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Horace Mann Teacher Named Earth Hero for Environmental Efforts

Fifth-grade teacher Marie Hartford volunteers her time to run an extracurricular club that gets students involved in environmental issues.

teacher Marie Hartford enjoys guiding her students to environmental projects based on what they are interested in.

Hartford’s real lessons for her students go beyond tackling the environmental issues that affect them and their school, however. The fifth- and sixth-graders who participate in the extracurricular environmental club she launched there are learning how to apply science to back up their positions as they advocate for change with the school board, PTA, and local government.

For Hartford's efforts, King County has selected her as a 2011 Earth Hero, a program that celebrates students, teachers, staff and volunteers who implement projects at their school or beyond to protect the environment.

Hartford will be recognized at a ceremony at the Community Center at Mercer View on Mercer Island, scheduled for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

For Hartford, the reward of her efforts is the involvement of students, and the proof of her success is in the growth of participation in her “Green Team,” which soon will be expanded to include fourth grade students as well.

While teaching at Henry David Thoreau Elementary in Kirkland, also in the , Hartford became involved in Friends of the Hidden River, an organization of educators that has worked with King County and secured more than $1 million in grants for the Brightwater Environmental Education Center, which is expected to open this year in Woodinville.

Hartford, who lives in Bothell, started working at Horace Mann two years ago and launched the environmental club at that time. She volunteers to run the program, which doesn’t receive any school funding, but is powered by students and their fundraising efforts in the community and with the school's parent teacher organization.

Last year, the students responded to concerns about an unpleasant smell from the parking lot that emanated on rainy days, when hordes of parents would drive children to school. The club researched and collected data on the number of cars, and got funding to have signs made designating the school’s parking lot a no-idle zone, greatly reducing the pollution there, Hartford said. It’s an issue that directly affects the student body of the school, which has about 25 cases of asthma among all the grades, she said.

This year, students at the school have focused in part on getting more kids to walk to school, coming up with a series of “walking schoolbus” events that encourage competing teams from the surrounding neighborhoods to see how many students will rise to the challenge, and raise awareness with their parents in the process. As a side benefit, Hartford said, the school office noted that there were far fewer tardies on the days when walking is emphasized.

Once the students begin to think about the environment, Hartford believes it’s her role to guide them in taking on projects that address issues they care about.

“I just try to keep it fun and honor their ideas,” she said.

Although she appreciates being recognized for her role with the Green Team, Hartford said the real benefit in such an award is bringing additional community awareness to the environmental projects of the students. Future projects could involve working on a hill next to the school that has erosion issues and a nearby retention pond, where Hartford sees more opportunities to nurture her budding scientists.

“Once you put on the green glasses, you see things everywhere,” she said.

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