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St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School Surpasses One Thousand Pound Plastic Recycling Challenge, Four Weeks Ahead of Earth Day 2024 

Middle School Wins School-Wide Competition 

Group of middle school students smiling and holding big plastic trash bags full of recycled plastic.
Kelley Gorman’s 7th grade advisory at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School. Photo: Katherine McCarron

ALEXANDRIA, VA –  In the Fall of 2023, the students at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School embarked on a challenge. Could they manage to collect 1000 pounds of soft plastic in time for Earth Day 2024 on April 22? That was a tall order.   

If plastic bags go into the ocean, sea turtles think they are jellyfish and eat them.  Then the turtles get sick.” St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes kindergarten student 

First, a little background on how this all got started. The Association of Parents and Teachers (APT) has a Sustainability Committee. For this year’s project, the team launched a plastics recycling program to shed light on how much plastic we all use and how to recycle it in a way that keeps it out of our landfills, waterways, and air.  

A boy and girl with plastic bags
Two Lower School children recycling soft plastic.  Photo: Lynne Davies

The drive was designed as a competition to see who could bring in the most plastic among the Lower, Middle, and Upper School campuses. The prize for the campus that collects the most? A sustainable bench made from recycled materials, provided by Trex, a Virginia company that awards a prize to schools that collect 1,000 pounds of soft polyethylene plastic film.  

A group of kindergartners proudly showing off their plastic recycling
Leslie Williams, Kindergarten Teacher and Lower School Environmental Stewardship Coordinator, and her Kindergarten class, proudly displaying their collected soft plastic. Photo: Courtesy Leslie Williams


The Middle School won the competition, besting the other campuses. Kelley Gorman is the 7th-grade science teacher and Middle School sustainability chair.   

“A thousand pounds of soft plastic seems insurmountable or unachievable. But I also know we are always in for a competition at the middle school and the other campuses are too!” exclaimed Gorman with a laugh. “So, when there was a little bit of the competitive drive going, it didn’t surprise me that our numbers started to increase pretty rapidly on all three campuses.”  

Advertisement displayed on school monitors to cheer on the children as they march towards their 1,000-pound plastics goal. The school has now surpassed that target. Slide: Courtesy Kelley Gorman
Advertisement displayed on school monitors to cheer on the children as they march towards their 1,000-pound plastics goal. The school has now surpassed that target. Slide: Courtesy Kelley Gorman

Gorman oversees environmental efforts on her campus and coordinates with the other schools. She became the point person, she said, and helped to coordinate the location of the bins and advertise the campaign.  

Middle aged lady holding big white bag in the air
Katherine McCarron, APT Sustainability Committee co-chair, standing at the Lower School main entrance. Photo: Judith Fogel

Lindsey and Harry are two 7th-grade students who dove in and produced some of the largest plastic collections. Fresh from spring break, the two were energized to keep going and raise those numbers even higher by the April 22 deadline.  

Young boy in a suit standing alone smiling in a school hallway
Harry, 7th grade student, in a Middle School hall. Photo: Judith Fogel

“I’ve always really loved the environment. It’s really important to me,” Lindsey told Zebra. For as long as I can remember, we’ve always done stuff outside. My family and I go camping, we’re outside all the time, one of my biggest aspirations is to hike the Appalachian Trail. I love hiking, just being outside with my family! I notice things a lot; changes, animals, plants. I see things, I really like to notice all the beauty around me.”  

Harry said Target products give him lots of plastic to bag up and bring to school. Things like paper towel coverings and saran wrap he would find on the meat for his tacos.  

“The students came through with flying colors!” beamed Madam Laura Walker, Middle School French teacher. “We are really proud to be able to launch this competition. Every piece of soft plastic that we collect is a piece of soft plastic that doesn’t go into a landfill or an ocean.”  

Little schoolgirls lined up with plastic recycling bags behind them
Sixth grade Girl Scouts Colette, Sophie, Peyton, Brooklyn, Cate. Behind them are bags of donated plastic. Photo: Judith Fogel

Walker is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Zeta Chi Omega Chapter, an international women’s sorority, founded in 1908 for African American women. Walker told her sorority about the challenge, and they asked, how can we get involved?   

The school was abuzz Tuesday morning March 26. A group of 6th grade Girl Scouts was excited to speak to a reporter and told Zebra they were ecstatic their campus won the bench and expressed concern over the state of the planet and our over-use of plastics.   

One middle school aged student holding a plastic bag and showing off a box
Lindsey, 7th grade student, showing off her collection. Photo: Judith Fogel

Although the school surpassed its 1000-pound goal, it is continuing the recycling campaign until Earth Day  

Kelly Gorman, the middle school science teacher, emphasized that shoppers should take advantage of the soft plastic collection bins at grocery stores. She admitted she herself had not fully utilized that service. “It’s really helped me and others to gain a conscious understanding of where we can be diverting this plastic that otherwise can’t really be recycled if we were to put it in mainstream recycling.”  

Gorman continued, “It’s been really inspiring. In some ways, it’s been a little disheartening that we’ve been able to achieve a thousand-pound goal so soon. It tells us how much plastic really is out there and how much we’re consuming but it’s also amazing that we’ve been able to collect all of that quickly. It shows the massive community effort that was behind this.”  

School kids lined up smiling with their teacher.
Middle School Science Teacher Kelley Gorman; 6th grade Girl Scouts Colette, Sophie, Peyton, Brooklyn, Cate; Veronica Jackson, vice president, Zeta Chi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority; Madam Laura Walker, Middle School French teacher. Photo: Judith Fogel

Katherine McCarron and Lynne Davies are APT Sustainability Committee co-chairs and have been spearheading this ambitious effort since October.  “We are so proud of these kids and inspired by their dedication to recycling!” McCarron said enthusiastically. “The families, teachers, administrators, and school staff have been extremely supportive. It is a true community effort.”   

The students were instructed to bring in clean, dry, soft plastic film and drop it off in bins located on each campus at the entrance to the school. Examples of soft plastic are Amazon plastic shipping envelopes, bubble wrap, grocery bags, plastic film, dry cleaner bags, and newspaper sleeves. 

Two ladies facing camera in a classroom with plastic recycling bags behind them
Kelley Gorman, Middle School science teacher and environmental stewardship coordinator; Madam Laura Walker, Middle School French teacher, Modern and Classical Languages department coordinator, and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated, Zeta Chi Omega Chapter. Photo: Judith Fogel

Even the littlest students got into the act. Zebra visited the kindergarten classroom and the children eagerly shared what this month(s)-long project means to them. They spoke of their love of animals and plants. One child asked why we collect and recycle plastic. “So that the earth can be healthy and so bugs won’t go in and eat it (plastic).” 

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