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Turning Trash Into Treasure
Now in its fourth year, the recycling program at El Portal Middle School has already raised enough money to provide nine water buffaloes to people in Third World countries.

Operated by the school's Special Day Class under the direction of teacher John Yuskiw, the recycling of bottles and cans raises the funds for Heifer International and purchases the animals through that organization.

"In the three-plus years we've been doing it we've raised a total of about $2,300," Yuskiw said. "We've bought nine water buffaloes and we'd like to get three more this year."

The water buffaloes go to villages in places including Southeast Asia, Africa and India, to help villagers become more self-sufficient.

"Last year we did a whole curriculum on this, with math and geography," Yuskiw added. "Heifer International provides a lot of curriculum materials."

That way, the students spending their time collecting the bottles and cans around the school get a sense of what their work is helping accomplish halfway around the world.

The Special Day Class students have recycling containers in every classroom, as well as the cafeteria and faculty room, with students, staff and administrators all encouraged to deposit their bottles and cans in them. Other, larger receptacles are set up outside at lunchtime and each week, the students do a massive collection effort, then do the rinsing and sorting of the recyclables. From there, they are taken to be turned in, exchanged for cash, which then goes to the Heifer International project when there is enough to purchase an animal.

"The water buffaloes cost $250 each," Yuskiw said, adding that students get a real sense of satisfaction when they have raised enough money to purchase an animal.

El Portal Principal Mark Vos said he also sees the students gaining from the program.

"The kids do a great job of promoting it, every room has got the recycling containers," Vos noted. "The kids know that they're doing a service and it's great to have that program on campus."

The lunchtime recycling bins are emptied each day, while the classroom containers are collected each Friday.

Along with making sure that the students and staff recycle their bottles and cans, keeping them out of the landfills, Yuskiw said the program is beneficial for the students in other ways as well.

"I like the fact that they gain a sense of competence in what they're doing," said Yuskiw. "They do seem to enjoy it."