize for their school size for the first semester period. They will get $1,000.

Rowland Elementary won a prize for the biweekly competition. It will receive a $50 gift card.

If Torres remains in second place at the end of the annual competition, it will win at least $10,000. The school currently in first place in Torres' bracket won the competition last year. The competition stipulates that the grand prize cannot go to the same school two years in a row. If Torres comes in second behind the current leader, it will win $25,000.

Joe Valenzuela Jr., a Torres parent, said his family recycled cans before the competition but now brings in plastics for the recycling rally. Valenzuela helps Garcia Friday mornings, along with several other parents, to sort and bag the recyclables.

"It's pretty neat to see how everybody does their little part to help recycle," he said.



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