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Real Green People

Real Green People: Q&A with Unity Point teacher Melanie Spears

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Melanie Spears

Melanie Spears

Melanie Spears grew up in Benton, and says she wanted to be a teacher as long as she can remember.

She’s also always been interested in the environment.

She said she got friends together for neighborhood clean-ups, she taught herself about composting (and then taught her family and friends), and she helped her school begin a recycling program.

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It’s not surprising then, that Ms. Spears, a fourth-grade teacher at Unity Point School, in Carbondale, also started a very active and popular environmental club at the school.

Mike Baltz: How long have you been leading the Environmental Club at Unity Point and how did you get the club started?

Melanie Spears: I started Environmental Club 10 years ago, shortly after I started teaching at Unity Point. I started the club because we were lacking a club that would inspire and support students’ desires to better the environment. I have always been involved in helping to combat environmental problems and wanted to be a role model for my students and get them interested in helping as well.

MB: Tell me about what's involved with the club. Why fourth grade?

MS: The club consists of fourth graders because that’s the grade I teach. Each year, I have approximately 20 students that join. Any fourth-grader can join. They just need to make sure they are maintaining positive behavior and keeping up with their academics to remain in the club. We meet during recesses and after school sometimes.

Club activities include sponsoring endangered animals through fundraising, picking up litter, educating others about the importance of helping the planet, recycling, finding ways to reuse what might have been dumped in a landfill, making bird feeders, and planting flowers and trees.

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The endangered species sponsorship is one of our biggest projects. Each year the club chooses a species to support. The kids do research to educate themselves about the animal and then they visit younger classrooms to teach. The kids also make posters and hang them up around the school to encourage others to help the animal and raise funds. And we have done car washes, bake sales, and made jewelry to raise funds, too.

MB: What's your favorite part of being involved with the club?

MS: My absolute favorite part of the club is witnessing these young people get excited about helping our planet. To see the look on their faces when they make a positive impact is priceless. They tend to start the club with the attitude that they can’t make a change, but by the end, they see that they can make a difference and it is wonderful to witness!

MB: Tell me about the "Climate Update" that your class does for WSIU Radio.

MS: Every month, we record a short feature that airs on WSIU Radio several times on the second Friday of each month. And every time I hear it on the radio, I tear up. My students are trying to help save our planet and this platform enables their voices to be heard. I know they are learning that no one is too small to make a difference, just as Greta Thunberg would say.

MB: If a teacher at another school was interested in starting an Environmental Club, what would be some advice you'd give them?

MS: I would say go for it! At first, I wasn't confident that this club would amount to much, but 10 years later I am in awe of all we have accomplished. The school, community, and parents have been a wonderful support system and I believe that this has been why the club has been so successful.

The time I spend with my students working together to help the environment is priceless. They have taught me much more than I will ever teach them.

On Wednesday, National Forest Servic mascot Woodsy Owl celebrated his 50th birthday with students at Elverado Primary School.

Real Green People is a monthly feature that puts a spotlight on folks who are being the green change they want to see in the world.

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