Zak earns recognition for starting recycling program at North Ridge Elementary School

It all started out as a way to feed a few animals.

Debbie Zak started a recycling program at North Ridge Elementary School in order to fund The Zoo Crew, a non-profit organization she runs at the school. The former Chicago zookeeper needed cash to help pay for the care of the school animals.

Students can learn about concepts like instincts by observing animals, and can also learn responsibility in caring for the animals, she said. The school currently has 130 animals, she said.

By having the students bring in aluminum cans, tin cans and paper, Zak, a North Ridge teaching assistant, has been able to meet some of the program’s financial needs. The school eventually became a satellite recycling station for the city of Lubbock after the amount of items brought in by students merited it.

“We recycle everything the city does, except cardboard,” said Zak.

Although the school gets no money for recycling other items, students can bring them in as well.

“Those (paper, aluminum and tin cans) are our three. The rest we do because it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

Students recycle their assignment papers, plastic and aluminum cans that they use at school, too. The fourth graders also compost their fruit and vegetable scraps from lunch to make organic fertilizer for the student-run gardens. Custodians at the school estimate the school produces a third less waste because of the students’ efforts.

Over the past 10 years, Zak said she has seen attitudes toward recycling change, and students are coming to school more aware of environmental issues than in the past.

“It has come to the forefront. It’s something each of us can do,” she said. Although the Zoo Crew does not keep track of when students bring in plastic or glass, they do track students who bring in the cans and paper for recycling.

“It used to be that about a fourth of our kids recycled, and now half do,” said Zak.

Student behavior is also changing due to students becoming more aware of their environment, she said. Students are often recognized with Tiger Paw awards at North Ridge for picking up litter without being asked.

“Several kids spend their recesses cleaning up, without being asked. That’s impressive to me,” said Zak.

In 2008, Zak said the school made $2,671 from cans and $150 from paper.

Zak was recently honored by Texas Tech with its first Grass Roots Efforts to Ecologize Neighborhoods, or G.R.E.E.N, award, for starting up the recycling effort at North Ridge.

According to Sandra Owen, an administrative business assistant for the office of international affairs at Tech, the award will be presented annually to teachers who can come up with a solution for an environmental problem.

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