George Lucas Educational Foundation
Project-Based Learning

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.
    Credit: Indigo Flores

    Driving past Mount Bethel Elementary School, alongJohnson Ferry Road in Marietta, Georgia,you may notice the sign that reads "CobbCounty Green School." This designationcoincides -- not coincidentally -- with therecognition of second-grade teacher Melissa "Missy" Bain as Cobb County'sGreen School Teacher of the Year, 2007.

    Bringing an environmental awareness toher class and to the school as a whole, Bainhas used what her principal, Robin Lattizori,calls her "energy-plus enthusiasm" to helpthe school achieve its environmental SilverStatus (meaning more than ten teacherscompleted five environmentally friendlylesson plans). The award, and the decaldisplayed outside Bain's classroom, comesin recognition of her project to convincemany of her fellow teachers to prepare thefive environmental lessons for their classesand post them online.

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    "What's unique about Missy is howpassionate her commitment to theenvironment is," says Cathy Nguyen,water-conservation coordinator for theCobb County Water System, one of theagencies recognizing Bain and MountBethel. Nguyen, who came to speakto students in the spring, was amazedthat "when Missy starts to talk about theenvironment, the kids really latch on."

    Bain began reinforcing some of thoselessons on the very first day of schoolthis year when she noticed plastic waterbottles accumulating in the classroomwastebasket. Encouraging her studentsto reclaim the bottles and place themin a recycling box, she reminded themthat it requires the energy equivalent of150 gallons of water to produce a single16-ounce water bottle. The problem wasthat even though recycling is the practiceat Mount Bethel, and plastic bottles canbe used to make other products, such asfleece fabrics, local recyclers refused topick them up. Bain's solution was to go tothe school PTA's environmental committeeand convince it to pick up the tab forthe plastic recycling.

    Spurred on by students, parentsget involved in Mount Bethel's greenmovement. "After we teach a lesson," Bainsays, "the kids can immediately go homeand do things like turning off the faucetwhile they brush their teeth and turning offlights when they leave a room."

    According to Bain, her green lessonswill be reinforced this year by the additionof a fourth-grade environmental reporterto Mount Bethel's closed-circuit-televisionmorning news show. Even before thestart of this school year, Bain received anencouraging signal that her message wasgetting across, in the form of an emailfrom one of her new students. "Dear Mrs.Bain," the note began. "We have somethingin common: We are both passionate aboutrecycling, and we're going to have a greatyear 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