By Linda Dillman
A Hamilton Elementary educator passionate about the earth and the impact humans have on the environment was named the Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District’s 2020 Educator of the Year.
Library Media Specialist Karen Schutte was notified Jan. 13 that she was selected for the honor by Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District education outreach employees, who annually recognize an educator who goes above and beyond their normal duties to introduce students to environmental issues and awareness.
“Karen earned this recognition for her coordination of Right to Read Week each year, inviting guests like Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District to be part of the programming,” according to Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District officials. “Creating a schedule to include all of the classes for a grade level in one day is no easy task, yet she makes it happen each year. The coordination of an evening program so families can benefit from these resources is also a component of that week. While these programs were not able to happen in 2020, her efforts to coordinate and prepare for these educational opportunities did not go unnoticed.”
According to the announcement, Schutte did not let the uncertainties of the current school year stop her creativity. She took the initiative to research native plant and garden projects with the hopes of being able to create an outdoor learning space for students and classes at the elementary building.
According to Franklin County Soil and Water Conservation District officials, “This ‘think outside the box’ enthusiasm to encourage students and teachers to use an outdoor space for instruction, takes the goal of supporting opportunities for lifelong learning, beyond the Media Center. Additionally, Karen has shared Franklin Soil and Water’s SWIFTlet lessons with the classes in her building. Her consistent commitment to bridging the gap between science and language arts is commendable.”
One year Schutte organized a recycling campaign for her entire school building for 30 days during Earth Month. Students decorated cardboard boxes and made them into classroom recycle bins. At the end of the month, everything was brought to the library so kids could see how much accumulated in just four weeks.
“Boy that was fun cleaning up,” said Schutte in looking back at the project. “That same year I decided to create a landfill in a terrarium so the kids could see the various layers of how a landfill operates and how quickly some things decompose while other items take years and years. Kroger donated paper sacks to us one year and I had the kids draw/create messages about recycling, helping the earth, etc. We then returned them to Kroger to be passed out to the customers. Another year we collected Pennies for the Planet during Earth Month and then donated that money to the Wildlife Organization.”
In addition to receiving an award from the soil and water district, Schutte also received books on the environment which will be put into circulation in the elementary school library. She said it has been a pleasure developing a relationship and working with the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District and she encourages all educators and home school families to take advantage of the organization and resources within the community.