Middle School Students Kick "Butts" for a Good Cause

May 20, 2019 05:55 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- It started off as a science project back in 2012 at John Adams Middle School. Now, it’s become an annual event school.

Each school year, students look forward to the end of May in hopes that they’ll be a “Butt Kicker,” a position that isn’t easy to get and for those who do, they’re tasked with keeping downtown Rochester clean.

Though the event wasn’t around when she was a student, John Adams Middle School science teacher Deb Las fondly remembers a moment between a sixth-grader and a stranger during a past event.

"He walked up to a gentleman that was smoking downtown, he said, 'I'm with the Butt Kickers and I'm not telling you whether you should smoke or not, but what are you going to do with that cigarette butt when you're done smoking? May I suggest you dispose of that or, at least, give it to me?'"

A pretty forward way of letting someone know you’re going to kick their butt: their cigarette butt, that is. Leading up to the actual picking up of cigarette butts, the students are taught about the impacts of cigarettes, from the health effects to environmental impacts.

"They are litter, they are not biodegradable and their filters are an acetate," said eighth-grader Taylor Adams. Now a leader, 2019 was her third year participating and her first year as a leader.

The acetate that Adams mentioned is a type of plastic that’s found in the filters of cigarettes. While there are health benefits to adding the filters to cigarettes, the filters are actually detrimental to the surrounding environment. The acetate can take years to break down; the harmful chemicals can leak into the environment as well. Which is why Adams says she’s excited to see fellow students of all ages participating.

"I think it's awesome for all of us, especially the young and older kids, to be helping the environment."

Interestingly enough, there are some animals that can break down the cellulose acetate: rabbits, rodents and termites. Humans lack the ability to break down the cellulose because they don’t have cellulolytic enzymes.

The Butt Kickers don’t have to worry about that; instead, they’re worried about who could collect the most butts, treating the clean-up like a contest.

"It is kinda fun. Who gets the most bags is kinda the winner of the contest but, yeah, it's very fun," Adams said.

For each butt they “kick,” 5 cents is donated to the Science Alive! Lab, courtesy of the Rochester Parks Department and Rochester Downtown Alliance, up to $1,000.

However, despite collecting more than 23,000 cigarette butts, an unbelievable 5,000 short of their 2018 total, the event is more than cleaning up downtown Rochester and the surrounding environment.

"We want to show kids that there is... we want you to feel good about yourself, we want you to feel good about your leadership role, being positive, spreading the word,” Las said. “That's what's really cool, is to see so many of these kids go on and become positive leaders."


Blaise Keller

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