The Waccamaw Intermediate School PTO in Pawleys Island, S.C., knows that the most rewarding results come from the biggest effort. That’s why they took on a big goal: saving the planet—while also fundraising, educating students, and creating community.

Earlier in 2011, the PTO started the Gators Going Green campaign, designed to educate students about the importance of caring for the earth. The yearlong program kicked off with a communitywide event that won PTO Today’s 2011 Parent Group of the Year award for Outstanding Family Event. The Gators Going Green Night had interactive education stations and games so the more than 350 attendees could drill down on the basics of the three R’s—reduce, reuse, and recycle.

The highlight of the event was a fashion show featuring 28 “eco-chic” styles created by students from recyclable materials. A local salon provided hair and makeup services using eco-friendly products, and the designers competed for a recycled trophy.

Students and teachers could sign a pledge banner showing their commitment to making a difference in the community’s green movement. A teacher reported that after the event, students were looking for the recycling symbol on products at home and researching what could be recycled. “Because of the fashion show, I learned a lot of information about recycling,” said 6th grader Alex Sanders. “So in the future, there will be less trash in the landfills.”

The Gators Going Green campaign worked to reduce waste at school and increase recycling. Throughout the school year, students and school custodians sorted paper, plastic, and aluminum products. A recycling company transported the materials to a local facility each week. The PTO footed the bill.

The PTO also sold reusable grocery bags as a fundraiser and switched from a paper newsletter to an electronic version, called Gator Tales. The school started an organic fruit and vegetable garden fertilized with composted food from the school cafeteria and created an outdoor classroom made from recycled materials and using rain barrels for watering. On Earth Day, families helped plant 15-foot trees.

What the judges loved: The fashion show raised awareness of sustainability issues and taught the students the value of looking beyond their own community and affecting global issues. The event was creative, free, and well-attended.

Cool fact: The winning fashion design was a ball gown and headpiece made of plastic bags that resembled a Marie Antoinette costume.