St. Cornelius School wins $50,000 for recycling

By Bob Bajek | Contributor
Sunday, May 20, 2012

From left to right, St. Cornelius 1st grader Emil Tomic, recycling coordinator Debbie Smith, and 6th grader Liam McMahan sort aluminum and plastic, brought in from students and residents from the neighborhood on May 15th. The school won the national Pepsi recycle relay and contiue to collect, sort, and count aluminium and plastic. (Natalie Battaglia / Catholic New World)

Chicago has become a greener place thanks to St. Cornelius School (5252 N. Long Ave.), as the small Catholic institution collected more than 750,000 recyclables to win a national competition.

St. Cornelius, with an enrollment under 200, won the Dream Machine Recycling Rally, a contest with a $50,000 grand prize sponsored by PepsiCo, Waste Management and Keep America Beautiful.

They are the second school in the archdiocese to win this contest. Last year, St. Pascal School took the top honors.

“It’s already ingrained in our school that we should be good stewards to the earth,” said St. Cornelius Principal Christina Bowman. “It’s great that we were able to do so much more through this competition than in the past. We are still going to be recycling even though we can’t win the grand prize next year. We have bottles and cans lined up already for next year.”

Bowman said the teachers and staff told the students that more important than winning the contest was that they were being good stewards to the earth.

Community support

The next closest winning school was Naples Christian Academy in Florida, a school St. Cornelius battled throughout the competition. St. Cornelius pulled away from Naples after landing a WGN radio spot with Mike McDonnell on April 27 during the last week of competition.

“There were many people from the area who hadn’t heard about us or the competition who were coming the last week to drop off recycling,” Bowman said.

The goal of the Dream Machine Recycling Rally is to create strategic partnerships to help increase the recycling rate of U.S beverage containers by 50 percent by 2018.

St. Cornelius entered the rally in August after helping neighboring St. Pascal School, 6143 W. Irving Park Road, win the competition last year after collecting over 350,000 non-alcohol bottles and cans, said Bowman.

This year the St. Cornelius students, their parents and even the community got plastic bottles and aluminum cans from throughout the city, and then went on to sort and count them.

Bowman said she would give students incentives to bring bags of recyclables to school, like holding raffles or giving an out of uniform day for every three bags a student brings. The incentives helped the school collect an additional $9,000 by winning the rally’s trimester competitions.

With the winnings earmarked for green school improvements, Bowman said St. Cornelius looks to purchase refurbished computers, some iPads for the classrooms to eliminate paper waste and will make some minor structural improvements.

Last year’s winners

St. Pascal Principal Denise Landers said she is happy St. Cornelius won this year. Her school donated 10 carloads of recyclables to their effort.

Landers’ school claimed a larger cash prize of $100,000 before the Dream Machine Recycle Rally was revamped. St. Pascal couldn’t win the grand prize this year. However, it was able to finish strong by landing a spot in the top 10.

St. Pascal used its prize money to buy eco-friendly computers and laser printers, iPads for the teachers to reduce paper waste, new front doors and recycling bins.

The competition, Landers said, helped her students gain a deeper appreciation for the earth and how they have a responsibility. “It’s really impacted all the students,” said Landers, whose school won $11,000 from the rally this year. “It’s opened our students’ eyes to how they really have to take care of our planet earth.”