Read about Callye’s transition from Florida to Montana as she begins her journey as the DEQ’s Smart School Coordinator:
I had just come inside from the blistering Florida heat the moment I received a call with an offer to join Energy Corps as the SMART Schools Coordinator in Helena, Montana. I was beyond excited and probably partially deafened Bill Pedersen, the Coordinator at the time, with shrill of enthusiasm. As I shared the news with my coworkers at Publix Super Markets my manager popped her head out of her office and said “doesn’t the temperature get below zero there in the winter?” My stomach dropped. I had no idea what I had just agreed to. I then began wondering how I would function in a place like this. Florida was the only place I had ever really known. I was nervous to make the trek out west but knew it would be worth the adventure. So far it has been!
The comparisons of Florida and Montana are astonishing. I’ll start with the landscapes. In Florida, when you look out across the flat land your eyes are met with either large neighborhoods lined with identical houses or a strip mall. Unless you are standing on the shore or atop a high rise building, the Gulf of Mexico or Atlantic Ocean are nowhere in sight. Hiking can be entertaining but there is never a mountain peak or any sort of summit to reach, maybe a swamp or small tannin stained river. In Montana, there is depth to the landscape! The land is immense and ever changing. I can look out the front door of my house and see mountain ranges in the distance. I can see the Sleeping Giant from the Department of Environmental Quality’s windows.
The second most noticeable different is the work I have begun. As the SMART Schools Coordinator I feel as if I am contributing to something larger than myself that can make a lasting impression on Montana’s school system. The SMART in SMART Schools stands for Saving Money and Resources Today. The program was implemented in 2014 by Lieutenant Governor Angela McLean and has helped Montana’s public schools save over $100,000 and divert over 60,000 pounds of waste from landfills by allowing schools to participate in a friendly competition focused on three categories: energy efficiency, recycling, and greening. Each school can participate in one or all three Challenges with the chance to become one of the twelve SMART Schools Champions, win $1,000, and receive statewide recognition. The program offers free technical assistance, a mentor, and educational presentations from yours truly.
I have begun my Energy Corps service term by learning about the state’s school system and what role I will play in it. I have spent the majority of my time recruiting potential SMART Schools through emails, phone calls, and tabling at conferences. Recently, I had the opportunity to table and present at the MEA-MFT Educator’s Conference in Billings, Montana. I was amazed by the amount of teachers and staff that were interested in the SMART Schools Challenge. These educators seemed to share the same ideals and ethics as myself in regards to integrating natural resource conservation into their curriculum and school themes. During my presentation I was met with open minds and great ideas from educators about how they could improve their school’s learning environment as well as save on their facility’s operational costs through the challenge.
I believe I am making difference in not only children’s lives but also the integrity of our natural resources. Although I have only just begun my work I can already see the changes in some Montana schools and I am extremely grateful to be a part of this wonderful program. As life in Montana has unfolded, I have become grounded in knowing that the differences and challenges I will face will allow me to grow and develop a better sense of myself.
Callye Foster graduated from the University of Central Florida with a B.S. in Environmental Studies and minor in Energy and Sustainability. She served two years as President for the Intellectual Decisions on Environmental Awareness Solutions UCF (IDEAS for UCF) Chapter. Callye serves with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality as their Smart Schools Coordinator.