Earth Day Education: Discovery Center opens new exhibit to educate youngsters on recycling

Published: Apr. 21, 2023 at 6:57 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - On the eve of Earth Day, Springfield’s Discovery Center unveiled a new exhibit designed to educate youngsters on recycling.

It is called “The Big Good Recycling Machine.” It is a fun, interactive simulation allowing visitors to sort recyclable materials into their respective recycling “destinations” using three large hand-crank conveyor belts. The recyclables then move through a chute system to their end destinations.

First envisioned by Tyler Moles, Discovery Center VP of Operations, this first-of-its-kind exhibit was built by local inventor, engineer, and fabricator Larry Askren. It represented a significant community investment in the Discovery Center and was funded through grants from Ozarks Headwaters Recycling District and GFL Environmental.

“Ozarks Headwaters Recycling District believes strongly in education towards recycling and environmental stewardship,” said Angie Snyder, a Planner with the Ozarks Headwater Recycling District. “We are proud to partner with the Discovery Center to bring this one-of-a-kind recycling education exhibit to the children of Southwest Missouri.”

“Environmental Education is extremely important, and we at GFL Environmental believe it is essential to support youth environmental education initiatives in the communities we serve,” said David Bahrenburg, Regional Vice President with GFL Environmental.

On Friday, Brooklynn Forester, a third grader from Thayer, spent a lot of time and energy cranking the conveyer belt that sent the items to their recycling destinations. Her classmates, who were also part of the field trip, were helping her out by separating boxes, plastic, and cans.

“You need to recycle,” Forester said. “Because if you don’t, then animals might eat the trash and kill themselves.”

“It’s kind of like a teacher’s dream that they can tell you what they’ve learned in the classroom when they get outside that setting,” said Forester’s teacher Danielle Brown. “It makes you feel really proud.”

“It’s really for the younger children to just become familiar with recycling through play,” added Moles. “So they get the items and match them with the shape of the hole they go in. There’s also a video that teaches them about recycling while they play. And there’s a physical aspect to it as well to encourage them to use their mind and their body.”

The recycling center is one of several new exhibits and upgrades at the Discovery Center since the pandemic. And one of the significant reasons the Discovery Center has the money for those changes is because of how the center handled the COVID-19 outbreak by opening its doors to anything the community needed, from childcare to school classrooms.

Their efforts did not go unnoticed, as a family in Philadelphia donated $1 million to the Discovery Center.

“All this really started in 2020 when Jeff and Janine Yass were very interested in helping the schools in the Philadelphia area during the pandemic to make sure that the students didn’t have learning loss,” explained Discovery Center Executive Director Rob Blevins. “One of the things they did was buy Chromebooks for all Philadelphia schools. But when students started to fall behind with virtual learning, they became disappointed with that technology and how it was being used so they looked around to see if anybody was doing anything different. They set up an award to find an educational institution that had become innovative during COVID with something sustainable, transformational, and outstanding. So we sent them a 30-page application for the award, and in December 2021, we were announced as the winner.”

While the Discovery Center was already involved in various upgrades and changes, adding $1 million makes a big difference.

“We were able to open and expand a preschool on the southwest part of town,” Blevins pointed out. “And if you haven’t been to the Discovery Center, you need to re-discover it. We now have an indoor digital playground where you take a dodgeball and throw it against a giant wall to play games that are also educational. We’re the only science center in America that has that. We also have an interactive sandbox that came from Europe. We have a new preschool play area as well as a 3D print lab that’s had some upgrades recently. We’re currently 3-D printing the Mars Perseverance Rover, and on display, we have an R2D2 replica from Star Wars made with our 3-D printing. We’ve got virtual reality simulators and even have a plane cockpit where you can simulate starting up a twin-engine plane. All the controls are authentic, so it’s a pretty cool experience. And we also have an indoor farm now where we produce about 90 pounds of produce a month that we supply to food banks.”

The Discovery Center is a science center and children’s museum that serves the educational needs of 4 countries, over 30 states, and over 100,000 annual visitors and was the inaugural Yass Prize of Education winner in 2021, the Association of Science & Technology Centers (ASTC) Community Service Award winner in 2022, and Macaroni KID Awards’ Best Place for Indoor Fun, Best Place for Playdate, Best Children’s Birthday Party Venue in 2023.

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