BETTENDORF, Iowa — Pleasant Valley senior Ramya Subramaniam was given the highest honor a Girl Scout can achieve - a Gold Award - for her work creating a sustainable school supply collection program.
Her initiative gathers lightly used school supplies that students might throw away at the end of the school year. This includes notebooks, binders, folders, pens, pencil boxes, markers, crayons and more. All the items are then cleaned and donated to students in need.
To Subramaniam, this helps tackle student inequality in her community, as well as reduce the amount of supply waste headed toward landfills each spring.
In a press release, she stated, "at the end of every school year, students empty out their lockers, finding half-empty notebooks and unused folders. Many of these students either throw away their supplies or leave it in their basement for who knows how long! These supplies eventually are thrown away and end up in the landfill. If these supplies are reused by students, there are less supplies in the environment and more in the hands of students who need them.”
Even the items that have been doodled on get repurposed. Subramaniam says she'll either erase the existing marks or draw over them, to create a brand new design for its future owner.
"The stuff you wouldn't think would be an issue for someone in your community... it's actually an issue," she said. "I think it's amazing to see these supplies that I feel lots of kids find it coming easily to them - it's difficult for other students in our community to get them."
Now, even with Covid-19 disrupting her first year of supply collections, Subramaniam has already collected over 600 items. She said when school closed early in the spring, family, friends and volunteers from all over jumped in to bring her their supplies.
Eventually, Subramaniam brought everything to a church in Milan, where they were distributed amongst local students, including a growing Myanmar refugee population in the area. Now, her donations have helped more than 30 kids get ready for this fall.
She first got the idea back in 2018, after noticing all the half-used notebooks and supplies that were left behind in lockers and stuffed into basements. After attending a service-learning trip to Peru, she started to imagine the possibilities she could create for students all over the world.
"I realized that, I mean I reuse my supplies but I know many students don't. So maybe those students who don't want to reuse their supplies, those supplies could be going to other students who need them," she said.
While Subramaniam says she plans to start locally and let the program grow, she has plans to eventually donate supplies to international communities as well.
And even though she'll graduate this spring, she's working with several local organizations to ensure that once she's gone, the environmentally sustainable, community-forward project she's started, will continue.
If you or your school district want to get involved with this spring's collection, you can message the Pleasant Valley Environmental Club here.