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Mann Elementary School: Where Recycling is Easy

DCPS Recycles! Honor Roll Success Story 2018

Mann Elementary School

How to Make Recycling Easy

At Mann Elementary School, it is plain to see that recycling is an effortless part of the way they operate. It’s harder to know how they’ve made something that can be daunting feel so simple.

This Earth Month, the Department of General Services (DGS) celebrates the story of Mann Elementary School (Ward 3) as the 2018 DCPS Recycles! Honor Roll Success Story, and takes a look at how they make recycling seem so easy. The DCPS Recycles! team paid a visit to Mann to uncover how teamwork between leadership, operations, and education staff helped recycling to become just another habit in a school culture that aligns behavioral expectations with environmental education on a daily basis.

Mann invites any interested school leaders or staff to visit and learn from their success. For more inspiration, see previous success stories featuring Burroughs Elementary School (Ward 5), Van Ness Elementary School (Ward 6), and C.W. Harris Elementary (Ward 7).

Contact DCPS Recycles! to facilitate a visit to Mann or another successful recycling school near you.



On a sunny spring day in April, Maintenance Foreman Mr. Greg Bellamy took the DCPS Recycles! team on a tour of Mann Elementary School. It was a day like any other, filled with constant activity and interaction with staff and students, and a robust recycling program that involves everyone on campus. Mr. Bellamy showed recycling and trash containers throughout the school, set up following DCPS Recycles! best practices. (When checked by the DCPS Recycles! team, they all contained the correct materials!)

At lunchtime, students and staff exuded enthusiasm for recycling. As children moved quickly to the waste stations to dispose the remnants of their meals, not a single tray went unstacked. Mr. Bellamy monitored the students to make sure each sorted their materials into the appropriate bin and that their compostable trays were stacked neatly to save space, helping to reduce the number of expensive compostable bags used each day.

As lunch wound down, Ms. Georgette (or Ms. George, as the students refer to her) assembled a team of student helpers, who sprang towards the share table upon which Mr. Bellamy has neatly organized the extra milk and unopened items set aside by students as they cleared their trays. The fourth graders swiftly gathered the items and begin boxing them up to prepare for pick up. Through Mann’s partnership with Food Rescue US, parent volunteers transport the school’s surplus food four times per week to local donation recipients Campus Kitchen and Charlie’s Place.

One student reflected on their practice of sharing and donated uneaten food, saying “It’s a win-win: one person doesn’t want something, and they can give it away to another person.” Sitting in front of the school’s tulip and herb beds, she added, “My favorite part about composting is helping other people.”

After lunch, Mr. Bellamy ensures that each type of carefully sorted material gets put into the correct dumpster, so that the materials all end up in the right place: recyclables at a recycling facility, the organic materials at a composting facility in Upper Marlboro, MD, and only the non-recyclable materials at an incinerator or landfill in Lorton, VA.

How to Make Recycling Easy

Mann demonstrates how effortless recycling practices and programs can be once established. This is because at Mann—from leadership, to the operations team, to educators and students—everyone is doing their part.

Leadership: Intentional Integration

Mann’s success stems from the school’s proactive leadership from Principal Liz Whisnant in integrating environmental education and behavioral expectations across the entire school.

Principal Whisnant is one of the few principals who delegates herself as responsible for implementing the 5 Steps to Recycle Right.

In 2011, when Mann was one of eleven school selected to participate in the Department of General Services’ (DGS) organics recycling pilot, Principal Whisnant met just once with DGS Schools Conservation Coordinator Beth Gingold to learn about the program and the supplies and services provided by DGS. At the end of the meeting she said simply, “I got it.” And she did.

“We did get intentional about how we named things – landfill, as opposed to just trash, really trying to make an impression,” says Whisnant.

Likewise, Mann got intentional about how they approached the process of becoming a LEED Gold certified building.Because of an opportunity that we had to renovate our school, we started to grow our thinking about what a robust recycling program could really look like,” says Principal Whisnant.

As a result, recycling is one of the many ways that students interact on a daily basis with their green building that includes natural light for indoor growing spaces, incubated chicks, a rooftop outdoor classroom, and bee hives.

Mann’s success helped to demonstrate the feasibility of organics recycling, allowing the program to expand beyond a pilot program to become a part of the DCPS Recycles! program that is offered to all DCPS schools.

Operations: Just Do It, Together

According to Mr. Bellamy, you do not need to be a state of the art green building to implement a recycling program, and recycling is not more work!

“When you have three separate cans, it makes a big difference because you don’t have to overload the trash cans. It makes a real big difference. It makes it easy on my back, on my staff, and on me,” he says. “I’m just trying to get the job done, and get it done properly,” says Bellamy. “I hope we never go back to the old system. I love the new system.”

To Mr. Bellamy, the work is simple: “just do it,” he says. Yet he is grateful for the team that is around him. “I can’t do it all, but we can work together as a team to get it done,” says Bellamy. “The staff works well together. We try to come up with ideas on how to make things easier and improve,” he adds.

Kitchen Manager, Ms. Sabrada Brewer echoed the importance of teamwork. In regard to sorting mixed recyclables, cardboard, and organics in the kitchen, Ms. Brewer says “we make sure we keep it up so the custodians have an easier job when they come back and get it for us.”

Education: Make Connections

Educators at Mann are continually helping students make connections between environmental education and actions. Though the daily actions of the operation staff make this possible, and educators and students have also come up with new ways to contribute to school operations.

In the school garden, science teacher Amy Jagodnik uses a compost bin system provided by DGS as a hands-on teaching tool. She explains how students feed the compost bin with food scraps from the cafeteria and leaves collected from an overhanging oak tree.

Mann is a regular participant in the DC-wide competitions run by DGS. In 2016, Mann participated in the Reduce First! Challenge: Lunch Edition, during which students conducted waste audits and took action to reduce the waste of whole uneaten items by 62% over the four-week challenge. This reduction was achieved by implementing share tables and food recovery.

“We are now including things like food rescue in our definition of how we are recycling,” Whisnant explains.

School nutritionist Ms. Georgette Blake continues to spearhead food recovery today alongside all the students, education and operations staff, parents and partners like Food Rescue US.

Every School Can Recycle!

Mann demonstrates that recycling is easy when there is an intentional effort from leadership, operations, and education staff.

If your school is not yet recycling, DGS can help! Though change takes time and can be difficult, there are schools across all 8 wards that are recycling and are willing to host visitors to share their successes and challenges.

Contact DCPS Recycles! to organize a meeting at your school to help you get started, or to facilitate a visit to a school near you.