Miller City-New Cleveland - Putnam Sentinel
Miller City-New Cleveland students loading scrap metal pieces onto a trailer for transport. (Photo submitted)

MILLER CITY — Since 2011, Miller City-New Cleveland high school students have donated $20,000 to charity through a student-run project. This includes around $3,000 resulting from the 2015/2016 school year, a little under $5,000 for the 2016/2017 school year, and a projection of $5,000 that will have been earned for charity by the completion of the 2017/2018 school year.

Along the way, according to vocational agriculture instructor and FFA advisor John Koenig these students have contributed materials for hands-on learning in the classroom - touching on subjects such as mechanical engineering, applied physics, and economics.

As Koenig tells it, the project itself is not glamorous, can at times require hard physical labor, and has contributed to keeping materials that take a long time to breakdown out of the landfill. Yet the students remain excited and engaged as the effort continues to grow.

It all started, as Koenig relates, with an idea the students came up with themselves, “In 2011, Ron Horseman started the scrap metal project. It was underneath his advisory, but [Ron] will tell you, it was the students that did it. There were five or six students who came to him and said, ‘Scrap metal is high. There’s a lot of it just kind of lingering over all of our farms. Can we go out and gather up scrap metal, sell it for recycling and make donations to the community?’”

And, so they did, as Koenig explains, “Their first initial effort turned into a donation to St. Jude’s Hospital. I believe it was during that time that the Miller City-New Cleveland community had a couple of students going to St. Jude. It was a way to give back and help out the families who were in need.”

“Since they had incredible success in the first collection,” continues Koenig, “The students said they wanted to do a second one and expand. That’s when it became popular. The students decided to make it just one continuous effort.”

Not only are the students raising money for worthy causes, some of the collected materials are used in the classroom, as Koenig describes, “The students strip the materials, clean them and seperate everything out. They receive a lot of small engines, mowers, pressure washers, car engine parts. Part of the curriculum is small gas engines. So these items are used in the classroom as hands on tools.”

“What better way to understand what all goes into a small gas engine than to literally tear into it. You take off the covers, you pull out the flywheel, you take a look at the pistons and the rods and you talk about compression and ignition, all the systems of a small gas engine. In doing so, they’re getting a great understanding of what an engine is. I get a great teaching tool.”

“And in the end, if they want to try and diagnosing what is wrong with the engine and put it all back together, I’m more than happy to let them. By that point, they’ve already learned everything they need to know. Everything that we teach them with small gas engines ultimately translates into the larger engines, like cars and other vehicles.”

According to Koenig, Students from the school’s engineering department join the effort during their free time, such as study hall, and take on larger pieces like refrigerators and stoves. Economics is woven into the lesson plans as well, as Koenig describes, “We discuss the value of the materials as well and the time it takes to process it. I ask, ‘Is it really economical for you to do it on your own?’ The answer is often, ‘No.’ But, when you have a community coming together to one central location, then it starts making sense. The economical standpoint is brought up throughout the class. Do [the students] really understand the value of what [they’re] doing here? Does it makes sense?”

“If I can make the students think consciously about what they’re doing, and then apply that knowledge elsewhere, that’s what really energizes me. I see that happening quite often here.”

Collecting scrap metal for sale remains a student led initiative with significant community support, according to Koenig, “Today, we are now delivering on average a ton and half to two tons every two weeks (this is an average, Koenig states that is slows down in the winter, picks back up in the spring, and the average includes the summer when school is out). Nothing delights the administration, myself and energizes all the students more than us needing to take three or four trips to sell the recovered metal during busy times.”

Those readers interested in contributing to this ongoing effort are more than welcome to do so, says Koenig, “Just come up here to Miller City-New Cleveland School and you can drop off anything that has metal in it - raw metal, scrap metal from old farm machinery that’s just laying around, and now we’re collecting old televisions too. Just bring it all in. We’ll take it in. And, 100 percent of what is sold at the scrap yard goes directly back into the community, or to a charity, like St. Jude, that is active in the community.”

“We couldn’t have done it without the support, literally, of the entire county and beyond.”