Andrew Ross, a physical education teacher at Indian Creek Elementary, said for years the school’s grounds were used for illegal dumping but he and his students are trying to change that.
The Indian Creek campus, located in Clarkston, is approximately six acres. Ross said many residents use the various trails on the school grounds as a shortcut. Additionally, he said an estimated 700 of the nearly 1,000 students use the trails to walk to school each day.
“We’ve kind of had an extensive amount of issues on our school grounds,” Ross said. “An area behind our gym was used for a number of years for dumping mattresses, car doors—there were even some burnt couches. Since it’s so large it operates as sort of a community park at different times” Ross said.
Ross recently partnered with Clarkston Active Living Initiative, Keep DeKalb Beautiful and Atlanta Tool Bank to clean up the grounds. In early March, 200 volunteers participated in a school cleanup day. Nearly 100 of those volunteers were his students.
“We had some educational pieces in the classroom and that helped out tremendously,” Ross said. Many of the students at Indian Creek come from immigrant/refugee backgrounds and Ross said, the students speak nearly 30 different languages.
“We have a very multicultural school and each one of these students may have a very different view on litter,” Ross said.
Ross said he focused on how trash affected a community’s nearby water supply to help the children understand the importance of keeping their surroundings clean.
“Since I’m a physical education teacher I’m in a unique position to see every child at the school. So, I took each class back behind the school before we did the cleanup to show them how bad it looked. Most of them didn’t even know it was a part of their school,” Ross said. “They saw all of the different things like empty bottles, mattresses and discarded couches.”
After the cleanup, Ross said students from Campbell University, a Christian university in North Carolina, helped them turn the area they cleaned into a half-mile trail.
In addition to the cleanup effort, Ross said the school installed 20 trash cans for students, or people passing through, to use. Each homeroom at the school has adopted a trash can and is responsible for emptying it each day and making sure the area around it is clean.
Before undertaking this beautification project, Ross helped the school partner with the DeKalb County Board of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to obtain a $90,000 grant to improve the school’s field/playground.
“Prior to that the field was just sand,” Ross said.
“Beautifying the campus wasn’t one of those things we expected to change overnight,” Ross said. “But with the trash cans we’re seeing a remarkable difference.”