Last fall, one of Erin Seelenbrandt’s seventh grade students inadvertently left her retainer on a napkin in the cafeteria when she emptied her lunch tray one afternoon. Upon returning to her seat, she found that the napkin had been “cleaned up” by the students on lunch duty. She became hysterical; the piece is pretty pricey, and she knew her mom would be upset. Jim Skillings and several students searched the top layer of the cafeteria trash to no avail.
Afterwards, in study hall, the student was still tearful, although everyone in the homeroom was empathetic. Several students accompanied her back downstairs to recheck the trash. Upon arriving in the cafeteria, they saw that all of the trash had been taken out, so they all went out to the dumpster with rubber gloves and extra trash bags. The kids, one of the cafeteria staff and Erin sifted through seven bags of garbage, thoroughly opening every napkin and pawing through all of the half eaten food. They discovered the retainer drowning in food goo at the bottom of the seventh bag.
“The kids were ecstatic,” says Erin. “Not only was this a great team effort to overcome a major setback a peer was experiencing, it was also a learning experience regarding stewardship and waste. We saw an unopened, expensive container of yogurt that had been thrown away, and the kids began highlighting all of the wasted foods — unpeeled, unbruised bananas, whole apples, whole sandwiches, silverware — that had been thrown away. They found powerful, uplifting moments in what could have been seen as a disgusting task.”