Local art students win first prize in carton construction contest

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published February 10, 2016

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SOUTHFIELD — One student’s trash is another student’s treasure.

With that mentality, five art students at Southfield Regional Academic Campus recently transformed hundreds of discarded milk cartons into a 16-foot sculpture of an alligator.

The students created the sculpture for and took first place in the Evergreen Packaging Made by Milk Carton Construction Contest. The students won $5,000 for their school.

Under the supervision of art teacher Molly McNeece, the five students — Jasmine Washington, Maurice Rugley, Torian Barnes, Duane Johnson and Trinity Carter — constructed the alligator sculpture using 1,345 repurposed milk cartons.

An alligator was chosen  to honor the school’s mascot and to represent the student body’s “fierce determination to succeed,” according to school officials. 

McNeece said students collected the cartons during the school’s breakfast and lunch sessions over a three-month period. They then washed out the cartons, hot-glued and spray-painted the pieces to make the alligator.

My kids told me every day we were going to win the competition, and they really worked hard toward the goal of completing the project,” McNeece said. “We’re really pleased they were chosen out of the whole country. They’re very proud of their sculpture.”

Given the texture of the cartons, the students and McNeece thought an alligator was a natural choice.

“The students and I sat together and looked at (the cartons) next to each other and noticed the texture and how they looked together,” McNeece said.

During a check presentation ceremony Feb. 3 at the school, the students said they learned how to work together.

“My favorite part was working to put it together into one big piece,” Carter, a junior, said.

Katie Simmons, of Evergreen Packaging, spoke at the presentation on the importance of recycling the milk cartons. She said the cartons are recyclable and are made from renewable resources.

“We wanted the students to learn about the recycling and repurposing of the cartons and to actually do it,” Simmons said.

Representatives of Prairie Farms dairy, which harvests the milk from 700 farms across the county, were also present at the presentation, as their milk is contained in cartons by Evergreen Packaging and is available at the school.

Dave Orlando, of Prairie Farms, said he hoped the students learned about the health benefits that milk has to offer.

“Milk is important to kids for learning and their memories. The vitamins and protein in milk are important,” Orlando said. “Milk will give them everything they need to get them through the day and learn.”

McNeece said the students learned how to tackle a lofty goal.

“I think the students learned about perseverance, cooperation and working together as a team to create something they couldn’t believe how they were going to do it. They made an unreachable goal come to life,” McNeece said.

According to school officials, each of the 156 participating teams was required to write a short essay detailing how their school would use the prize money if they won.

McNeece said the students plan to use the money to fix up the school’s courtyard and pond by planting flowering trees, spring bulbs and fall blooming flowers for the entire school to enjoy.

The school is looking for skilled labor to help get the courtyard into shape. Interested volunteers can contact McNeece at molly.mcneece@southfieldk12.org.

The prize money will also be used to purchase new supplies for the school’s art program, school officials said.