OTTUMWA — Fresh off the season of Easter egg hunts, the students of Wilson Elementary School were on a hunt of a different kind Thursday.

The students were in Ottumwa Park over the lunch period to pick up trash around the soccer and softball fields as part of Make Ottumwa Shine week.

“We start cleaning around Wilson first, Making Wilson Shine. Then we come over here on the fourth Thursday of the month to Make Ottumwa Shine,” said Principal Jeff Hendred.

The school is in its second year of the project. Hendred said the idea came out of the school’s PBIS committee. “PBIS carries a theme each month. With the month of April, we decided to connect it to Earth Day,” said Hendred. “The kids are excited.”

Their excitement was on display in full force as the groups of students made their way through the park. Kids were yelling out, “Trash!” in order to get the attention of one of the teachers carrying a purple trash bag.

Sometimes, it was the teachers alerting students to an item that needed picked up. “Eagle eye, I’m looking with my eagle eye,” said Hendred to a group of students. “Somebody say, ‘I spy.’”

A teacher was working in a different section part of the park with a younger group of students. “Once you start looking in an area, you start seeing lots of little things,” she told them as the picked up several items from the same spot.

Eventually, the students made their way under the Wapello Street Bridge via the trails system to Sycamore Park. There, they were rewarded for their work with a pizza lunch and time on the playground.

“It’s like a field trip to the zoo,” one student said under the bridge, “because of the sidewalk and the echoes.”

Hendred was planning on closing out the project by talking to the students about their experience and what they found. “It’s really interesting to see what they find and to see them taking part in something bigger than themselves.”

He talked about a student last year who really took the lesson to heart and paid attention to trash that was being left around his neighborhood.

“His mother told me about it and how he kept saying, ‘It’s not right,’” Hendred said. “I’m pleased to see it’s making and impact on the kids. It’s not just time out of school for them.”

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.


Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's magazine editor, leading production of "Ottumwa Life," the award-winning "Business People" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.