Local teacher empowers students to be environmental stewards

by Chris Studor

Hinckley resident Melanie Hamlett, whose family runs the 4-H farm across from Hinckley Lake, wants her students to know just how important their environment is.

To farmers, said Hamlett, environmental conditions make or a break their livelihood. Thus, it seems only fitting that for her capstone project, part of her master’s degree program in biology education at Miami University, Hamlett focused on a topic to foster students’ interest in environmental science and Project Eco was born.

“Project Eco is an after school club which reaches across grade levels to foster passion for nature, conservation and sustainability,” explained Hamlett.

A teacher at Buckeye Junior High School, Hamlett said the club meets once a week after school. Her first steps in launching the club involved planning, organizing and cleaning up land around the school for a land lab.

“There are a lot of students who aren’t into sports but who love nature,” Hamlett said. “This club gives them a chance to explore environmental topics and projects that they are interested in.”

To date, Hamlett said, the club hosted a solar car competition, a windmill competition and have TED talks which are discussions centering around renewable energy. The club also has taken field trips to Akron University to learn about careers in environmental science.

The club also has reached out to other grade levels and sponsored dress-like-an-environmentalist days at local elementary schools. Students have also enjoyed photo workshops with one assignment being to take a photo of something in nature that might inspire another person to take interest in environmental issues.

“One photo a student took clearly stands out in my memory,” said Hamlett. “A student photographed a mechanical pencil that got stuck in a tree branch and was just hanging there. It was the contrast between a mechanical object being stuck in nature and I thought it conveyed the idea of how to recycle your trash and properly dispose of trash.”

Throughout the school year, students in the club are worked toward the formation of Green Teams, as part of which they will take on initiatives, such as urging other students to use recycling containers in school buildings and planting with non-invasive plants.

Hamlett said the group will be working to fundraise as well, as she would like to see identification plaques made for the various trees on the school campus and the expansion of the school’s natural plant garden.

“For a farmer, going outside early each morning to feed the animals and caring for your crops is what makes you want to wake up because you’re caring for nature,” she said. “I want my students to know that science is more than sitting in a room listening to a lecture or reading their textbooks. Project Eco helps bring alive what students read and learn about in class. My hope is this club will increase environmental awareness in our school and empower our students to become environmental leaders in their school and community.” ∞