By Molly Hayden, USAG GrafenwoehrDecember 7, 2010
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany Aca,!aEURc Even the most disinterested student can't help to be mesmerized when walking into Elfriede Kean's classroom. It's brightly colored and full of life. Plants and fruit tress line the window sill, a five foot tall tree sits in the corner and a real bird's nest takes refuge on her crowded desk.
The Host Nation Teacher for Grafenwoehr Elementary School has provided German language and cultural lessons to students for more than 20 years. Her teaching methods, however, are more than textbooks and written tests. Kean is one teacher who goes beyond the stature of her lesson plan to include hands-on environmental stewardship.
There is no incentive behind this besides the pure joy of teaching and the benefit to students and society at large for a better future.
Kean's efforts to provide educational experiences showcasing the importance of nature, working closely with the Grafenwoehr Directorate of Public Works' Environmental Division and Utilities Branch to establish sound lesson plans for students, have not gone unnoticed.
Recently, Kean was honored and awarded the Environmental Award 2008-2009 for the county of Neustadt.
This prestigious award is given to individuals who promote and encourage environmental practices and demonstrate leadership for the environment.
Col. Vann Smiley, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr commander, was among the attendees at the award ceremony.
"Frau Kean's personal effort and energy can be singled out as a significant contribution to 'environmental' awareness amongst our children as well as the greater Grafenwoehr Military Community," said Smiley. "This nests extremely well with USAG Grafenwoehr initiatives towards energy efficiency and environmental stewardship."
In her first year teaching at Grafenwoehr elementary school 22 years ago, Kean implemented a paper recycling program. Her efforts have since graduated to teaching young children about wind and solar energy and the importance of composting and recycling.
"It's the future of all people in this world," said Kean. "We have no other planet and I'm afraid many people do not see the importance of protecting it."
Kean debunks many environmental misconceptions with hands-on learning, including field trips to recycling centers to see how recycled products are sorted and shipped to various facilities to become something new, as well as power plants, allowing the children to see firsthand the value of alternative energy sources.
Digging in the dirt is also a favorite for students and teacher alike as students hike through the woods to learn about bees, worms and other animals, and the role they play in nature.
"Hands-on experience teaches children more in a minute than I can talking about it for an hour," said Kean. "If they see the importance of nature and the part it plays in their everyday lives, they will hopefully become more aware in the future and pass along what they have learned to others."
Kean breathes "green" air into her student's curriculum using innovative methods and approaches. She excites the children with every changing lesson plan and helps develop young minds to perceive the world differently.
"It's up to them now," said Kean. "Our future is in the hands of these children."
And with Kean's guidance, the future looks bright.