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Trib Town • Sabin fourth-grader, pals take sustainable tack to boost school
by: Jonathan House, Sekai Edwards (middle) has spearheaded a recycling campaign at her school, Sabin Elementary, with the help of fellow classmates, including Aviance Norris (left), and Lauren Swan.

Yesterday, it was lemonade stands. Today, it's recycling drives.


Sekai Edwards, a fourth-grader at Northeast Portland's Sabin Elementary School, was searching for a way to raise some cash to update the school's desperately old and inadequate library.

'Nobody can really research anything in there,' said Sekai, who aspires to be an environmental lawyer and politician. 'Everything's super old, and it's super hard to find books. If you go in there, the books are before 1988.'

So Sekai approached her friends, the school's PTA, and the principal, and came up with the idea of a community recycling drive - a fundraising project similar to the one North Portland's Beach School already has been operating, with much success.

What a better way to help the school and planet, they thought, then offering parents the convenience of unloading cans, bottles and plastics as they drop their kids off in the morning?

Like many Portland Public Schools, Sabin - a K-8 neighborhood school of 350 students that will grow to include its first eighth-grade class next year - has many needs that have been unmet by the district.

One of them is its library collection, which currently serves its K-5 population but doesn't have much to offer its new crop of older students.

Even in an age when most kids go online to research projects, old-fashioned books - as well as encyclopedias, newspapers and magazines such as National Geographic - still are needed because the Internet isn't always available, Sekai said.

'The computer lab is getting more and more popular and really kind of hard for our teachers to deal with,' she said. 'Lots of kids fool around on the Internet. But with books, it's a lot easier. We really want a nice, good library, not all dusty. It's like, yuck.'

So after weeks of planning and negotiating with various recycling companies, Sekai recruited a small group of dedicated helpers, who all happen to be her best friends.

They are Ruby Weinstein, Laurence Swan and Aviance Norris, all 10-year-olds in the fourth grade like herself. 'I couldn't do it without my girls,' Sekai said.

The four have branded themselves 'Taking Charge,' and have a mission to 'guide kids to being great leaders.'

Ken Rumbaugh, the PTA president, said he was thrilled to hear that the students wanted to do their part to help the school in a sustainable way. 'I wasn't at all surprised that it was coming from Sekai Edwards,' he said. 'She's got a pretty adventurous, entrepreneurial spirit.'

Rumbaugh pitched in by delivering the recyclables to the Portland company Container Recycling Inc., which agreed to pay the school $20 per bag filled, according to Sekai.

'That took a lot of negotiating to do - long hours on the phone,' she said. 'We don't pay money for the bags since we drop them off.'

The goal is to earn $1,000 in seed money by the last day of school, June 10, and then leverage that to apply for outside grants or community donations totaling about $4,000. Sekai hopes to funnel some of the funding to buy new books in individual classroom libraries as well.

Historically, Rumbaugh said, Sabin has had only a handful of active parents in its PTA, but over the past several years, with the influx of young families buying homes in the neighborhood, the PTA has swelled to 130 members and fundraising is booming.

Their recent auction grossed $53,000, which they've begun to spend on their newly completed edible garden - a section of blueberry and raspberry patches, raised beds and fruit trees that will supplement their garden curriculum as well as their school salad bar.

With the change to a K-8 school, Rumbaugh said: 'Folks know they're going to be here for a long time. They want to make sure they're investing their time and energy where they're going to spend a large part of their lives.' '

Sabin School, 4013 N.E. 18th Ave., also is home to the district's Access program for gifted and talented kids. Access has its own principal, active PTA and parent community as well, although both schools are limited in their growth by the size of their building.

Sekai said that while this is the first big initiative she's organized, it won't be her last. She said her parents - her mom, Stacey, a contract manager at Stacy and Witbeck Inc., and dad, Lennie, a media arts teacher at Jefferson High School - have instilled in her the importance of doing little things like recycling and walking and taking the bus to school.

'My dad talks about the war and all this stuff going on, so I'm very conscious about that,' Sekai said. 'I know about global warming. I've always loved the environment and want it to be kept for my grandchildren and centuries on. I want to help engineer green cars and want our Earth to be Earth instead of being turned into a wasteland, and that's what's happening.'

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