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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Melissa "Missy" Bain: Green School Teacher of the Year

A teacher's passion for the environment inspires not only her students but also their parents and the entire school.
By Richard Rapaport
Credit: Indigo Flores

Driving past Mount Bethel Elementary School, along Johnson Ferry Road in Marietta, Georgia, you may notice the sign that reads "Cobb County Green School." This designation coincides -- not coincidentally -- with the recognition of second-grade teacher Melissa "Missy" Bain as Cobb County's Green School Teacher of the Year, 2007.

Bringing an environmental awareness to her class and to the school as a whole, Bain has used what her principal, Robin Lattizori, calls her "energy-plus enthusiasm" to help the school achieve its environmental Silver Status (meaning more than ten teachers completed five environmentally friendly lesson plans). The award, and the decal displayed outside Bain's classroom, comes in recognition of her project to convince many of her fellow teachers to prepare the five environmental lessons for their classes and post them online.

"What's unique about Missy is how passionate her commitment to the environment is," says Cathy Nguyen, water-conservation coordinator for the Cobb County Water System, one of the agencies recognizing Bain and Mount Bethel. Nguyen, who came to speak to students in the spring, was amazed that "when Missy starts to talk about the environment, the kids really latch on."

Bain began reinforcing some of those lessons on the very first day of school this year when she noticed plastic water bottles accumulating in the classroom wastebasket. Encouraging her students to reclaim the bottles and place them in a recycling box, she reminded them that it requires the energy equivalent of 150 gallons of water to produce a single 16-ounce water bottle. The problem was that even though recycling is the practice at Mount Bethel, and plastic bottles can be used to make other products, such as fleece fabrics, local recyclers refused to pick them up. Bain's solution was to go to the school PTA's environmental committee and convince it to pick up the tab for the plastic recycling.

Spurred on by students, parents get involved in Mount Bethel's green movement. "After we teach a lesson," Bain says, "the kids can immediately go home and do things like turning off the faucet while they brush their teeth and turning off lights when they leave a room."

According to Bain, her green lessons will be reinforced this year by the addition of a fourth-grade environmental reporter to Mount Bethel's closed-circuit-television morning news show. Even before the start of this school year, Bain received an encouraging signal that her message was getting across, in the form of an email from one of her new students. "Dear Mrs. Bain," the note began. "We have something in common: We are both passionate about recycling, and we're going to have a great year practicing it every day in school."


Richard Rapaport is a political and architectural writer who contributes regularly to Edutopia.

Green Heroes > Tim Grant and Gail Littlejohn



Comments (11)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

what an inspiration...to have a teacher who leads by example...we should all have been so lucky...continue the good fight...

Barney Rosner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Melissa has been the greatest child one could ever wish for. Always up beat and willing to tackle any workload. Your mother and I love you and are so prowd to have you for a daughter. Keep up the great work.

Julie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It's so inspiring to see Missy in action as a parent, from my perspecive as a friend and neighbor- her passion for leading her students by example is rare and encouraging. No doubt she richly deserves this award.

Wendy Alexander's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Missy is not only a "Green" teacher, but she is an exemplary teacher that is well-rounded in her approach to teaching in general! Missy's enthusiam and passion for her job provides a wonderful role model for students and parents alike. She beams when her students file through her classroom door as she sees the potential in each and every child. It is clear that Missy is eager to teach our children with creative and purposeful thought! Congratualtions , Missy! We think you are a terrifically green teaching machine!

the mashburns's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

An excellent article about a well-deserved honor for a great teacher! Keep up the good work!

Maxie Searcy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mrs. Bain:
My son, Ed Searcy, sent me the recent article about you. I am very glad my grandson, Ethan, is in your class. I am excited to find someone as passionate as I am about "recycling." Especially the plastic bottles.

We are coming to the "Sgt. Pepper's" performance at Mt. Bethel the end of this month. Maybe we will have the opportunity to personally thank you for what you are doing for Ethan.

Continued success as your make more students aware of the value of recycling.

Maxie Searcy

Velva's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Missy is truly an asset to the school and community. Her priority and enthusiasm for leading such a worthy mission as preserving our environment is admirable. She certainly deserves being chosen Cobb's Green Teacher of the Year 2007!!!

Susie Henderson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dear Missy -

We would be very interested in posting your "green lessons" to our statewide digital repository, The Orange Grove, so more teachers in our state could learn about your exemplary teaching and share in your lesson plans! I am also an avid recycler and eager for a new generation to learn about the need for green living.

Keep up the good work!

mandy 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello to whom this may concern,

My friends and I have recently started up a green movement at my school. The only problem is, the teachers are VERY reluctant to participate. I don't know how to keep this going because we have put so much work into the project. Without the teachers' help we will never accomplish our goal to have a school wide going green movement. In the words of the teacher who is acting as our advocate "they are afraid of change". My school is a great place but it is so wasteful! We don't even recycle colored paper or plastic bottles! The teachers are the ones who will carry on this project when we're gone and motivate our underclassmen to participate, without their help we have nothing and with school ending in 3 months it's crunch time. I need good motivational and insipiring ideas, ones that won't be a burden for teachers. We already have many ideas and solutions that seem like common sense to do, we are in contact with recycling programs, multiple websites, powerpoint presentations, facts, pictures, and are attending a teacher meeting soon. We sent a mass email to the majority of our staff. Out of about 150 members, eight to ten responded. The principal is all for it, the vice principal...not so much. Many of our teachers have been teaching in our district for 12-20+ years so they are very traditional and used to "the way things have been and should stay". I'm all about change and so are my fellow students. As you can probably tell, I'm the leader of this group, and I need ideas for getting staff participation as well as re-motivating my friends who are becoming doubtful. We've already lost a few members....I have no idea what to do!

Thank you

Laurie (Staff)'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Staff comment:

Mandy, good for you and don't give up! You're on the right track. Read How To: Reduce Your School's Eco-Footprint: Follow these tips for making your school more environmentally friendly. Perhaps some of the nationally recognized clubs and organizations referenced in this "how-to" can be of help to you.

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