After months of counting, sorting, and collecting beverage containers in what St. Cornelius School's principal called a "dungeon" in the convent basement, the school has won a $50,000 grand prize for green improvements.
That money is part of almost $250,000 in prizes to schools for participation in PepsiCo's "Dream Machine School Makeover."
The Dream Machine Recycle Rally is a program to raise awareness for students in kindergarten through 12th grades.
Through the program, PepsiCo donates based on the number of cans collected to the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, which offers education in small business management for post-9/11 veterans with disabilities, according to PepsiCo.
St. Cornelius beat out about 900 schools by collecting 885,000 beverage containers to be recycled, which averages out to 5,270 containers per student.
With that number, along with the containers out of the "dungeon" and into the open, the school took time for an assembly to celebrate the recycling they had done and the big money prize.
"When I came to St. Cornelius School two years ago, I was told this was the best-kept secret on the northwest side. I have to say, I think the secret is out," principal Christina Bowman said.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel came to the celebration and credited the school's teamwork for its success.
"The lesson is what happens when you work as a team, when focused on a goal, working together, rather than competing against each other, but what you can do achieving something as a team."
The congratulations for St. Cornelius come on the same day Emanuel announced he is teaming up with 14 commercial buildings for green improvements as part of the Retrofit Chicago's Commercial Buildings initiative.
But the initiative by adults did not stop the mayor from adding a few words of encouragement to the kids before he left.
"Don't ever bet against the kids of the city of Chicago," he said. They're the best kids in the world.