By Eve Nevelos, Editorial Staff ‘24

The Science, Medicine, and Research University Program is one of the two University Programs offered at Indian Hills. Students in the program were selected by Mrs. Manzi, the Science Department supervisor, and other UP teachers during their eighth grade year. SMRUP freshmen are challenged to create projects with real-world applications. This year, the freshmen students chose to do a collaborative project with Mrs. LaChac for the EPA’s America Recycles Day, on November 15. 

Although this assignment did not initially have the focus of being a sustainability project, the students had learned about environmental stewardship through participating in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Trout in the Classroom initiative, allowing them to raise trout, and their Biology curriculum. The group ultimately decided on doing a bottle cap collection, with the mission of creating a mural made out of bottle caps to display in the school. 

The SMRUP Biology honors class is increasingly more freeform than the standard freshman Biology class. The bottle cap project conforms to the state and district standards of designing a solution to a complex real-world problem, evaluating or refining technological solutions that reduce the impact of human activities and climate change, understanding natural resources and systems, recycling, and feedback loops. Mr. Michels, SMRUP Biology teacher, elaborates on this, saying, “Within each subject we get to take it in whatever way we want. In UP Bio, this is where the students decided to take it. […] The students have come up with everything and I’ve honed them a little bit. We talk a lot about how to do things and brainstorm a lot, but it was really their sole idea. I encouraged them to go bigger. The board we’re doing is 4 feet by 8 feet. It’s gigantic, whereas the stickers you do in the library are the size of your fingernail but the bottle caps are 1 inch by 1 inch and some of them are huge. It’s going to look like a big mosaic. It’s going to be really cool.”

Over the last few months, they have decorated the hallways with flyers with information about their project and bottle cap collection points (in the library and cafeteria). The freshmen hope to inform the IHHS community about the importance of recycling. “We noticed early on that the school does not have many recycling cans, and the biggest way to get people to recycle is to have accessibility. By doing this collection, we are trying to spread the message of recycling through a fun and interactive activity,” Maddyn explains, “[Through this project,] we have actually learned that Wyckoff and Oakland do not recycle bottle caps. When the towns receive bottle caps, they remove the caps from the bottles and discard them in the trash. We think it is important that bottle caps have a new purpose after being used, and after creating this mural, the caps will have a forever home at Hills.” 

The awareness campaign will focus on what happens to the bottle cap after drinking out of the container. Mr. Michels explains, “This is a real long term project. The initial part of the project was to just get this thing setup. Then, this is going to be like what Mrs. LaChac does with the stickers. People are going to come in and put the caps on and make this whole thing out of caps with velcro. Hopefully at that time, in January, there will be a QR code for the awareness or educational side of it where the student that’s actively engaged will be able to go to a link and be able to learn why we care about the bottle caps.”

The project has been successful thus far and has been met by support from the FLOW community. The SMRUP has received help from the SMRUP Instagram page (@ihupsmr) in promoting their initiative and from the Wyckoff Environmental Committee in sourcing bottle caps. Nehali Reddy, SMRUP freshman, talks about her involvement: “This project has been a really fun experience for all of us. There have been some ups and downs, but it really was a great way for our class to become closer. This helped us work better together, and we hope that this will be just as exciting for the rest of the school.” 

Maddyn McManus, SMRUP freshman, adds, “The entire student body will be able to assist in the creation of this mural. Look out in the future for a large board in the media center!” Keep an eye on the library to see the progress made by the freshmen.