Cleaning up litter is . . . S.M.A.R.T.

Think of them as a battalion of soldiers waging war on litter.

They are the 87 students of “S.M.A.R.T. Kids” at St. Mark’s School in Peoria. The program — “St. Mark Against Random Trash” — began a year ago as a way to clean up and beautify the area around the school.

All the students in third through eighth grades participate unless they are involved in school activities that take place on trash pick-up day, according to Mrs. Pat Nedza, the school secretary, who started S.M.A.R.T. Kids.

The S.M.A.R.T. Kids are responsible for an area of 10 to 12 city blocks in the neighborhood around St. Mark’s School, said Mrs. Nedza.

The students are divided into two teams, Blue and Gold, named for the color of their shirts, which also happen to be the school colors. Each team has four groups, dubbed A through D, who separate to cover different parts of the neighborhood.

Trash pick-up day is always on a Monday, except when the school is closed on holidays, and the teams take turns, alternating every other week.

Before heading out, the team prays to the program’s patron saint, Blessed Jacob Laval, asking him to help them “open our eyes to the wonders of God around us,” and to guide them “as we try our hardest to take part in helping our society and the world around us.”

They also take the S.M.A.R.T. Kids pledge, which reads: “Because I am proud of myself, my house, my neighborhood and my school, today I will throw litter away in the right place, pick up one piece of litter, and ask my friends to stop littering.”

The teams compete on the amount of trash they collect, and compare stories about interesting items they find, according to Mrs. Nedza.

Not only is it fun, said Mrs. Nedza, but it also builds pride in one’s neighborhood, promotes health and safety, and teaches the students to be responsible for the care of the places where they live.

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