McLeod honored by HEB, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

Fulton Learning Center science teacher Martha McLeod reacts with surprise at being named an HEB Excellence in Education award finalist. Courtesy Photo

HEB Excellence in Education

The awards keep coming in for Fulton Learning Center science teacher Martha McLeod who was surprised Monday by numerous representatives from HEB who  notified her she was selected as this region’s HEB Excellence in Education Leadership - secondary category award finalist.

Last month, McLeod was selected as the Texas Academy of Sciences (TAS) 2011 Outstanding Texas Educator for her outstanding contributions in teaching biology and inspiring future scientists. She was recognized at the 2011 Texas Academy of Sciences annual meeting March 3-5.

In early March, McLeod was notified her student aluminum can and scrap metal recycling program was named the winner in the youth division of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) statewide Environmental Excellence Awards Program (see related story).

As a matter of fact, McLeod was preparing for a TCEQ film crew to come to the school Tuesday, March 29 to record a video to be shown at the TCEQ awards banquet May 4.

The HEB honor was kept a surprise until Monday, March 28 when McLeod was greeted by area HEB representatives, including HEB Buddy, bearing balloons, a cake, flowers, and a $1,000 check. FLC also received a $1,000 check, presented to principal Jeremy Saegart. The Leadership Award honors teachers with 10 to 20 years in the classroom.

McLeod said, “Overwhelmed is an understatement.” She said before the HEB crew arrived, her mind was heavily focusing on the TCEQ visit the next day.

She said, “I was rehearsing in my mind the order of filming, making sure the students involved in that were prepped, etc. So when HEB came in my door with all of those people and props in tow, I thought to myself, ‘What the heck is going on here?’”

The next thing she knew, the FLC science teacher was being hooked up to a microphone with video cameras rolling.

“It was a very surreal experience to say the least,” McLeod said, but was quick to point out, “I am very honored to have received this award from HEB. I am still in shock over this wonderful news – wow. They (HEB) treated me and my students like celebrities.”

McLeod added, “I was so impressed by all of them {who} came out to my room to deliver the news.”

She also gave credit to the school noting, “Fulton Learning Center is such a great school to work at and all of my colleagues, administrators, and the students themselves help me to be as successful as I am. A huge thank you to all of them.”

She also said, “If only my dad were still alive to see all of this happening. He would have been so proud.”

As a finalist, if McLeod is named the statewide winner, she will receive a $10,000 award for herself, and a $10,000 grant for the school.

She is invited to Austin May 13-15 to compete on the statewide level for greater recognition and cash prizes. The celebration weekend for the finalists will include a public health and fitness event featuring Jillian Michaels of NBC’s The Biggest Loser and Gen. Colin Powell, USA retired, will deliver a keynote address at the awards celebratory dinner on May 15.

It will be McLeod’s second trip to Austin in two weeks as the TCEQ awards banquet will take place in Austin May 4.

TCEQ environmental excellence

Fulton Learning Center science teacher Martha McLeod’s student aluminum can and scrap metal recycling program has been named the winner in the youth division of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) statewide Environmental Excellence Awards Program.

McLeod has applied for the award in each of the last three years. Her entry is based on the student aluminum can and scrap metal recycling program which funds a wildflower gardening project. The hard work was rewarded when McLeod received a call from Brian Christian of TCEQ informing her of the winning entry.

The TCEQ awards banquet will take place in Austin May 4. At the banquet, a video will be shown of FLC staff, students, and the gardening project. The TCEQ film crew visited FLC this week.

When McLeod was first assigned to FLC in the summer of 2002, the courtyards and areas around the school were barren and devoid of quality plant and animal life. With little funding available for improvements, McLeod decided to turn “trash into treasure.” As students brought in sacks of aluminum cans for recycling by the science department, as a reward, McLeod allowed the students to babysit her lab animals (as long as students had parent’s permission). Not only were the students learning basic responsibility in animal care, but they were also saving valuable space in the local landfill. In the first year of recycling, a little more than 50 pounds of metal was brought in by the students. Program participation grew over the years with more than 10,000 pounds of metals brought in the 2009-2010 school year.

Over the last seven years, little by little, native shrubs, flowering annuals, and trees were purchased, as well as were landscaping timbers, stepping stones, water conserving soaker hoses, bird baths, bird feeders, and bird housing.  The local transfer station and the ACISD maintenance department helped in bringing trailer loads of mulch for students to unload in the gardens as a natural source of fertilization and water conservation.

The gardens are so prolific a multitude of birds and butterflies can be seen visiting the school regularly to feast on nectar from the blooms. There have been so many hummingbirds visiting the school gardens the campus was placed  on the Hummer Home Tour during the annual Hummer/Bird Celebration in the fall of 2009 and 2010. More than 100 tourists stopped by to see the blooms and pollinators in action. Many said the school’s gardens had the most hummingbirds of any other place in Rockport.

In 2006, the school gardens were also put on the Hidden Gardens Tour which is sponsored by the Aransas/San Patricio Master Gardeners to demonstrate how successful gardens can be in the Coastal Bend when a majority of the plants are native to this area.  The school gardens were also certified by the National Wildlife Federation as an official “wildlife habitat” and by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department as an official “Texas Wildscape” in recognition of the habitat creation efforts by the school’s science department.

Each year, more enhancements have been added to the garden programs with the success of recycling. The school now boasts a large aviary where peafowl, guineas, chickens, pigeons, and quail roam freely for the students to observe, feed, and appreciate their beauty. Fertile eggs for incubation of these species were purchased with recycling funds, as well as a large kennel/shelter, poultry feeders and waterers.

A second poultry garden was created in the fifth grade village area during the 2008-2009 school year also with recycling funds.  Raggy Loy and a team of helpers donated their time to build the large shelter complete with a row of chicken nest boxes. Students now feed the hens daily and gather their eggs to sell at the local Fulton Farmer’s Market. This newest endeavor supplements the programs which were put in place by the recycling program. A large pond was also added to the main courtyard in the fifth grade area since water is a critical part of any habitat. The ponds and birdbaths were essential in creating a sustainable home for wildlife. Wild bird seed, suet cakes for woodpeckers, litter, hay, and food for the many animal species which call FLC home would not be possible without the school’s recycling program.

Other projects have been inspired and made possible because of the gardens. In the fall of 2010, Monarch tags were purchased so students could participate in the Monarch Watch program through the University of Kansas. More than 25 butterflies were tagged and students sent the data collected to the university program.

Another new project for the 2010-2011 school year is the formation of a campus birding team.  Because of the abundance of migrating birds seen in the campus gardens, the idea of extending this learning into another project was created. The students on the teams will be competing in the Great Texas Birding Classic in April.

Students also participate in a Junior Docent tour guide program at the local Aquarium at Rockport Harbor. Conservation and environmental awareness are terms heavily used at FLC, due to McLeod’s teaching efforts.

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