LIVERMORE -- Creative Livermore students are taking to heart the adage that one man's trash is another man's treasure.

Students at Joe Michell Elementary and Middle School are rummaging through trash to turn junked Mylar juice pouches into colorful dog leashes, pencil pouches and tote bags that are donated to local charities.

"Students are using materials that would be otherwise in our dumps and are putting them to good use," Principal Laura Lembo said. "Plus, they're learning the skills of sewing. On top of that, they're donating what they've created."

The Mylar sewing classes are offered after school once a week, thanks to a grant procured by parent volunteer Natalie Avery. The $2,600 recycling grant from the Altamont Education Advisory Board was used to pay for six inexpensive sewing machines and instruction time.

Avery, a quilting enthusiast, got the idea to start a Mylar sewing class after going on a field trip to a recycling station and learning that Mylar takes more than 100 years, if ever, to break down. Then she read about a company that sells used Mylar packaging to China, where the trash is used to make backpacks.

"That's outsourcing," Avery thought. "Why are we not just making these items ourselves?" The grant stipulates that the project must involve recycling and any items created must be donated, she noted. After the program started in September, students decided to donate leashes to the Guide Dogs for the Blind's puppy trainer units and pencil pouches to Sleep Train's foster kids program.

"It's been a tremendous growing experience," said parent Victoria Wilson, whose two daughters, Waverly and Whitney, take the sewing class.

"They've learned the skills of sewing and using a sewing machine," Wilson said. "They're taking something that's trash and not recyclable and making something beautiful and functional with it. By taking these Mylar pouches that cannot be recycled, you're reducing the amount of overall garbage that you put into landfills."

Waverly, a fourth-grader, has been sewing Mylar since March.

"What I like about the class is it helps the foster kids," the 10-year-old said. "They'll get pencil pouches when they're going to go to school. It helps the dogs because we're making dog leashes, too."

The Mylar sewing class is among many free or low-cost after-school enrichment programs offered at the school and coordinated by Avery.

"Any time we can offer students an opportunity for enrichment classes that go over and above what we offer in the academic program, it's a win-win," Lembo said. "It builds wonderful character skills that only those experiences can provide. You can't learn that in a book."

Lembo is already considering other creative recycling classes, like when students dissected old phones to figure out how they work, then crafted them into robots and other fun items.

"The challenge for us will be how do we make this recycling program exciting for boys as well?" said Lembo, who noted only girls have signed up for the sewing classes. "It's rewarding for the students. It gives them a purpose. Any time we can give back to our community, it builds in our students that sense of pride, commitment and caring."

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