SMS teacher brings renewal through recycling program, helping others

SMS teacher brings renewal through recycling program, helping others

Not only does Christine VonDissen help everyday items go through a process of renewal through her recycling program at Scottsburg Middle School, she also helps people go through a process of a renewal, caring for each one along the way.

“I have always been a helper, explainer, and supporter,” said VonDissen, a special education teacher at Scottsburg Middle School. “I played teacher from about 4-years-old on, holding class-time with my dogs and dolls; I guess it was just in my blood.”

Before coming to work at SMS, VonDissen worked with teenagers at Englishton Park in Lexington, Ind., a residential program that helped teenage boys with behavior disorders. The program was a partnership between Three Springs, the Madison Area Special Services Unit and the Indiana Department of Education.

“I always wanted to help troubled teens,” VonDissen said. “[Englishton Park] started out as a fabulous program, and we really did change lives. […] There were three teachers and each of us taught a wide variety so the boys were able to stay on track or get back on their academic track. Most of the boys were adjudicated there but private placement was always accepted.”

VonDissen’s willingness to help others, especially those in difficult circumstances, stems from her upbringing in Michigan.

“I think coming from such a caring family and being the youngest, so I was naturally spoiled with love, made me the caring person I am in life,” VonDissen said. “Being loved unconditionally and constant support showed me that others in life are not so lucky, so it is my hope to help change that. I love helping the underdog, especially to show others how wrong they are.”

Along with the love she received from her family, VonDissen learned about the world as a child through her father, who worked for American Airlines.

“My father worked for American Airlines, so we traveled quite a bit. With each visit to a new culture, he made it so important that we understood that there were differences in people and yet we are all similar,” VonDissen said. “He wanted us to appreciate the rich diversity of life. It made teaching a perfect match for me to spend my life with others.”

A few years after the Englishton Park program ended, the opportunity for VonDissen to work at SMS became available, and she took it.

“This is a fabulous school district, and when the opportunity became available at the middle school, I knew instantly that is where I wanted to teach,” VonDissen said.

At SMS this year, VonDissen started a school-wide recycling project. A similar project is used at Scottsburg High School.

“I reached out to see if the staff would be interested in participating in a recycling program; the response was tremendous,” VonDissen said.

To kick off the program at SMS, VonDissen contacted the Southeastern Indiana Solid Waste District and gave each teacher a recycling bin for their classroom. Each week, VonDissen and her class collect the recyclable materials — paper, which is called fiber; cardboard, which is corrugated not thick; No. 2 plastic; and aluminum, along with tin from the kitchen, she said.

On Mondays, the class goes to the sixth-grade wing; on Tuesdays, the class goes to the seventh-grade wing; and on Wednesdays, the class goes to the eighth-grade wing. Each day, the class checks the recycling bins in the gymnasium, the teachers’ lounge, and the media center. On Friday, the students perform a full sweep of the middle school to make sure no recyclables are left in the bins over the weekend.

Through it all, VonDissen encourages her students to make good choices.

“I always tell my students, ‘They cannot take away from you what you know.’,” VonDissen said. “Another big one is ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right.’”

The small changes VonDissen makes in the lives of her students results in a big impact over time. At Scott County School District 2, VonDissen’s story is our story. Your story matters. You matter.