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Nashville students produce art to promote recycling.

Nashville may be known as Music City, but it's the visual arts that are helping to raise recycling awareness there. A contest held every year by Metro Nashville Public Schools, Metro Public Works, and the Austin, Texas-based Red River Service Corporation rewards 3rd- and 4th-grade students who produce the most inspired pieces of environmentally-themed art. The winning entries are emblazoned on the sides of collection vehicles that service the Nashville metro area.

Red River President Jim Smith says the contest was launched in 2006 in cooperation with Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. “We always thought that it'd be a great way to promote environmentally sound practices and educate children as to the importance of the recycling programs, particularly when you can catch them at a young age,” says Smith. “It really sparks their interest in this work.”

The contest features a different theme each year, this year's being “Go Green to Keep Nashville Clean.” More than 100 entries were received from 46 metro Nashville elementary schools. Those were winnowed down to 72 finalists, from which a panel of Nashville Metro Council and Nashville Arts Coalition members selected four winners. Ashley Banda, a 4th-grader from John B. Whitsitt Elementary, was the Grand Prize winner, netting $1,500 for her school's art department. Her drawing was also featured in the Dec. 4 Nashville Christmas Parade. Giang Nguyen and Demonte' San'Quez Hunter, the 2nd- and 3rd-place winners, won $1,000 and $500 for their schools' art departments, respectively.

The final prize, the Red River Award of Distinction, is selected by Red River employees. This year's winner, Maya Johnson, garnered $500 for the art department at Sylvan Park Elementary Paideia Design Center. All winners have their art displayed on Red River's Nashville fleet of 20 trucks for six months.

As with many initiatives seemingly targeted at kids, the voluntary contest is as much about reaching parents and changing their behavior. Smith says that though art teachers provide guidance, the contest is really pitched as an “at home” project. “Once you get the children involved with these contests, they of course bring their parents in too,” he says, noting that as the adults help their kids research the project, they learn about recycling as well. “It ends up being a family-wide thing.”

But Smith reaffirms that it is the students and the creativity they display on the side of his trucks that really drive the program. “There are a lot of talented kids out there, I can promise you that.”

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