Teaching students to save the earth

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TEACH featured a vibrant new version of its Go Green expo this year, in which about a dozen teachers gave mini-presentations in the conference's green space on how they've worked sustainability education into their lessons. As TEACH attendees swirled around them, a rotating group of rapt educators sat in a semicircle through a series of talks about green schools, one more inspiring than the next.

Kerry Olinger

Kerry Olinger (pictured at left), a middle school teacher in Los Angeles, talked about her Seed to Plate garden program that enriches every core subject by integrating gardening into the curriculum. In history, the program folds in agricultural methods from Paleolithic and Neolithic cultures, as well as from Mesoamerica, ancient India and other great civilizations. In science, students describe the difference between plant and animal cells, and in math, students measure a raised garden bed and then calculate its square footage to figure out how much soil they will need. Olinger's kids have written an amazing group poem about their exploits at Mark Twain Middle School.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., the preK-5 Bedford Village School has brought in a number of community grants to build a curriculum around the school garden. One tangible result: The children grilled eggplant for their back-to-school celebration. Other fruits of teacher Susan Anaman's efforts include a small greenhouse, composters, worm bins and an aquaponics system that raises tilapia fish along with plants.

In fact, the children in Anaman's gardens, which they can see from the windows of her classroom, have an up-close-and-personal relationship with worms.

"We all know that the worm has a job to do, so we treat him with respect," Anaman told her audience. "But there's always a stampede when the children find a worm."

And in Fairfax County, Va., teachers Sue Straits and Marie Hinton described the green program at their school, Kent Gardens Elementary, which includes an outdoor classroom with bird shelters, raised garden beds and a reflecting pond. As part of their Engineering is Elementary initiative, the teachers expose students to such concepts as water runoff and erosion, soil testing and landscape architecture—not the usual fare for elementary schoolchildren.

For more on the AFT's green initiatives, go to go.aft.org/green or email green@aft.org.

[Annette Licitra/photo by Bill Burke-Page One Photography]