Aspen Middle School students clean locally while raising money to help education in Guatemala |

Aspen Middle School students clean locally while raising money to help education in Guatemala

Michael McLaughlin
The Aspen Times
The sixth-grade class from Aspen Middle School collected more than 500 pounds of trash at three local ski areas as a community project. They also raised $2,000 to help train teachers in Guatemala.
Katherine Gleason/Courtesy photo |

A group of Aspen sixth-graders took part in a school project called Trash for Cash this week and had an engaging situation come up during the project.

The kids were picking up trash at three local ski areas to raise money for a school in Guatemala when one student found a lost engagement ring. After a little investigative research, the owner of the ring was located.

“We helped our community, the school in Guatemala and returned the lost ring to its owner,” said sixth-grade teacher Katherine Gleason. “Now that’s a successful project.”

The Trash for Cash program came about after a group of teachers at Aspen Middle School brainstormed and came up with a service-learning program that not only would help the Aspen community but also would raise money to go toward other projects.

The sixth-graders from the middle school made a deal with Aspen Skiing Co. and Related Colorado to turn trash they would pick up into cash. That money would then go to help train teachers in Guatemala, an idea that came from sixth-grade student Eloise Clark.

Eloise had visited Guatemala in February with her father, Tom. They were part of a group with Cooperative for Education, a nonprofit organization based in Ohio that works to break the cycle of poverty in Guatemala through education.

Eloise said she was moved by the kindness and hospitality of the students in Guatemala despite the level of poverty they had to live with.

“I know I’m only 11, but it was a life-changing experience to meet those kids in Guatemala,” she said. “Those kids are no different than we are, except they don’t have the same resources we have. To help them means the world to me.”

On Monday and Tuesday, the sixth-graders worked under the ski lifts at Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and Snowmass to pick up trash that was hidden by snow until recently. By Tuesday afternoon, the students had picked up more than 500 pounds of trash, which will earn them $1,000 from both Skico and Related.

“The students worked the base areas and under ski lifts as far as they could until they reached snow levels,” Gleason said. “We had more than 70 kids working, and they did a great job. Skico works very hard and does a great job keeping their ski areas clean. But as the snow melts, you can find some amazing things.”

Sixth-grader Alexis Zeringue was looking for trash when she came across an engagement ring under the Village Express chairlift at Snowmass.

The Snowmass Police Department was contacted, and sure enough, it had a report of a lost ring during the ski season and helped identify the band as belonging to Jessica Cohen, from the Boston area.

“She couldn’t believe Alexis found her ring,” Gleason said. “I don’t think she ever expected to see that ring again.”

On Wednesday, the students took pieces of the trash and worked with middle school art instructor Rae Lampe to make a mural of the world. Gleason said it was symbolic of how our world is filling up with garbage.

“When the students actually saw how much trash they picked up, they were astounded,” Gleason said.

The students are visiting the Pitkin County landfill today not only to drop off the 500-plus pounds of trash they gathered; they’ll also spend some time learning just where the garbage goes.

As far as Gleason is concerned, the Trash for Cash project has been a home run on many levels.

“We’re hoping to do this again next year,” she said. “We couldn’t have made this happen without the pledge support of Skico and Related Colorado. They really stepped up and supported their community, and our kids followed through on their end. We also made a woman in Boston very happy.”

For Eloise, she said when she hears the daily school announcements that always include the words “You can change the world,” she’ll start believing.

“Those words really hit home for me with this project,” she said. “It’s been very inspiring to see that we really can do something to change the world in a positive way.”