Richland County conservationist named Educator of the Year
Chanda Cooper, Richland County Conservation Commission’s education program coordinator, has put together some unique activities to get children and adults interested in environmentalism. Whether its making tree costumes with a classroom of children or having a group of teachers write raps and songs about water droplets, Cooper knows how to make conservation education interactive and fun.
Cooper recently was recognized for her efforts to educate students across Richland County about the importance of environmental conservation. She is the recipient of the 2016 South Carolina Project Learning Tree Jerry L. Shrum Outstanding Educator of the Year award by the South Carolina Forestry Commission.
“Chanda does a terrific job creating a team environment with all the different partners we work with throughout the state and County,” said Conservation Director Quinton Epps. “Her zeal and passion for natural resources and education are infectious and reflected in her work.”
Project Learning Tree is an international environmental education program developed by the American Forest Foundation. The curriculum is geared toward students from early childhood through high school and its main purpose is to use the forest as a “window” into the natural world, helping young people gain an awareness and knowledge of the environment and their place within it.
“I love nature, environmental science, and bugs, and I want them to have an enthusiasm and love for it,” Cooper said.
Cooper grew up in Orangeburg on a farm and spent a lot of time outdoors with her brother hunting, fishing and taking walks. A couple of biology and natural history professors at the University of South Carolina got her interested in going into a career in conservation.
Cooper said she focuses on developing a passion about the environment among her students to guide how she relays facts about conservation.
“It starts with a feeling or a connection,” she said. “That’s what I want to do to help people feel excited and interested and then conversation will follow.”
Cooper was acknowledged for her efforts using classroom activities to promote the protection of natural resources as well as to advance the goals of the Richland Soil & Water Conservation District.
She has held more than 50 classroom presentations to discuss water quality protection, soil health improvement and caring for the environment. She also has held workshops for local farmers and gardeners.
Cooper is a leader in Arbor Day tree planting events at local district schools. Additional Arbor Day activities have included pollinator gardens, water habitats, fruit and vegetable gardens and greenhouses.
“Project Learning Tree (PLT) is a wonderful environmental curriculum whose hands-on, minds-on principles infuse my teaching philosophy,” Cooper said. “I am honored to be recognized by the PLT program and grateful to the colleagues who make my work possible.”
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