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BA goes ‘green’ as Project Learning Tree School

PHOTO SUBMITTED / Warren Stamps of Rainbow Landscape Contracting designed and drew up these plans for the outdoor learning center coming to Brookhaven Academy through Project Learning Tree - the educational arm of the American Forest Foundation.

PHOTO SUBMITTED / Warren Stamps of Rainbow Landscape Contracting designed and drew up these plans for the outdoor learning center coming to Brookhaven Academy through Project Learning Tree – the educational arm of the American Forest Foundation.

Businesses and organizations often claim to be “green” – concerned for the environment. Some actually are, but for others it’s an advertising ploy designed to entice environmentally conscious customers.

But Leslie Hood and Brookhaven Academy are the “real deal” – and they have the title to prove it. Hood led Brookhaven Academy to its recognition as Mississippi’s first Project Learning Tree Green School. With the recognition, comes a grant the school will use to help construct an outdoor learning center and garden.

Project Learning Tree (PLT) is the educational arm of the American Forest Foundation (which also sponsors the acclaimed American Tree Farm System). Affiliated state PLT programs train teachers and other educators in six-hour workshops to use books of lesson plans published by the American Forest Foundation. These are designed to tie environmental concepts to the existing curriculum.

PLT’s “GreenSchool!” program recognizes schools with trained PLT teachers who lead a team of students through one of a series of investigations, in which students investigate the school’s use of energy, water, use and recycling of natural resources and school grounds and make recommendations to the administration for improvements.

Upon approval of the “Green Team’s” plan, the school can apply for recognition as a “PLT Green School” and become eligible for a grant to accomplish recommendations of the Green Plan.

Hood, a high school science teacher and former college microbiology instructor, was much aware of the interaction between humans and the environment and the importance of conservation. She wanted to impart her love – and concern – for nature to her students.

She attended a workshop in which she viewed other schools’ outdoor learning centers and learned how she could fund and construct one for her own school. She learned about PLT’s “GreenSchools!” recognition and grant program that was available only to PLT-trained teachers, so she attended a PLT workshop at the Children’s Museum in Jackson and obtained “GreenSchools!” material.

She began using the fun-filled, hands-on PLT learning activities with her students. They loved them and told other teachers, students and their parents, who also became enthusiastic about the program. With this support, Hood organized a Green Team, which completed a site investigation, made a plan to better utilize the school grounds and presented them to the administration.

With administration approval, the team applied for – and received – the recognition and grant.

Warren Stamps at Rainbow Contracting Co., helped design the outdoor learning center, rendered landscape architectural drawings and offered plant material at cost. Stamps is a Brookhaven Academy graduate and also is donating time to help with the project.

Jay Culbertson, of Culbertson Contracting Co., offered to help build the gazebo and donate dirt work. Students will supply much of the hand labor, such as laying sod and other landscaping tasks.

“Green School” recognition and the $3,000 grant from the American Forest Foundation is just the starting point of the $17,000 project. The school has raised $7,000 in cash, and Hood is applying for other grants to secure the remaining $7,000.

Taylor Sanford, One of Leslie Hood’s senior students is excited about the project, “Even though I won’t be able to enjoy it, because I will have graduated by the time it is finished, I am excited by the learning possibilities for other students, and I know my younger brothers and sisters will enjoy it,” she said.

Teachers of subjects other than science are already seeing possibilities for the new facility.

Art teachers are planning to use material from the landscape to make natural paint, and to have their students inspired by the beauty of the site. English students will learn journaling as they observe the changing seasons at the learning center. Biology students will gain first-hand experience by tending flower and vegetable gardens planned for the site, and business students already have plans to operate their own small business from the site by selling produce to parents waiting in the student-pick-up line and to sell any excess at the local farmers market.

The learning center will also contain learning stations tied to specific PLT activities.

Harold Anderson, Mississippi Project Learning Tree coordinator, says, “We train from 700 to 1,000 educators in Mississippi every year, and surveys show that almost all of them use the material. But Leslie is the first one to go the extra mile and apply for “GreenSchool!” status for her school. Her efforts, plus the support of the entire school, parents and citizens of Brookhaven speak volumes about this community’s support for quality education.”

Project Learning Tree is sponsored in Mississippi by the Mississippi Forestry Commission, the Mississippi Forestry Association and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, with additional financial support from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, through a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, Non-Point Source Pollution Program of the Watershed Management Branch, under provisions of Sec. (h) of the Clean Water Act.