Sunday, November 11, 2012
County teachers come together to spread environmental awareness

About 30 Monroe County teachers from five different Upper Keys schools have joined together to bring environmental awareness into their classrooms this school year with the support of The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort.

Schools represented in this year's program are: Key Largo School, Treasure Village Montessori School, The Academy at Ocean Reef, Plantation Key School and Ocean Studies Charter School.

Teachers from those schools have selected a total of 10 environmental projects for their students, ranging from creating an original piece of artwork representing an endangered plant, to reporting on interviews conducted with local elders relating their early experiences with nature and plants here in the Florida Keys.

The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort is coordinating the projects teachers have selected here in Monroe County.

In mid-August, teachers were invited to the gardens for the first of two informational gatherings where this year's program options were presented by Gardens Educational Director Veronica Harris and Associate Director and ethnobotanist Rick Hederstrom. By mid-September, some 18 teachers had decided to join the program and by late September, 29 Monroe County schoolteachers, along with a few parent home-schoolers, had decided to participate.

The program, started in 2002, arrived in Monroe County last year. That year, more than 50 Key Largo students participated in the global competition, designing an Olympic wreath with native plants. One wreath, designed by two students, went all the way to the Top Ten global finals at the London Olympics.

Initial judging for each of this year's 10 Monroe County Fairchild Challenge projects is done in the schools, and finalists' work is presented to various judging committees at The Botanic Gardens at Kona Kai Resort. Committee members are selected for their educational and vocational background. Anyone interested in serving on a judging committee should contact Veronica Harris by e-mail: or by calling 305-852-9766.