By Claudia Hewston
Work, plan, play, organize
Prepare, set up, tear down, drive
email, post, research, advise
stop, eat, sleep, hydrate….
Wow… They say if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. This past year, there have moments in which I truly felt that way. In serving as the Montana SMART Schools Coordinator I have gained more than just an education award, a reference on my resume or practical work experience. I have gained in the knowledge of where I want to go next.
I accepted this position because I recognized a gap, a gap between the knowledge of the scientific community and the awareness of the general public. When I started, it was kind of scary. I didn’t have a whole lot of experience recruiting and I didn’t truly know or understand the boundaries of my position. But I jumped right in, committed to my desire to start bridging this gap. I ruthlessly sent out email after email informing teachers, administrators, and faculty members about SMART Schools and how they could get involved. Come October 31st I had recruited 56 schools from across the state of Montana to embark in a yearlong challenge to pursue environmental, sustainable, and resilient change within their classroom, school, community and effectively their world.
I traveled to 25 schools from across the state starting in November and going until March. In this time I presented to just over 2000 students on topics such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, soil quality, aquaponics, the challenges of recycling, alternative transportation and more. Through this I felt an intense sense of motivation. Here I could witness firsthand what kind of difference I was making as I watched the students question, experiment and grow in the development of their projects.
I was recently involved in a debate between two people over if a single person could make a difference. I thought about this question for a while and concluded yes, but more so in the sense that a single person can be a catalyst for something bigger. I am a single person but through my service in partnership with DEQ, NCAT and these 56 schools from across the state WE made a difference. Sometimes all it takes is a little support. The following email excerpt was sent to me from a first year SMART School, in it you will find that all we need to ensue change is a little additional help, a catalyst.
So…. I just wanted to give you the biggest Thank You in the World! I’m talking the world’s biggest Thank YOU! Thank You for emailing me last September and introducing us to SMART Schools. This is exactly why I wanted to leave my dream job in Glacier and become a teacher. I wanted to become a teacher to teach the science behind what is currently happening in the world, while encouraging students to make real change in their communities- and SMART Schools led me to do exactly that. You have no idea how this has changed these kids’ lives. It probably doesn’t seem like it from your advantage, but this group of students was quite diverse- meaning they are kind of the non-athletes, mostly non-straight A students, a wide range from 9th-12th grade, and they don’t even really hang out with each other….. For them to come together like this was really amazing, and this contest has really changed our whole school. I’m trying to say that this project gave this group of students self-esteem and hope and now they are starting to believe they can go to college :)”
Receiving these words meant the absolute world to me. Like me, there are others who are making drastic career changes to pursue a life in which they can teach an effort to bridge a gap.
Going through school I applied for really anything and everything because I figured experience is experience and I need more of it. I do not regret this decision at all because my experiences were amazing. However, my term of service is coming to an end and rather than applying to just any position I feel as though I have found my direction. Though this position I know what jobs are out there with organizations like Yellowstone Forever, Clark Fork Coalition, National Wildlife Federation, Clark Fork Watershed Education Program and countless others. So thank you SMART Schools. Thank you to everyone this past year for working and sharing in your success with me. I hope to continue in my current direction with the confidence that one can be a catalyst and that together, we can make the best better for future generations.
In the 2108-2019 school year SMART Schools diverted 81,829.75 pounds of waste from landfills and saved $193,495.24 in energy costs, equivalent to 1,165.7 metric tons of CO2. Along with countless other great Greening projects.