by Lisa Tome
When it comes to turning trash into treasure, Sam Gonce is at the head of the class.
And at the head of the school.
"He really took the lead on it," said Charlestown Elementary School principal Rose Clark.
Gonce, head custodian at the school, and a school system staffer for 25 years, researched and initiated various recycling programs which have earned cash and awards for the school.
Recycling juice pouches, cookie wrappers, and chip bags that were collected in the school cafeteria, and turning them over to upcycling company Terracycle, Inc. earned the school cash for a project.
In the 2009-2010 school year, participation with Terracycle enabled funding for a green project. That project consisted of restoring a meadow across from the school. That meadow is now used as an outdoor classroom. Gonce said that turning the barren area into a meadow helps the environment by preventing erosion and run off.
"It's important for the environment. The money they return is good for the kids. It's a win/win," said Gonce, who is a member of the Audubon Society and long been a steward of the land.
Gonce also brought the My Coke Rewards program to Charlestown. Collecting Coke caps and codes from Coke cases has also earned awards for the school. The PTA has now taken on this endeavor.
He initiated these programs long before they were the norm for the schools.
A recent recycling endeavor has Gonce and other custodial staff members recycling all the school's milk jugs and other classroom waste. That collection earned the school free benches which are outside the entrance.
"Schools can earn money if they get into these programs. It's not going to make them rich, but every little bit helps," said Gonce. "The entire custodial staff here helps. It's not just me."