Celebrating teaching about the environment

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How appropriate that Kevin Willis, a science teacher in Carmichaels Area School District, whose enthusiasm and commitment to the environment have been chronicled in this newspaper, received a grant for an innovative project from a teachers’ organization. The Greene County Association of School Retirees has presented Willis with a $750 grant for the Native Plant Restoration Project.


Willis, the district’s adviser for the Envirothon team, soaked up the accolades sent his way by GCASR members. One comment that stood out came from the association’s president, Patty Jones. She said, “We are delighted that we had an opportunity to recognize an educator with the vision that, while teaching, he is demonstrating to his students how they can protect their environment and enrich their county.”


Knowing Willis’ dedication not only to teaching but also to teaching the values of preserving the environment, this comment encapsulates how teachers can impact the lives of their students.


Willis brought an oak seedling as a thank-you gift to show the roots of environmental learning that are being planted by his project. It went home with past president Cathy Butcher, who happened to have a backyard big enough to accommodate what a little acorn will one day become. That seedling, along with 700 other little oaks and 250 native perennials, are being grown and nurtured by students in the greenhouse the school district received funding for in 2011 through the Community Foundation of Greene County’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program and a Toyota Tapestry grant.


The project also caught the eye of the Community Foundation of Greene County when director Bettie Stammerjohn came to a March open house with more good news – the organization had just approved an additional EITC grant of $15,000. It will fund an automatic watering system for times when school is not in session, benches for additional growing space, heating tubes for increased germination and tree tubes to protect the seedlings once planted in the habitat, along with equipment and supplies to keep the Greenhouse project sustainable in the future.


The purpose of this project is quite impressive. The greenhouse can produce a bumper crop of native plants that students are learning to grow into healthy specimens. Students design a restoration plan to get these plants back into the environment and research invasive species then revegetate selected areas with propagated natives.


Perhaps when one ponders the well-worn saying that mighty oaks from little acorns grow, the name of Kevin Willis and a group of young high school students who have published their findings to educate others about the aesthetics, diversity and environmental importance of native plants will immediately come to mind.


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