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Melanie Hartfield
Melanie Hartfield Photo: Reagan Hartfield

A Locust Grove teacher’s vision of turning students into nature explorers has earned a $1,000 teaching conservation grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The agency recently announced Melanie Hartfield, a fifth-grade science and social studies teacher at Unity Grove Elementary, as the 2015 recipient of the grant given annually to a third- through fifth-grade public or private school teacher in Georgia who demonstrates exceptional energy and innovation in teaching life sciences.

The grant is made possible with funding from The Environmental Resources Network, or TERN, friends group of DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section. The section, part of the agency’s Wildlife Resources Division, conducts the contest and reviews proposals.

Hartfield was selected for her “Unity with Nature and Camp Skeeter” proposal, which outlines a plan for cataloging the plants and wildlife on school grounds though a “bioblitz.” Using naturalist backpacks and binoculars, fifth-graders will identify their findings, create an e-book and teach the school’s third-graders about the environment. Through cross-curricular activities, students will gather valuable information about Georgia’s native and invasive species, learn to appreciate nature, and even become lifelong stewards.

“One of John Muir’s most profound statements is a person always gains more than he seeks from nature,” Hartsfield said, referring to the famous naturalist. “It is my sincere hope that students not only learn science standards, but also gain a love of nature and the outdoors. Hopefully, this project will have a lasting effect on their lives – creating memories and future conservationists.”

Linda May, environmental outreach coordinator for the Nongame Conservation Section, said grant administrators are “thrilled to support an exceptional teacher like Mrs. Hartfield as she encourages students to discover the wildlife and habitats just outside their classroom. And we love how this project empowers older students to teach younger students.”

Previous recipients also fostered an appreciation for the state’s natural heritage and taught students how to contribute to healthy ecosystems through their everyday actions.

Through education, research and management, the Nongame Conservation Section works to safeguard and restore the diversity of nongame wildlife (animals not legally fished for or hunted), rare plants and natural habitats, while also striving to increase public enjoyment of the outdoors. The agency’s work is funded largely by grants, direct donations and fundraisers such as sales and renewals of Georgia’s eagle and hummingbird license plates.

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