Sandra Berry's art class spent much of the fall semester recycling plastic water bottles by creating colorful ornaments. The students cut the bottles into spirals and then painted them with permanent markers. Once complete, they were suspended from the ceiling to give the appearance of colored glass.
"A fellow teacher came up with the idea," Berry told The Lawton Constitution. "They made a big chandelier at their school with the bottles and it looked really nice. So I thought we could do something like that here."
Creating each piece of art is a relatively simple process. The students carefully cut the water bottle in a spiral pattern and gently stretch it out until the plastic dangles from the opening at the top. They then thread a piece of twine through the top in order to hang it. Finally, they color the plastic with a magic marker lightly enough so that light can still shine through. The piece can be completed in one classroom sitting, but the results look stunning when hundreds are hung together from the ceiling.
"It's something that we do over several fun day Fridays we have here," Berry said. "Each Friday, I let them sit down and work on these and they've done a good job."
Lani Smith recently spent time in class working on her third water bottle spiral. After carefully cutting it in a diagonal manner, she debated which marker she would use to color the plastic. Once it was complete, it would be suspended from the ceiling in Berry's room, along with the hundreds of others students have created. She said she enjoyed creating a piece of art that was so simple, yet so creative.
"It's a lot of fun to be able to do this," she said.
While the project teaches students that anything can become art, it also teaches an important life lesson about recycling and reusing items. A single plastic water bottle takes 450 years to decompose in a landfill. Berry's project prevents the bottles from every reaching the landfill and turns them into something beautiful and creative.
"The students don't really realize how fast water bottles can add up in a landfill," she said.
How fast? The students of Berry's eighth grade art classes are on track to repurpose an estimated 3,500 water bottles by the end of the school year. That's 3,500 water bottles that won't poison the ground for future generations of humans and animals.
"I love that the work we're doing will help keep our animals safe in the future," Smith said. "It's designing something fun to help the environment."
That caught the attention of the Keep Oklahoma Beautiful, a nonprofit affiliate of Keep America Beautiful. Berry submitted an essay written by students about their project to the organizations' Up-Cycle Challenge. In the essay, the students described how they took trash and turned it into art and helped mitigate what would be centuries of landfill waste. The students won the challenge at the 2018 Environmental Excellence Celebration.
"I put the names of all the students in a hat and drew the names of those who could go with me to the banquet," Berry said. "It was very elegant. The kids all really felt special about getting to go."
As part of their prize, the students were treated to a pizza party courtesy of Mike Patter, Oklahoma Department of Transportation executive director, and Jeannette Nance, Keep Oklahoma Beautiful executive director. They also received 61 tickets to see the Oklahoma Thunder play Feb. 22 in Oklahoma City. And after the game, they will have the chance to meet Thunder player Steve Adams.
"The students worked really hard to do this," Berry said. "And this is their reward. For many of them, this is the first time they'll ever have a chance to go see the Thunder play."
For Smith, this will be her first time seeing the basketball team play - an event she is sure not to forget.
"I'm really excited to get to go," she said. "We're all looking forward to it."
Information from: The Lawton Constitution, http://www.swoknews.com
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