Students and Teachers Make It Happen

From its opening during the 2011-2012 school year, Eisenhower High School emerged as a leader in Kansas environmental education. Ecology and biology teacher and Green Team mentor Denise Scribner has been at the forefront of statewide efforts to green Kansas schools, serving on the leadership team that developed the state’s environmental literacy plan.

In the school’s first year of operation, Scribner was  honored by the White House Council on Environmental Quality with the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators, and Eisenhower was named to the 2012 inaugural class of 78 Green Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. In 2016, Scribner received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

Eisenhower is a leader tapping into volunteer consultants from the local community, county, and state. Experts in subjects ranging from raptor rehabilitation to hazardous waste to land management enhance the school’s environmental curriculum and engage students with their real-life career choices. Eisenhower is also at the forefront of technology for learning, to include iPod downloads, interactive websites, research facility webcams and webinars, and virtual web labs that allow students to experience environmental science on a global scale. Environmental education finds its way into all of Eisenhower’s academic disciplines, with English classes reading Henry David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold, and debate teams using environmental issues for their competitions.

A Natural Tie

“Kansas is an agricultural state with strong ties to the land, so the state’s focus on environmental literacy is natural,” Scribner noted. Eisenhower’s partnership with PLT GreenSchools—and a cooperative agreement signed in 2012 between PLT GreenSchools, the Kansas Association of Conservation and Environmental Education, Kansas Green Schools Network, and the National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA—“brings national attention to our efforts in the Midwest,” she added. Scribner relies on some 20 activities from PLT’s Environmental Education Activity Guide for grades K-8 as a springboard for the more complex PLT GreenSchools Investigations.

The list of her students’ accomplishments is impressive. They completed the PLT GreenSchools Energy, Water, and Waste & Recycling Investigations—and  developed new problem-solving skills in the process. While they were conducting field investigations at an aquatic pond at nearby Goddard High School, they discovered that the pond’s water did not contain sufficient oxygen to support the species that lived there. They devised a solution—a way to harvest wind energy to aerate the pond—and won a grant to finance the wind power.

Outdoor Learning

Eisenhower students received a grant for a new Outdoor Wildlife Learning Site (OWLS) with habitat and native plants that provide food, shelter and water for wildlife. “The students are responsible for all of it,” Scribner said, “so they are learning leadership skills too.”

The site includes 300 culturally significant native plants in a garden that is fully accessible to visitors with disabilities. The plans also include over-seeding an area  with native prairie grasses, which will be subject to a “no spraying, no mowing” policy.

The whole school is involved. “As our students develop a nature trail, our media department is making a video to document the project, and art students are developing a series of ‘Art on the Prairie’ ceramic pieces that will be displayed along the trail,” explained Scribner. The site has been designated an official Monarch Way Station for  migrating butterflies.

Kathy Westra

Kathy Westra

Kathy Westra is a writer and environmental communications consultant based in Rockland, Maine.

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