Kids visit with Rocky the Recycling Robot in Toms River. (Photo: Toms River Public Works)
Kids visit with Rocky the Recycling Robot in Toms River. (Photo: Toms River Public Works)

The Toms River Department of Public Works has been chosen to receive a 2020 New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Award for Outstanding Educator/Educational Program, it was announced this week, for an outstanding puppet show that introduces kids to conservation.

Toms River Educational Specialist John Clark has developed a Clean Communities program focusing on non-point source pollution and recycling. In the program, “Tom the Duck” and “Rocky, The Recycling Robot” perform educational skits at Toms River elementary schools.

Kids visit with Tom the Duck in Toms River. (Photo: Toms River Public Works)
Kids visit with Tom the Duck in Toms River. (Photo: Toms River Public Works)
Kids visit with Rocky the Recycling Robot in Toms River. (Photo: Toms River Public Works)
Kids visit with Rocky the Recycling Robot in Toms River. (Photo: Toms River Public Works)

The “Tom the Duck” read-along puppet show program was created to educate Toms River’s children at an early age about the importance of avoiding littering and practicing recycling every day. During the program, kids learn that there is trash floating in the river, which is the home of “Tom the Duck.”  They learn about where the pollution is coming from, how trash can make its way to the ocean and river from their front yard and how it can harm our marine life.  The children all receive back packs, crayons and the informational coloring book for the read-along show. The show runs about 30 to 40 minutes long, and reaches over 1,000 students a year.

“Our goal is to introduce the students at an early age to the harm littering has on our ecosystem and wildlife, and the positive effects of recycling,” said Clark.

The Department of Public Works also takes their lessons outside the classroom with “Rocky, the Recycling Robot.” Rocky’s main focus, officials say, is recycling and reducing litter.  Rocky appears at events, field days and conducts boardwalk visits.  Rocky reaches roughly 5,000 children and adults each year.

Toms River officials, through the program, found a new way to teach the basics that many remember from their childhood.

“Fortunately, the three ‘R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – are relatively simple to introduce,” said Acting Public Works Director Anthony Benyola. “Learning the importance of being sustainable shows children that the environment is important, and can only help them become environmentally responsible adults.”

Kids visit with Tom the Duck in Toms River. (Photo: Toms River Public Works)
Kids visit with Tom the Duck in Toms River. (Photo: Toms River Public Works)
Kids visit with Tom the Duck in Toms River. (Photo: Toms River Public Works)
Kids visit with Tom the Duck in Toms River. (Photo: Toms River Public Works)

The criteria for the NJDEP’s Outstanding Educator/Educational Program includes: “Any teacher, administrator, community or student group, environmental educator or individual student whose actions have resulted in increased participation in recycling.”

This year’s recycling awards ceremony will take place virtually during an Association of New Jersey Recyclers webinar on Nov. 19, 2020.