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Florida Fairways

Martin County's 'green' schools to receive recognition

By Suzanne Wentley staff writer
May 2, 2004

Students at Crystal Lakes Elementary School wrote to the governor, seeking his support for local Everglades restoration efforts.

Hidden Oaks Middle School students made artificial reef balls to increase the oyster habitat in the Indian River Lagoon.

Felix A. Williams Elementary School students released a bug that's a natural predator of the exotic, invasive melaleuca trees overtaking native plants around the school.

The projects organized on a volunteer basis by classroom teachers at nearly every school in Martin County are creative methods of teaching environmental science in a hands-on way.

"It's those kind of things that help the community and the world, truthfully," said Sandy Pisano, a fifth-grade teacher at Indiantown Middle School and a coordinator of the Green School awards program. "We've probably accomplished close to 1,000 projects."

For nine years, the Green School awards have motivated students and teachers to integrate environmental education into the classroom and community service projects.

On May 12, the schools that have met the criteria of the program will be recognized for their dedication to the environment.

Demma Bailey, who retired last year after 20 years teaching at the Environmental Studies Center, said she visits the schools to ensure they've completed at least four projects and that the entire student body participates.

"Last year, a lot of schools participated with monofilament (fishing line) recycling. Now it's reef balls," she said. "It became uncool not to be a green school."

When the program started, only eight county schools participated. This year, all but one Challenger joined in.

The award ceremony where Pisano said she has presented birdhouses or books to each participating school is funded by grants and the Environmental Studies Council. It requires no school district funds.

"Environmental education was much more on the forefront 10 years ago than it is now," Pisano said. "Nobody (in the state) really took the leap and maintained it like we do. We're really grassroots."

Crystal Lake Elementary science teacher Becky Dulin said her students have created a butterfly garden, written to the governor about the Everglades and improved the native habitat by removing exotic plants around the school.

"Learning about the environment is critically important," Dulin said. "It's really important for the kids to be aware of what's around them, to learn at an early age that what they do can affect the environment."

Besides, Pisano added, "the kids just love it."

- suzanne.wentley@scripps.com



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