The halls of East Broadway Elementary School in Levittown were quiet on Wednesday afternoon except for the excited chatter of a group of students that roamed them and the rustle of the big, black garbage bags they held as they hurried between classrooms.
“Recycling,” the students would announce as they peeked inside doorways before being welcomed inside to carry away the classroom’s discarded plastic water bottles.
The group of volunteers dutifully collects the school’s recycling twice a week. Every Friday, a parent volunteer picks up the week’s collection, brings it to a redemption center and returns the money to special education teacher Patricia Block, who leads the recycling effort.
Block said the school has been recycling for about five years, but three years ago decided to take the extra step of bringing the bottles to the redemption center and collecting the money. Each year, the money has gone to a different nonprofit, but this year, it’s especially close to the teacher’s heart.
So far this year, the school has donated about $500 to the Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Syndrome Association, which promotes awareness of the affliction, also known as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome.
Block’s daughter, Nicole, suffers from RSD, a neurological syndrome that causes severe physical pain. Nicole Block, 22, was diagnosed last year. The syndrome causes a severe burning sensation in her left foot, which at times has left her unable to walk. After intensive treatments, Patricia Block said her daughter can walk and run but was forced to quit her tennis team and still undergoes treatment.
Block said early treatment is the key to managing the disorder, which does not have a cure. In most cases, the RSD symptoms occur suddenly after a bodily trauma like a broken limb or sprained ankle.
"And it can affect children," she said. "That's why I think it's do important to make them aware."
The students have taken on the cause with zeal, nicknaming this year’s recycling campaign “Nickels for Nicole.”
On Friday, the students and parent-volunteers will be rewarded for their hard work with a special concert and assembly. Students will perform skits, sing and dance; there will be an “Are You Smarter than Mrs. Block’s Fifth Graders?” competition including parents; and special guests, including Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick), representatives from the Town of Hempstead, and Jim Broatch, executive director of the RSD association.
“This assembly is really to thank the students and the parents,” said Block, who has taught in the district for 20 years and at East Broadway for 10 years. “In the beginning, I had to ask for volunteers. Now everybody wants to do it.”
Block said the students come into her classroom, look at pictures of her daughter posted on her wall and ask how she is doing. They’ve made recycling posters to spread awareness of their mission with slogans like “Recycling Rocks” and “Through Recycling We Can Save Lives.”
Fifth-grader Dylan Tobie said he feels a special connection to the project because his brother suffers from cerebral palsy so he knows how important it is to give hope to someone with a disability
“It’s important that we are raising money and awareness so they can feel better and we can help them,” he said.
Justin Hama, another fifth-grader at East Broadway, said he has been collecting school recyclables since he was in the first grade. He said it’s fun to do but it also feels good to know they are making a difference.
“I think it’s important for us to go green for the Earth,” said Hama. “But also important because we are helping Mrs. Block’s daughter.”