By Matt de Simone
Last month, Central Academy Middle School art teacher Courtney May was announced as the 2019 District Conservation Teacher of the Year voted by Mountain Castles Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD).
Mountain Castles SWCD has served Botetourt County and Craig County since 1987. The organization functions in part as a provider of environmental education connections for schools within the community. Each year, the district selects a teacher who has shown excellence in teaching environmental education.
This year’s Conservation Teacher of the Year award recognized May for her innovations in connecting art with gardening. Last year, the Botetourt County School Board recognized May’s art students at Central Academy Middle School for completing a “Backyard Challenge” issued by May and CAMS Agroscience teacher Jennifer Hannah. Their students transformed the unused area outside of their classrooms into a functioning garden filled with rocks featuring personalized painting from the art students.
The award recognized May’s hard work along with her students’ attentiveness to procuring their produce and artistic abilities. During the school year, the students donated their food to the school’s salad bar. Over the summer, May frequently visited the garden. While the students were off for the summer, May helped maintain the produce and donated the food to a local food pantry.
“It was a huge surprise. They called a faculty meeting and Tim Miller (Mountain Castles SWCD Education & Outreach Coordinator) surprised me with the award,” May said.
May grew up in Bath County and is a graduate of Ferrum College. She has spent the last 17 years teaching in Henry County and Botetourt County. In that time, she taught art classes locally at Buchanan, Eagle Rock, and Breckinridge Elementary Schools.
Currently, CAMS seventh grade Art and Agroscience students have created a pamphlet and slide presentation to help the school’s rising sixth and seventh grade students learn how to plant seeds and care for the results. Fifth grade classes from surrounding elementary schools will soon take a field trip to CAMS and visit the Art and Agroscience classrooms. CAMS sixth grade students have created coloring sheets for the elementary school students highlighting the vegetables they will grow at CAMS during the next school year.
“We call it Sowing Seeds,” May explained. “Our students are going to be able to collaborate with the elementary school students to check in and see how the plants are growing. We’re hoping to take field trips out to the elementary schools to help them plant the seeds.”
May’s students will provide the fifth graders with seeds and raised beds to take back to their respective elementary schools. The pamphlet will be the students’ guide to help care for their produce. CAMS students will communicate with fifth graders at surrounding elementary schools using the latest telecommunications app like Skype or Google Cloud. The seeds planted by the students will produce cucumbers, tomatoes, pumpkins, cantaloupes, and peppers.