When Laura Wood graduated from college, the idea of going back into the classroom as a teacher never even crossed her mind. There were sustainability projects to lead, changes to make in the way people were treating the Earth and “green” efforts to help implement. With an ecology and environmental science degree firmly in hand, Wood charged out into the world bent on making a difference.
“I never would have pictured myself as a teacher, not for a second,” said Wood, an 11-year veteran of Virginia Beach City Public Schools. “I was working at an environmental organization when I realized that the education piece was my favorite part and now I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Little did she know the biggest impact she’d make would take place in her biology and Advanced Placement Environmental Science classroom at Ocean Lakes High School. But if teaching became a comfortable fit for Wood, then working in a division where sustainability is a focus of the strategic plan is near perfection for her.
“Science today can be so much more than what students get in a classroom behind a desk,” Wood said. “There are a lot of great efforts in place here in Virginia Beach. It seems like we are doing more than others when it comes to incorporating sustainability practices into our curriculum so our students learn about the world and their impact on the environment.”
And Wood certainly leads by example.
In her biology classes last year, the energetic teacher required students to study and create an action plan for a local environmental issue. Students then took a canoe trip with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to see what they were talking about and taking action against up-close and in-person. Some of her students were inspired to take their projects beyond the planning stages and implemented an Earth Action Day event at Ocean Lakes. It was Wood’s project that sparked interest and triggered action in her students.
And that inspiration didn’t stop with just that class.
In AP Environmental Science, students combine biology, chemistry and earth science with an environmental spin. They tackle sustainability and discuss the LEED certification process’ role in new construction right here in Virginia Beach. From rain gardens to recycling, Woods literally opens the doors of her classroom and takes her students out into the world to learn how they impact their environment.
“We collect water samples from the pond in the quad, samples of plants, we work in the school garden, really anything to take them outside,” she said. “It gives kids a chance to do something they don’t normally do and those kids who don’t excel in the classroom, when you get them out in the element they shine.”
Plus, she said, it shows them the impact they have even in the small choices they make every day. For example, last year Ocean Lakes was having some problems with the recycling program in the building. Wood’s students rallied to garner support for the program and “schooled” their classmates when they saw someone putting something in the trash that should have been recycled. Their energy reinvigorated the program and helped it to grow. This year, Ocean Lakes will expand its teracycle project to include recycling energy bar and candy bar wrappers from both staff and students. Plus, the school’s Wave, Recycling and Environmental clubs will merge into a Project Green Teens Club in order to further organize Ocean Lakes’ sustainability efforts.
But just because school was out for the summer, doesn’t mean that Wood took a break from sustainability. Instead, she spent time working with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Environmental Literacy Initiative to teach science teachers how to write lesson plans that take students and learning outside. The hope is that teachers like Wood will take those lessons and share them across the city.
It’s not hard for her fellow Ocean Lakes teachers to understand why Wood was recently selected by a panel of judges at the Center for Green Schools of the U.S. Green Building Council as one of 10 Trailblazing Teachers this past spring. According to the Center for Green Schools team, Wood stood out from other applicants as an “incredible example of deep student engagement and innovative classroom instruction.”
It’s an honor that Wood, however, accepts with a flush of her cheeks and a wave of the hand.
“It’s the kids. They are the real trailblazers,” she said. “They inspire me every day.”
Compass Keeper Q&A
What is your favorite pastime?
Anything outside. I love being outside, it makes me feel better.
What was your favorite subject in school?
Who was your favorite teacher in school?
Pretty much any science teacher I ever had. They all helped me to shape my love for science.
What advice do you give to your students?
Be good to the Earth and do your part.
*Do you know someone who should be featured as a Compass Keeper? Send your nomination to firstname.lastname@example.org.