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Cochiti Pueblo students and teachers win national Recycle-Bowl

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There are some serious trash-talking 6-year-olds at the Keres Children’s Learning Center at Pueblo de Cochiti.

Five kids and two teachers at the Montessori school recently won first place in the “community division” of the 2016 Recycle-Bowl, a competition sponsored by Keep America Beautiful.

Combined, the group collected 15,482 pounds of aluminum, cardboard, paper and plastics – more than 2,200 pounds each. A distant second-place winner, a school from Tennessee, collected a mere 313 pounds per participant.

bright-spot-logoIt was the first time a school from New Mexico took first place in the national competition, said Gene Ka-Hee of the pueblo’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, who spearheaded the school’s effort.

The Cochiti kids accomplished their feat after Ka-Hee and teacher Mara Matteson established partnerships throughout the community and set up recycle collection stations at Cochiti Golf Course, Cochiti Pueblo, the town of Cochiti Lake, Romero’s store in Peña Blanca, and at centers where educational programs and programs for youths and elderly residents are offered.

The recycling effort was intended to expose the children to local environmental issues and teach them about protecting natural resources, conserving energy, reducing pollution and diverting materials from being sent as trash to landfills so they can be recycled as new products.

Another goal, said Ka-Hee, was to encourage communities and businesses around Cochiti to recycle more.

Matteson and Ka-Hee took the kids on field trips to an unofficial landfill on the Cochiti Pueblo, visited an Albuquerque recycling center where they got to wear hard hats, and went to Savers to see how used clothing gets sorted and given a new life.

Kids from Cochiti Pueblo learn about recycling. From left, Kawaika Blue-Sky, Kaydi Pecos, Lee Herrera and Zachary Cordero sort donated recyclables. (Courtesy of Keres Children's Learning Center)

Kids from Cochiti Pueblo learn about recycling. From left, Kawaika Blue-Sky, Kaydi Pecos, Lee Herrera and Zachary Cordero sort donated recyclables. (Courtesy of Keres Children’s Learning Center)

During classroom activities, the kids examined piles of discarded items and decided which ones could be recycled; took empty soda bottles and other recyclables and re-purposed them; and watched a disturbing video of a huge landfill operation in India.

“They were absolutely horrified that there was so much trash and worried it could happen here because they’d seen the default landfill” on pueblo land, Matteson said.

Despite their young age, “they really got it,” she said, “they absolutely understood.” And they were beside themselves with excitement when they learned they’d won their division.

“They’re ready to do it all over again,” Matteson said.

The Recycle-Bowl competition was held last year from Oct. 17 through Nov. 15. More than 250 schools from around the country participated in the competition, which was open to kids in grades K-12 and in several categories, including school division, community division, district division, waste reduction champion and food scrap collection champion.

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