By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
PITTSBURG, Kan. —
Anyone who litters in Pittsburg today will have to deal with 4,000 angry students, staff members and city employees.
“If I see someone toss something out of a window after all of this, I’m going to be mad,” said Megan Smith, a Pittsburg High School freshman who worked diligently with classmates Wednesday morning to collect trash from roadsides just north of Pittsburg State University.
They were joined in their efforts by students in kindergarten through 12th grade and staff members from every private and public school in Pittsburg: Lakeside, George Nettels, Meadowlark, Westside, Pittsburg Community Middle School, PHS, St. Mary’s-Colgan Schools, Covenant Harvest, Countryside Christian and the Family Resource Center.
City employees from every department, including City Hall, also joined in, as did members of Pittsburg Beautiful, a grass-roots nonprofit organization.
For two hours under picture-perfect skies, the youths fanned out on foot along 12.5 miles of city streets in search of litter. They were armed with trash bags provided by Pitt Plastics and Via Christi Hospital, and they wore latex gloves provided by Via Christi, Fastenal and the Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas.
Police and fire department personnel drove designated areas in vehicles with emergency lights to assist the cleanup crews with road crossings. Crews in city trucks patrolled designated areas and accepted bags of trash from groups along the route, then hauled them to a 40-yard trash bin at Pittsburg Community Middle School in the heart of town.
The event, a first for Pittsburg, was designed to dovetail with communitywide cleanup campaigns by the city and Pittsburg Beautiful. It was the brainchild of Pittsburg school Superintendent Destry Brown, who had been a part of similar, smaller efforts in Frontenac and Chanute, and wanted to try it on a larger scale.
“I’ve been thinking about it for four years, but I knew it would be a huge undertaking,” he said. “It required a great deal of organization, maps to plan who would go where and how they would get there. We also had 4,000 pairs of hands to get gloves and trash bags for.”
The only people staying behind at schools and city offices were nurses and those tending phones.
Klair Parsons, a senior at Pittsburg High School, said that when she first learned what the students were to spend their morning doing, she “was a little mad.”
“It didn’t sound fun,” she said. “Then I realized it was probably a good idea. This town needed to be cleaned up. There is trash everywhere. In the end, it was rewarding, I think, to see we made a difference.”
Pittsburg High School English teacher Juli Holland shepherded her students along Madison Street between Elm and Joplin streets. They collected bottles, plastic foam cups, wrappers — even a hubcap.
“I am happy to help, because this town really needed it,” Smith, the freshman, said. “I notice the trash a lot when we’re driving by.”
First-grade teacher Ellen Goode guided her 14 students around Lakeside Park across the street from their school, stopping occasionally to ask, “Is that something over there? I think I might see something. Do you see it?”
She also used the outdoor time for learning opportunities. Each day in class, she discusses with her students what phase the moon is in. On Wednesday, she was able to show them.
“Look at the moon, guys,” she said. “You can see it right over there.”
In another neighborhood, fourth-grader Braden Badart was praised by his teacher for his “eagle eyes.”
“I just keep my eyes open,” he said, “and when I walk past and realize what it is, I grab it. I looked forward to this a little bit because this community needs cleaned up.”
It worked, Brown said at 11:30 a.m. as he stood by a trash bin donated by Randy Vilela Demolition and watched the final load being deposited.
“This speaks to the success — this was scattered all over town,” the superintendent said. “On the way here, I could tell the places we had been and the places we hadn’t. It’s amazing what kind of difference you can make in a couple of hours.”
He said he appreciated the cooperation of multiple schools and businesses to make it happen, and he would like to make it an annual event.
City Commissioner Marty Beezley, who has long been vocal about cleaning up the town, was on hand at the middle school to watch the final loads arrive.
“I just really want to compliment Pittsburg Beautiful and all the schools for helping to pick up our town, and to emphasize how important it is to keep our city clean for them to be able to live and prosper here when they grow up, and to attract new residents,” she said. “I can’t thank them enough.”
Smith said she also had something she wanted to say to those who had created the litter she worked hard to collect.
“You’re just making your own community look bad,” she said. “Just wait next time to throw it away when you get home. I mean, why wouldn’t you?”
PITTSBURG BEAUTIFUL has slated a cleanup day for the Highway 69 Bypass on the west edge of Pittsburg starting at 10 a.m. Saturday. If the weather is questionable, volunteers may call the club’s president, Jeff Wilbert, at 620-249-8169 for confirmation.