You will rarely catch a student at Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva in Edison littering or tossing an empty bottle or can in the regular trash.
“We teach our students that Hashem has given us a beautiful world and our job is to keep Hashem’s world beautiful and healthy and that means to protect our environment,” said its principal Rabbi Shraga Gross. “Very often students feel they are only kids, they can’t make a difference. But that is not true. Our students do make a difference.”
That respect for the world around them was evident as the school swept all three spots in an environmental essay contest for students in sixth through eighth grade sponsored by the Middlesex County Department of Public Safety and Health.
The three winners — all 12-year-old sixth-grade girls from East Brunswick — were Michal Shechter, first place; Ali Reich, second place; and Mikayla Elk, third place.
They were recognized and presented with certificates and reusable tote bags at the June meeting of the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” said Gross. “We were informed that although there were entries from throughout the county, these essays were so outstanding they just stood out.”
Language arts teacher Marla Liebhaber said she brainstormed with the students before they wrote their essays.
“All our students not only learn about the environment and pollution in science, but I also integrate it into language arts,” she said. “We talk about the environment, how we can help the environment in school, at home, and in our communities.”
Michal told NJJN that she focused her essay on ways to benefit the environment at home.
“We always do composting and we are always recycling and reusing,” said Michal, the daughter of Amanda and Judah Shechter. “We put the bad parts of vegetables into a can and use it as mulch.”
Her suggestions included turning a plastic milk jug into a birdhouse.
Ali chose a musical theme.
“I play piano so I thought about how we can reuse instruments and recycle old sheets of music and music books,” she said. “You could take old music books, recycle them, and make them into children’s books about recycling.”
Ali, the daughter of Steve and Jodi Reich, said she already gives the metal tabs from cans to an organization that recycles them so they don’t end up in the ocean. That gave her the idea to recycle parts from unusable instruments and tuners.
“They can be used to make baskets and buckets instead of cutting down trees,” she explained. “Three to six billion trees are cut down worldwide each year. We learned that in school.”
Mikayla suggested a smartphone app that would award points for picking up litter. When enough points are accumulated, the user would get a free app.
“I also came up with the idea for a community garden,” said Mikayla, the daughter of Tony and Larissa Elk.
Every week a truck would collect weeds from the various gardens to be used for mulch.
“The truck would go around and around. It would go to East Brunswick on Thursday, maybe Highland Park on Wednesday. They could also use it at a construction site if they wanted new grass.”
At home, she said, her family composts, grows peppers and tomatoes, and “we ride bikes a lot instead of driving in cars.”