Michelle Pender, first-grade teacher at Hanceville Elementary School, accepts her award as the Environmental Conservation Education Teacher of the Year. / CCSWCD
HANCEVILLE – Last week Michelle Pender, a first-grade teacher at Hanceville Elementary School, was named Environmental Conservation Education Teacher of the Year by the Alabama Association of Conservation Districts, after winning the title at the county and area levels. The award is given to teachers who, through curriculum or class activities, promote environmental causes in the classroom and local school. Pender received her award at the Association’s Area One annual meeting in Double Springs, Winston County.
The Tribune caught up with Pender this week, to find out more about her award and how she found herself receiving it.
And just what did it take for Pender to receive this award?
“The wonderful people at the Cullman County Soil and Water (Conservation District) give educational and highly engaging environmental awareness presentations free to schools. When I heard about this and was given permission by my principal, I called and scheduled them to come and present once a month to our first graders at Hanceville Elementary. At one of the presentations, Ms. Kathy Holmes of the CCSWCD gave me some ‘Conserve Alabama’ signs to post around the campus to encourage recycling awareness.
“We had just discontinued recycling plastic water bottles on the elementary campus due to the cost of collection containers and pick up. When I was given the conserve signs, I was inspired to find a cost-effective way of restarting our plastic bottle recycling. My parents and sister designed a barrel container to collect the plastic bottles, reusing a barrel and wooden plank we had at home. My parents have volunteered to provide bags to line the container for easier collection and transportation to the recycling center. The students have been conscientious about putting them in the container. Mrs. Lakin, our school's music teacher and technology coordinator, volunteered to transport the plastic bottles to the recycling center.
“The wonderful people at CCSWCD nominated me for this award. I appreciate their work and dedication to educating our future leaders about the importance of protecting our beautiful world and the simple ways we can do it.”
Pender says it means a lot to her to win this award.
“I am very honored and humbled to accept this award on behalf of all those who participated. The recycling project has been and continues to be a group effort and I am so thankful to be a part of it.
“This award inspires me to find more cost-effective ways to help our school recycle. We are in the process of developing a program of collecting used plastic shopping bags. The Hanceville Senior Center will be weaving them into mats to give to the homeless. We are also developing a program to recycle ink cartridges and toner containers. I am excited to find simple ways to make the earth cleaner and help others. When the students are excited about it, they are highly engaged and it is so much fun to see.”
Since you’re now an authority in the field (That kind of comes with the title!), what would you like for folks to know about environmental conservation and conservation education?
“Conservation and conservation education do not need to be complicated. With a little creativity and effort and some teamwork, a big difference can be made in taking care of our wonder-filled world and each other. It is our responsibility and privilege to educate the next generation. The Earth is our home. We must be good stewards of it so that it continues to be wonder-filled, safe and beautiful for those who inherit it. Being an active participant makes a lasting impression. Therefore, the act of conserving and educating about conservation is necessary to inspire new, effective, efficient, creative and cost-effective ways to conserve.”
With Pender’s state award comes a nomination for 2017 National Environmental Conservation Education Teacher of the Year.
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