Student activist spearheads recycling effort

Sunday, May 27, 2007
Jonathan Ratliff directed fellow Blue Eye High School students May 8 as they unloaded a trailer full of cardboard for recycling at the back of Harter House in Kimberling City, Mo. Ratliff organized a recycling program for the school of 700 students. (Christina Dicken ~ News-Leader)

BLUE EYE, Mo. -- Jonathan Ratliff was looking for a service project for Blue Eye High School's Teenage Republicans club when he watched "An Inconvenient Truth."

Inspired by former vice president Al Gore's movie about the global warming crisis, the senior who founded the club organized a recycling program for the school of 700 students. It's called TRUTH Recycling, and it stands for "Teenage Republicans United Toward Humanity."

Over the past six months, the program has gained support from several communities and private businesses. And students and school officials say they expect the program will continue even without Ratliff, who graduates this month.

"This is where you really realize one person can make a difference," said Connie Mc-Griff, a teacher and club sponsor. "He has been the total inspiration for it. It shows that one person can drive a lot of other people to get moving."

The project has already reduced the amount of trash at the school, and local residents are beginning to bring their recyclables as well, said superintendent Dan Ray.

"It's a great service to the community," he said.

Blue Eye junior Jennifer Girard said Jonathan is "very commanding. He knows how to tell people to get it done."

She'll help continue the project this fall.

"I don't mind at all doing it," she said. "You know, save the planet and all."

This fall, the energetic, fast-talking senior plans to study political science at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

"I want to become an attorney," he said. "Maybe go into environmental law. Especially the way everything is going, and global warming, environmental law is the coming thing.

"And I'll have to make the money to be able to afford my political campaigns. I hope to be governor and maybe president."

McGriff, for one, thinks Ratliff could go all the way.

"I expect to dance at his Inaugural Ball someday," McGriff said. "The best thing about being a teacher is that we see a lot of great things the kids do every day, and you realize our future is in good hands."

McGriff, a social studies teacher at Blue Eye High for the past 13 years, said she's been amazed by Ratliff.

"Normally, when I sponsor something, I do the work, and the kids go along with it, but on this, Jonathan did all the legwork," McGriff said.

Learn and Serve America awarded the project a $500 grant. The Washington D.C.-based group encourages students to organize community service projects linked to classroom learning.

Ratliff's group of 10 students also got donations from local residents and from Wal-Mart stores in Branson, Branson West and Berryville, Ark. With the funds, they bought bins for classrooms and hallways to hold paper, aluminum and plastic. Cafeteria staff now separate recyclable products.

Tyson Foods donated a large storage bin. Nestle Purina PetCare in Springfield brought a bin for paper products, which the company turns into pet litter.

A recycler in Berryville picks up the tin, and Pepsi-Cola collects the aluminum. Students haul some items to the Kimberling City recycling center. And Butch and Lisa Bettlach, owners of Harter House in Kimberling City, invited the students to use their paper baler to compact cardboard.

"I'm all for it," said Blue Eye Mayor Jerry Kerns. "It's a good program."

For their efforts, Learn and Serve recently presented the project its "Inspire By Example" award.

When Ratliff began the project, he visited Debbie Redford, the city of Branson environmentalist. She gave him a tour of the city recycling center, which opened 14 years ago.

"What's unusual is to see a high school student taking the initiative, and saying, 'I'm going to make this work,"' Redford said.

Jonathan's parents, Jonathan and Glenda Ratliff, are both Blue Eye High School graduates. The family operates a kennel, Chihuahuas By Ratliff. Jonathan's brother, Jordan, 15, also helps with the recycling.

Jonathan's father said his son has always been a go-getter.

"As a kid, he was always outgoing and well-spoken," his father said. "Of course you're proud when you son is doing something like this."

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