Puppets teach York County kids the 'magic' of recycling
A puppet named Echo, made from a recycled bottle, always chants, "Oh yes, oh yes," or "Oh no, oh no," as his corkscrew arms move up and down.
Students later mimic him, chiming in with the familiar phrases, when puppet master Kathleen Jacobs pulls items out of the garbage and asks them which ones can be recycled.
Jacobs' program, “Magic Pots and Recycled Bottles," is returning to elementary schools through a York County Solid Waste Authority sponsorship for its 12th year — an effort to teach kids about recycling and celebrate America Recycles Day on Thursday, Nov. 15.
"That's the best time to (raise) the subject — with kids — because they want to do the right thing for the environment, and they're eager to learn," said authority spokeswoman Ellen O'Connor.
The two-week tour, which began Nov. 5, and runs through Friday, Nov. 16, is stopping in 14 York County schools.
'I can do that': In the program, Jacobs starts by asking students for suggestions of household items she can use as set pieces and puppets, and then the puppets help her tell two stories, incorporating knowledge about recycling, lessons on bullying and math skills.
The idea is to get children to see recyclable materials in new ways, looking at what they can become — even using examples such as "a mean billy goat recycled into someone much nicer," Jacobs said.
Originally an art teacher, Jacobs would teach preschoolers to make puppets from junk items, later coming up with much more elaborate creations used in a 30-year career performing in venues such as The National Theatre in Washington, D.C., and the Hershey Convention Center.
But the Mechanicsburg resident wanted to get back to basics with the recycling show, hoping children would look at something and think, "I can do that," she said.
Waste-to-energy: The waste authority added a third part to the program — an opportunity to teach about York County's own waste-to-energy system through their mascot, Buster the Combustor Dragon.
All trash that can't be recycled, and meets certain requirements, is taken to the York County Resource Recovery Center in Manchester Township and turned into an alternative fuel that can generate electricity, O'Connor explained.
After items are "incinerated" by Buster, two student volunteers help scrub the resulting "smoke" — neutralizing poisons and removing dirt and grit, making it safe to breath.
"Audiences in York County are just absolutely delightful," Jacobs said.
She loves to select the volunteers who are sitting with a big grin — because it means they're listening and will follow directions, she said.
O'Connor hopes in teaching kids about where their garbage goes, they can form good habits and have a broader understanding of how it's connected to the environment.
"Kids are easy to teach," she said. "It's the grownups that are hard."
The waste-to-energy technology is still relatively new to the U.S. market, with 77 plants in 22 states, compared with 500 plants in the European Union, O'Connor said.
And York County has one of only six in the state — two others are located nearby in Harrisburg and Lancaster.
Using trash as alternative fuel saves the county about 13 acres of land, 35 feet deep, every year, she said.
The authority hopes to spread awareness about recycling through Jacobs' program, which will reach about 2,800 kids in York County, as well as other programs throughout the year that reach about 10,000.
The final stops on the tour are:
Monday, Nov. 12: 10 a.m. Yorkshire Elementary School, York Suburban School District; 1:30 p.m. St. Rose of Lima School, Spring Grove Area School District
Tuesday, Nov. 13: 10 a.m. North Salem Elementary School, Dover Area School District
Wednesday, Nov. 14: 9:30 a.m. Red Mill Elementary School, West Shore School District
Thursday, Nov. 15: 10 a.m. Newberry Elementary School, West Shore School District; 1:30 p.m. St. Patrick Catholic School
Friday, Nov. 16: 10 a.m. Valley View Elementary, York Suburban School District