Trash to treasure

Wentzville Middle School sixth-graders organize a trash can artwork contest to help tackle litter in city parks

By Brett Auten

Consider it an art gallery that comes with a guaranteed good feeling.

Inspired by a walkabout, Wentzville Middle School sixth-graders organized a trash can artwork contest to raise public awareness to help tackle litter in Wentzville parks and the community.

The project came about as this year marks the 14th anniversary of the GREEN partnership with General Motors, the city of Wentzville and Earth Force, where students take the lead on civic action projects. This was one of six projects where classes followed a six-step process to gather community data, research policies, and practices and develop and action plan.

And the kids did all of the heavy lifting.

They sought out the stakeholders and partners, like Friends of the Wentzville Parks, for support and sought donations to make the project possible.  They developed contest guidelines, awards and even produced a rap music ad to entice other students and the public to participate.  Winning artwork with a “nature” theme is featured from school-age students and the public on 12 cans in various parks around Wentzville.

Kelly Dunlap, an engineer technician with the city who worked closely with the program, said that this was a great example of Wentzville’s mission of being a community of neighbors working together to build a better future.

“The idea came from one of the students during a brainstorming session,” Dunlap said. “She shared it with the class and they immediately jumped on the idea and ran with it.”

Jamie Paige is the city’s stormwater management coordinator and she too saw the responsibility shouldered by the young residents.

“The kids were in the driver’s seat,” Paige said. “They tackled the budget, did the outreaching and marketing. Each student found their role.”

The program started in the fall and continued through to springtime. On May 1, the winners were selected, designs were finalized and sent into production to be vinyl wrapped. The barrels were on display during Wentzville Days and brought to a recent aldermen meeting.

The GREEN Program that GM and Earth Force offer – along with community partnerships with the city and Friends of the Parks – gave the students a voice and a platform to stand on.

“The structure of the Earth Force Program and support from the community are so empowering and allows my students’ dreams of making a difference to actually come true,” Wentzville Middle School Sixth Grade Teacher Kim Eckelkcamp said. “I say to them ‘that teaching is the most rewarding job and to be inspired, is to teach.’ They never cease to amaze me and their accomplishments are changing our community for the better one piece at a time.”

All involved reiterated that the contest was a fun and exciting way to positively involve and change the community while helping students hone their science, engineering, communication and social studies skills.

The students hope the project will inspire others to recycle and properly dispose of their trash in the community.

“Looking back, I’m extremely impressed with how the students conducted themselves,” Dunlap said. “They met some intense deadlines. I’m over the moon when it comes to their determination.”

CUTLINE: Photo by Ray Rockwell (From left) Kelly Dunlap, an engineer technician with the city of Wentzville stands with Karly Hansen, trash-can artist Kiley Hansen and Nathan Krankel at the Splash Station Aquatic Center in Wentzville on June 1. Kiley was the second-grade winner of the trash can artwork contest organized by Wentzville Middle School sixth-graders.