Trailblazing Teacher Awards - Fall 2013

Joseph da Silva, Green Building and Renewable Energy Engineering
Briston Community College, Massachusetts

Joseph da Silva uses project-based and place-based learning to inspire his students to think critically about sustainability issues in the world around them. In one class activity, he facilitates a debate between students concerning the merits and challenges of conventional energy and renewable energy, assigning specific students to address the people, planet and profit viewpoints within the conversation. Joseph also takes students on field trips to green buildings, photovoltaic and wind turbine system installations, and energy and green building conferences. To illustrate the various cycles of water, carbon, phosphorous and other elements, he takes students on nature walks and discusses with them the creative potential of biomimicry and systems thinking. Because his students come from a range of income levels and often have trouble purchasing the books and supplies necessary for their courses, Joseph makes the effort to purchase extra books for his classes to lend out to students who need them.

Amrik Brar, High School Science
Trimble High School, Trimble Local School District, Ohio

Amrik Brar has worked with a local non-profit partner to both transform the grounds of his campus and use the opportunity to teach students about civic and environmental action. Amrik’s environmental science class built a quarter mile trail behind their high school that gives all teachers and classes access to a deciduous forest environment that was previously inaccessible. His students learned trail-building techniques and species identification, and they explored human impacts on the environment. They also monitor two vernal pools on the school’s land lab. The pools were created by students three years ago and already provide important breeding habitat for amphibians, such as wood frogs and spotted salamanders. Amrik’s students submit the data they gather to the Ohio Vernal Pool Partnership, helping to fill a gap in biological data in Southeast Ohio. He brings his own passion into every opportunity for his students, and he spent several days of his own time this summer working on raised bed gardens outside of his classroom so that he can teach students about cultivated plants and their ancestors.

Michael Hershiser, Grades 5 and 6
Prairie Crossing Charter School, Prairie Crossing School District, Illinois

Michael Hirshiser’s students examine the food system and its impacts on the environment, learn about water resources and conservation, study sustainability and their own environmental impact, and explore local habitats and ecosystems through outdoor field studies. Students engage in research and problem-solving around real-world environmental issues, such as stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflow. When they discovered the effect of runoff on their community, Michael helped the students formulate a plan to raise money to purchase rain gutters and barrels while at the same time helping others to limit their runoff. They raised just over $3000 through the sale of painted rainbarrels, and the school board matched the funds. Students in Michael’s food system unit participate in sustainable food production on campus and eat local, healthy options. He created backpack lessons to help other teachers use the outdoors as a classroom as well. Through his work, he aims to help students realize the interconnectedness of life and how their own choices impact the greater world.

Chris Freeman, AP Environmental Science
Floyd E. Kellam High School, Virginia Beach City Schools, Virginia

Chris Freeman has worked to build environmental learning opportunities that span subject areas in his school. In his most recent collaboration, he developed an interdisciplinary ecoliteracy unit that involves A.P. English Language and A.P. Environmental Science classes. In this unit, students compare the harmful farming practices that caused the Dust Bowl to the negative effects of modern day factory farming. Through video projects and reading assignments from The Grapes of Wrath, Timothy Egan and Aldo Leopold, students begin to understand the social and environmental impact felt in Oklahoma and California during the Dust Bowl. Chris has also brought in architecture firms to work with students to research, develop and incorporate environmental building designs into the school. The students formed groups, developed proposals for the architects, and created scaled 3D models of their designs. The collaboration between Chris’s students and the local architects helped Kellam High School achieve its LEED Gold Certification.

Kerry Black, High School Special Education
Thomas Jefferson High School, Denver Public Schools, Colorado

Kerry Black has been working with various levels of students with disabilities to integrate green jobs training and opportunities into classroom learning. Kerry helps students plant and grow seedlings and then maintain the garden as part of a small business training internship over the summer. These students sell their produce at local farmers markets and participate in educational workshops. In the 2011-2012 school year, Kerry and her students participated in the Denver Public Schools’ Energy Challenge, where they earned third place out of 10 district high schools. Kerry’s students hosted an Earth Day Fair, conducted school-wide waste audits, collected "Do One Thing" pledges from 25 teachers, held a clothing drive, gave out reusable shopping bags, facilitated a "Lights Out" campaign and implemented a school-wide computer shut-down program. Students who participate in her classrooms are not only trained in valuable life and work skills that are indispensable for students with disabilities after graduation, but she also instills in them an understanding of the importance of being "green citizens," aware of their impacts to the planet.

Larry Beall, High School Energy and Sustainability
Central Campus, Des Moines Public Schools, Iowa

Larry Beall immerses students in environmental learning and action through a two year program called the Iowa Energy and Sustainability Academy. This program teaches topics related to environmental science, energy, sustainability, waste management, and related areas through hands-on field experiences. Through the intensive years of study, students earn four years of high school science credit, two years of high school math credit, and 18 college credit hours in math and science. Field experiences include visits to wind farms, wind factories, museums, and several outdoors ecology trips; and past service projects have included trips to Catalina Island and the Dominican Republic Rain Forest. Larry is working to set up a mentorship and internship program with local businesses to give his students even more opportunity for applied learning. Now in its third year, student demand for the program has risen from 18 to 60. Next fall, it is estimated to be over 120. Larry proudly points to graduates of the Iowa Energy and Sustainability Academy that have begun further study in wind technology training and Environmental Science majors at many universities.

Judith Weaver, Grade 5-8 Media Specialist
High Springs Community School, Alachua County Public Schools, Florida

Judith Weaver has conducted an integration of water lesson plans into a multidisciplinary, multi-teacher, multi-grade-level effort to increase student awareness of the value and importance of water. Using as a starting point the book Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Parks, she sparked a discussion among the school’s students and their community about water and the different ways that people around the world view it as a resource. Students studied how to care for the water supply and what problems the community has in protecting its rivers and aquifer. Reading teachers, science teachers, history teachers, and math teachers all became part of the project. Judith and her colleagues wrote and received $1000 to send 250 students to the University of Florida water exhibit, where students and parents completed a scavenger hunt throughout the museum about water throughout time. At the end of the year, students volunteered alongside the local Rotary Club to raise money for wells in Cambodia. By sparking environmental learning and action through reading, Judith has opened the door for more cross-disciplinary whole-school projects and discussions.

Susan Playe, Grade 5 Science
Pine Jog Elementary, Palm Beach County Schools, Florida

Susan Playe models sustainable behavior for her students, integrating sustainability into multiple facets of school life. She uses recycled materials for school decorations and student activities, and she leads student art projects using found objects. As the school’s yearbook sponsor, she has encouraged environmental themes within each of Pine Jog's first three yearbooks, including tips for green living, garden facts, and the three R’s of waste management (reduce, reuse, recycle). Susan has discovered many opportunities for her students to raise funds through recycling and other green efforts; and they have used funds from Terracycle’s recycling programs, Shoes for the Cure, home-made recycled jewelry sales, and school-grown produce to raise money for the school as well as donate to charities in the community. Not only do the students feel motivated after seeing the result of their fundraising work, but Susan also sees increased excitement around the food that students grown in the school’s hydroponic gardens. In fostering this efficacy in her students, she leads them to search out more opportunities to make a difference in their community.

Jamie Young, Grade 8 Earth Science
Kemps Landing Magnet School, Virginia Beach City Schools, Virginia

Jamie Young began advocating for sustainability at her school when she arrived 12 years ago, beginning a paper recycling program that has now grown to other schools and encompasses additional recyclables. Her students choose projects each year that they work on with help from each other and community professionals, and the results are programs and improvements that help the school community act with environmental responsibility. Jamie recently began a school-wide, full-day Earth Day experience in which students begin the morning with a community field trip, return for a trashless lunch, and then participate in workshops in sustainable living that are led by the teachers. This year, she worked with former students who were doing their Eagle Scout projects to move the cafeteria to a more permanent trashless lunchtime, purchasing and constructing two different kinds of composters and building a recycling sorting center. Jamie has worked successfully in collaboration with her principal and the school division, and she has seen her students truly make a difference in their community.

Darleen Horton, K-5 Environmental Studies
Cane Run Elementary, Jefferson County Public Schools, Kentucky

Darleen Horton introduces students to environmental concepts through her extensive work with a school garden and related projects, connecting students to their place on the planet. In a school where 95 percent of students receive free and reduced lunch, food is hugely important to the school community, so a food garden was a natural fit. The garden and its water feature have become central to math, literature and social studies lessons in addition to ecology and plant science. The school has family nights where students share what they have learned. Darleen also uses the NEED curriculum to teach about energy and energy conservation, putting on an energy fair for the community with her students. Her green energy team was awarded Rookie School of the Year by NEED last year for the state of Kentucky and for the nation. Even though students at her school are very mobile due to their poverty, Darleen hopes they take away a lesson in stewardship and their role in the global environment to whatever part of the world they travel to next.