Only an additional 122 pounds of plastic caps and lids are needed in order for the Shabbona Honors Society to exchange the materials for a recycled plastic bench to be placed on the White Oak Elementary School grounds in honor of math teacher Jan Wendling, who died in June 2016.
Community Consolidated School District 54 Superintendent Shannon Dudek said the school planned on doing something for a memorial, and when teacher Denise Bach came in with the idea of a bench, the idea came to the forefront.
“I think this is such a great idea. We want to support it in any way that we can. The students and teachers all loved Mrs. Wendling, and she loved the outdoors so much, so I think the bench is a great idea,” Dudek said.
In February, Bach, the honors society sponsor and teacher, brought this idea to her honors society group of eighth-grade students.
They all agreed it would be a good community service project as well as an honor to one of their favorite teachers.
“I had Mrs. Wendling for math last year, and she was also my neighbor. I think this is a great thing because she meant so much to everybody, and this is the least we can do to show that we remember her,” honors society member Lainy Button said.
Bach said she was first introduced to the ABC Promise Partnership program from Green Tree Plastics of Indiana when she visited family. They had talked about an organization that collected plastic caps in exchange for a bench made out of the recycled products.
“Everybody can enjoy it – staff, students and the community. It’s also a good recycling project for the kids,” Bach said.
In February, Bach sent a newsletter home to all of the students at White Oak Elementary, which includes Shabbona Middle School, to explain the program and specifics of what types of plastic lids are needed. She even created a contest between the bottom and top floor of the school to see who could bring in the most lids.
On Feb. 22, the first batch of lids was counted after school by honors society members and a couple of younger third-grade students. Bag after bag was opened, and one by one each lid was counted, written down and added to the totals.
Bach said the group needs 500 pounds of plastic lids for the bench. Once that number is reached, the lids are then exchanged for the bench, and the students get to choose the color and style.
“I collected and counted today. This whole thing is really cool because it’s not just [teachers] deciding, they are letting the students decide. It’s amazing to be a part of this,” honors society member Taylor Breyman said.
As of March 13, Bach said the group has collected 378 pounds of the 500 needed, and the team has counted more than 90,000 caps themselves, which does not include others donated by Morris Community High School and Joliet schools, that didn’t need to be counted, just weighed because they are not a part of the contest between the White Oak and Shabbona students.
The 8-foot bench with a back has a charge of $275 for the company to assemble, which Bach said the district would help with, and if there was time, the kids could come up with a fundraiser to offset the remainder of the costs.
After the bench reaches the school, Bach said Wendling’s sons, Kevin and Ryan, have offered some of their mother’s flowers to plant around the bench.
“Jan would have given you the shirt off of her back. She was the kind of person who would do anything for anyone if she had the ability to do it. I try to model myself after that, that in itself is a lesson to be there for people,” Bach said. “Jan loved most being outside and in nature, so what better of a way to honor her?”
As honor society member Brad Kincade counted plastic lids, he said, “We are not doing this as a grief of her death, but a celebration of her life.”