As part of my effort to re-engage in normal life at the beginning of 2012, I decided to sign up to volunteer in Ian’s classroom. It’s just one half-morning a month, but makes me feel like I’m doing something to contribute to his education and attempting to get to know his teacher a little better. It also helps in the motherhood guilt department. Of course, it might have been nice if I had started that in September, but frankly with all we had going on, at that point I was lucky to make it to work every day. Plus, better late than never, right?
So, Friday was my first volunteer gig – actually for a special event. His class was having a parade through the school to recreate the dragon dance that is part of the lantern festival for Chinese New Year, followed by a little class party with “traditional” Chinese fare: tea, fried rice, a fortune cookie and a piece of mango candy. Some other parents and I helped set up for the party, serve the kids and clean up. Ian was really excited that I was there in his classroom, which alone made the whole thing worth it.
When we got to the clean-up part, our task was to collect all the paper cups and plates from the kids (two classrooms worth), and then tear all the paper off the tables and dispose of everything. I headed to the back of the room with my first collection, naturally looking for the recycling bin for all these paper products. Instead, all I found was everyone shoving everything into the regular ole’ trash can. I was, well, kind of shocked. Surely there was a recycling bin somewhere in this classroom?? If there was, I didn’t see it and no one was using it. Even stranger, no one seemed bothered by it. Now, perhaps that’s because these were all veteran volunteer parents (they kind of seemed like it), and already knew the deal, but I’m not sure. I mentioned something in passing about it feeling weird to be putting everything in the trash, but everyone was moving quickly and I don’t think anyone heard.
Part of what struck me about the experience and my reaction was how much times have changed. Living in Portland, and working at the zoo where it’s practically a crime not to think and act sustainably, recycling has certainly become normal practice. Heck, my garbage can at my desk only gets emptied like once every other week. And, I’m always impressed when Ian knows to head for the recycling bin vs. the trash. Now, it’s not like we are going to win any family sustainability awards at home compared with many Portlanders, but we do make an effort to do our part.
Of course, it also made me think about the message that is being sent to the kids at school. I mean, think of how much paper schools go through…is it all going in the trash? When it comes down to it, I was just really surprised and somewhat confused that there didn’t appear to be recycling happening – at least in this classroom, at this party. Here’s where I add the caveat that I could be way off base and maybe this was one unusual instance, and Raleigh Park is winning district awards for recycling. I’ve thought of asking about it the next time I’m there, but the education system is having such a tough time as it is, part of me thinks: Who am I to come in one time and start asking questions that may appear critical? Especially when these educators are doing all they can just to keep their heads above water with fewer and fewer resources every year.
Now I shall retreat from my soap box and conclude by noting that the parade was really cute and the kids seemed to love it. A good time was had by all.