Laura Tyler (MEd ‘94) of Seattle’s South Shore PK-8 School is one of 13 educators in the United States to win this year’s Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators.
Tyler, who graduated from the University of Washington College of Education with her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction, has dedicated three decades as an educator to improving urban students’ environmental understanding and the environmental sustainability of her school system.
“A lot of our students come to school having experienced trauma in their lives, and being outdoors in nature can be very calming and restorative,” said Tyler. “If we can heal the land around us, we can also heal our community.”
Recognizing the importance of creating a connection between nature and her students, and providing urban students with a relaxing natural environment, Tyler brings her students on field trips that allow them to see a variety of local ecosystems. Her Solutions and Pollutions unit, for instance, teaches students about water chemistry by having them test water quality at nearby Lake Washington.
With the help of the Seattle Parks Department, her students have helped restore part of the East Duwamish Greenbelt. Students set up transect lines to subdivide a plot of land in order to count invasive and native plants, and then remove invasive species and plant native species.
“The students get to work with different agencies alongside real scientists,” Tyler said. “I love to network and create connections for my students. They are making a real change in their community.”
Tyler also collaborates with Seattle Tilth to teach her students about soil, farming, livestock and the variety of crops grown in their area. To ensure her students keep this connection to nature in the classroom, she invites guests to speak about topics such as the importance of clean water for oysters and future improvement plans for local creeks.
In addition to her contributions in the classroom and in the field with her students, Tyler has had a major impact on the environmental sustainability of her district and community. When she began teaching 30 years ago, she helped start and grow a four-school recycling program into a recycling and composting program that now exists in every school in the district. She worked with Seattle Public Utilities to pilot a Salmon in the Classroom project that ran for 10 years, and currently serves on the city’s Environmental Education Committee.
The Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators recognizes outstanding kindergarten through grade 12 teachers who employ innovative approaches to environmental education and use the environment as a context for learning for their students.
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications