FORTVILLE – A group of Mt. Vernon students has lobbied administrators to support a conservation effort aimed at making the district a little greener.

Students enrolled in the school’s developmental reading class have asked school officials to consider installing water bottle filling stations at the high school and to support their effort to provide students with reusable bottles. The benefits are two-fold, they say; not only will the filling stations conserve water typically lost when students try to fill up at conventional fountains, but it will eliminate waste from disposable bottles.

The group already has community support; it has partnered with Hancock Regional Hospital, which has agreed to provide at least 500 reusable water bottles to students at the school.

The effort began with a class project; students were challenged to collect data about plastic water bottle usage among students and collaborate to suggest improvements.

The students did that and more; they sought quotes for water bottles and filling machines, planned their pitch to administrators and branded their team the Mt. Vernon High School Green Machine, vowing to drum up interest among other students who can take on future projects.

Their teacher, Cindy Smith, said the students worked on the project for months and learned about collaboration, problem-solving, communication with fellow students and adults and staying focused on a goal.

“The project wasn’t a research paper; it’s not a speech,” Smith said. “It’s a project we want to bring to our school, and it’s going to happen because of them.”

The students conducted surveys, asking classmates and staff how often they drink from disposable water bottles. They found the school uses roughly 290,000 plastic water bottles a year.

Of the roughly 470 students surveyed, nearly half said they throw disposable plastic bottles away rather than reusing them. Experts say those water bottles take some 700 years to completely decompose.

The class has spent much of the school year working on the project and this week presented its work to the school board, telling members that administrators support their request to install five filling stations at the high school. In coming weeks, they’ll begin selling reusable water bottles to classmates to encourage them to ditch plastic.

School board members said they were impressed with the group’s project, some even joked they’d be first in line to buy a reusable bottle.

“You should be very proud of what you did,” school board president Mike McCarty told the students.

Lillyon Oak, a sophomore in the class, said she was surprised by how supportive her peers and teachers have been toward their effort to reduce waste.

“I’m happy they think our idea is a good idea,” she said. “It was a little shocking. It’s been really fun.”

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.