Education

Park Forest Elementary on top for environmental efforts

Park Forest Elementary School Principal Donnan Stoicovy poses with students Adam Cooper, Adam Lieb, Robert Rothrock and Elijah Snyder. They were the recipients of the President’s Environmental Youth Award for recycling efforts at the school.
Park Forest Elementary School Principal Donnan Stoicovy poses with students Adam Cooper, Adam Lieb, Robert Rothrock and Elijah Snyder. They were the recipients of the President’s Environmental Youth Award for recycling efforts at the school. Photo provided

No one does it better than Park Forest Elementary School.

Recycling, that is.

And there’s proof.

Principal Donnan Stoicovy and four former students, who are heading into sixth grade, made a trip to Washington, D.C., last week to pick up an award for their efforts on a schoolwide recycling and sustainability program.

Adam Cooper, Adam Lieb, Robert Rothrock and Elijah Snyder were recipients of the President’s Environmental Youth Award for their leadership in helping their school become a zero-waste facility.

“I was really excited that me and my friends had won this award,” Elijah said. “I really care about the future of the Earth, and the recycling we do at PFE will improve that future. In Washington, it was really cool to see that there are a lot of other people working toward the same goal.”

Stoicovy said Park Forest Elementary students and staff diverted 85 percent of their school’s waste from landfills and cut its waste bill by about half.

“It’s been a passion of mine for a long time, but I don’t want to take all the credit for it,” Stoicovy said. “It’s a full-school effort, and we’re even getting a lot of help from parents and the Centre County Recycling and Refuse Authority.”

Adam Lieb said the project started about three years ago with recycling in individual classrooms.

“Then we would take these items to the sorting center, one on each floor,” he said. “From there we would divide all the recyclables into the correct containers, which reduced what was sent to the landfill.”

The project grew from there.

Plant Supervisor Danny Gill made a small version of a waste station in the school’s cafeteria.

Stoicovy said the contraption was made from an old waste station from the recycling department at Penn State.

Gill cut it down to a smaller size so it was useable for elementary-aged students.

The school also works with TerraCycle — a New Jersey-based recycling company that rewards its customers for reducing waste.

Money received from the program was put toward two water bottle filling stations.

Stoicovy said one was installed about two years ago, and the other was installed this summer.

But in April, the state recognized the school as a Green Ribbon School and a Centre County Green Business Partner.

According to a press release from the state Department of Education, the Green Ribbon Schools program recognizes schools “based on their efforts to reduce environmental impact and costs; to improve health and wellness of schools, students and staff; and to provide environmental education, including STEM, civics and green career pathways.”

To take it a step further, Stoicovy said she nominated the four boys for the President’s Environmental Youth Award.

“It was something I did in January to recognize their efforts,” she said. “There were four leaders of our zero-waste team, and they worked really hard acting as helpers and role models for their peers. I didn’t know what the odds were, but they were selected in their division.”

They drove down to D.C. on Monday where they were invited to an auditorium at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House’s campus.

“It was amazing going to the White House,” Stoicovy said. “We arrived early and went through a series of security steps, then got to the auditorium. The room we were in was a room (where) the president often signs legislation.”

They were presented with the award by a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency after a ceremony that included speakers such as EPA administrator Gina McCarthy and the president’s senior adviser John Holdren.

“I am very proud of what we have done at PFE and I hope that future PFE students will continue to support the goal of zero waste,” Adam Cooper said. “I hope that we can take everything we learned at PFE to the middle school and start a zero waste program there.”

Though the boys are headed to a different school this year, Stoicovy said she is looking to find new students to fill youth leadership roles.

“We’ve already gotten some inquiries from interested students,” she said. “But it’s just something I’m so proud of because the kids are so invested, and the staff is so supportive. To me, it’s what my career has been about to try to have kids make a change, and we’re doing this. It feels really good.”

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

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