Pine Bluff Ridgway Christian High School science teacher Diedre Young is a devoted educator who strongly opposes garbage curriculum, except when litter lends itself to a learning opportunity.
Young — one of six finalists for this year’s national Readers’ Choice People Teacher of the Year Award — is known for devising imaginative measures to help her students increase their knowledge of the world and understand that wisdom is the key to a brighter future. If garbage happens to be part of that equation, so be it.
Last month, she accompanied seven seniors and a pair of adult chaperones to Louisiana for a field trip. The group patrolled Gulf of Mexico beaches learning about the debris that washes up on the coastline there.
“This field study is not only an excellent way to introduce my students to the issues our oceans are facing from an overwhelming amount of garbage that is either dumped or washed into it each day,” Young said, “but it is also a potent reminder to my students that their actions as far away as Arkansas also impact the oceans. All rivers lead to the ocean, so what is done on the Arkansas River will eventually impact the Gulf of Mexico.”
She summarized the research as “a real-world learning experience” that adds to classroom education.
Participating students were Brandi Battles, Micah Cottrell, Cody Cheatwood, KJ Hadley, Randy Harris, Rebecca Landreth and Joey Richardson. Randall Harris and his wife, Patricia Harris, chaperoned.
Among the items the students found on the ocean beaches were a patio table umbrella, a truck-tire inner tube, building lumber, plastic water bottles, milk jugs and “lots of” dirty diapers. Young said the students were shocked by the mass of the trash they encountered.
“It’s one thing to be told about something, but it’s another to experience and see it for yourself,” Young said. “The students saw first-hand the result of poor choices by some people.”
Young won two grants to help make the journey possible.
The Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Sciences (of Louisiana) and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries teamed on a $750 award.
“I was the only teacher from out of state who was awarded a Louisiana grant,” Young said, “and RCHS was the only school offered that much money for a field study on the Louisiana coastline.”
Also, RCHS had the only student group remaining in the area for four days for its extended study.
The Arkansas Science Teachers Association gave Young a $500 grant. Young said ASTA offers such grants each year to a select number of its members for implementation of an inquiry-based science activity.
“This was my first year to apply for this grant,” Young said of the ASTA award.
Young said the field study will have a lifelong impact on the students.
“I think that in the future, they might intervene with someone throwing something into a waterway, especially a river or an ocean,” she said, adding the students will want others to know that a single piece of trash can eventually contribute to a mountain of garbage.