SMS, GBS teachers receive state environmental honors

Two eighth-grade science teachers who believe in getting their students out of the classroom have been named middle-school environmental educators of the year by the N.H. Environmental Educators organization.

South Meadow School teacher Emily Wrubel and Great Brook School teacher Stacy Egan have been working with their students since 2008 at Otter Brook Farm in Peterborough, where they collect data, analyze it and draw conclusions throughout the school year.

“Every month we have a different question for kids to answer,” Wrubel said on Monday. “In September, we collected and studied the insects and bugs found in the stream. In the fall we go and collect mushrooms. Later we did forestry study with Bryn Dumas, who manages the land, learning about the differences between hardwoods and softwoods. In winter, we looked at animal tracks and habitat.”

Wrubel said students work to answer questions about the environment by gathering data, analyzing the results and developing presentations demonstrating their findings.

“It’s real hands-on science,” she said. “Kids learn how to explain their data, to graph it and to justify their conclusions.”

Wrubel said the program benefits a range of students. Some of them spend a lot of time outdoors, perhaps hunting or fishing with their families, but may not be strongly academically inclined. And others rarely get outside at all and may be timid about nature.

“You can hook in kids from both groups,” she said. “It’s independent learning. They are in charge of the program and become much more engaged.”

The program also brings students from the ConVal School District’s two middle schools together at the end of the year for a joint service project.

“Last year, they worked together at the farm’s chestnut orchard,” Wrubel said. “In May, we’ll do two field trips together, so kids get to know each other. In June, we combine the students from each school into mixed groups. We’ll do trail work, build bird blinds, do clean up work. They’re basically giving back to the farm every year.”

In a letter nominating the two teachers for the award, Harris Center Outreach Coordinator Susie Spikol Faber wrote, “Both Emily and Stacy embody the best of what teachers have to give to the world. They are compassionate and dedicated to their students. They are innovative and dynamic teachers, understanding that science is a process that is typically messy, a bit noisy, often unpredictable, and demands student questioning. They are courageous, in a time when our educational system demands performance on high stake testing, these teachers believe in the value of leaving the safety of their classroom and Xeroxed labs for the unbound wilds of a Peterborough property. They are believers in the value of hands-on inquiry learning in the real world.”

Egan and Wrubel were presented with the award at the N.H. Environmental Educators annual conference on April 10.

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