Sometimes I go around feeling sorry for myself or frustrated with some part of life. Then I get confronted with someone who has real problems. We think of recycling as collecting and remaking bottles and cans into something useful again. But on April 27, 2011, when tornadoes ripped apart the Alberta Elementary School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the school, people’s lives, and the entire town needed to be “recycled” back into a thriving healthy community. People lost their homes, their businesses, and some, their lives. They had real problems.
The Alberta Elementary School, Grades Pre-K through 5, was completely destroyed by the tornado. Not only was the school damaged beyond repair, but the classroom of Judy Hajek, who teaches pre-kindergarten 4 year olds, was completely lost, including their Recycle Rally scanner and computer that the students had been using to track their recyclables and reward points. Here’s the classroom before and after- note the fallen storage closets- the rest of the classroom has been literally blown away.
Now for most of us, getting a recycling program going again after such a loss- including the death of one second grader- would be the last thing on our minds. If anyone has an excuse not to recycle, it’s folks in Alabama. But Judy, who is also the VP of the school PTA, and Crystal Fluker, the Phys Ed instructor for all grades, wanted to rebuild the Recycle Rally recycling program along with the classrooms and community. She sent the Recycle Rally team at Greenopolis, PepsiCo and WM a note:
“Our school, Alberta, Pre K-5th was destroyed in the tornado that came through Tuscaloosa, Alabama. My classroom was completely lost. Unfortunately, the Recycle Rally laptop and scanner was in my classroom.”
“Our classes are scattered at different schools to complete the last 2 1/2 weeks of school. If the school system is able to put us all at one facility for next year or two while Alberta is being cleaned and rebuilt, we would like to continue our recycling program. Can you help me sort this out in all the confusion?”
The Greenopolis and Recycle Rally team quickly agreed that sending new equipment was the least we could do, and that awarding some additional points to help the school recover would be in order as well. While the schools has been recycling paper, cardboard, cans and bottles for a few years already, they had just gotten their Recycle Rally program started this year, just a few months before the tornadoes changed everything. Every morning the 4-5 grades scanned the recyclable cans and bottles collected, and the school had earned nearly 4000 reward points before the storms hit.
Those giant tornadoes crossed Tuscaloosa County from border to border, grinding a path of destruction 5 miles long and up to a mile wide. Both Alberta Elementary and University Place Elementary and Middle School were complete losses and other schools were damaged. One second grader among the 400 Alberta students was lost to the storms.
But Judy said that ”the kids are coping better than the adults. Only 60-80 of them are finishing school elsewhere- most of the kids are finishing off the school year here in Tuscaloosa. Pre-K through second grade kids are attending classes at one school, and grades 3-5 are at another school.”
It will take up to 24 months to rebuild the school-the entire Alberta city area devastated-and the size and location of the new school will depend on how many residents are able to find jobs and housing and stay in the area.
New school supplies are rolling in from generous donors, they hope to bring Alberta Elementary under one roof in the fall, and they will begin recycling again, with students bringing in recyclables daily, and their parents coming along too. Crystal added “The Recycle Rally recycling effort helps brings the parents into the school- they get to feel comfortable here and begin to participate in other activities as well.”
Rebuilding, renewing, and recycling lives and materials. It’s what the students and teachers at Alberta Elementary and across the State of Alabama will do- because that’s the kind of people they are.
A counselor at the school remarked: “Recycling teaches so many wonderful lessons! Alberta Elementary isn’t a building. We, the students, teachers, staff, and community, are Alberta Elementary.”
Alberta Elementary and the the folks in Tuscaloosa are turning their problems into possibilities, horrors into hope, and frustrations into the future.