Diane Parton has worked tirelessly to educate students at Bridgestone’s 700-acre environmental habitat called BEECH.
Her efforts were recently recognized by the Tennessee Environmental Association when she was named Regional Environmental Educator of the Year during a fall conference in Murfreesboro.
“I was certainly surprised,” said Parton on receiving the award. “I’m happy I get to teach kids to love and take care of the outdoors. The idea is to teach science to students in a hands-on way and to teach stewardship. Everything we do has a purpose of meeting science standards.”
Parton is hands-on science instructional coordinator for Warren County schools. In that capacity, she spends much of her time at BEECH, which stands for Bridgestone Environmental Education Classroom and Habitat.
The 700-acre area features a 1.7-mile teaching trail, meadows, woods, and two ponds.
“There are different teaching points along the trail and the teaching points change with the grade level of the students,” said Parton. “We welcome students all the way up to the college level and frequently have visitors from MTSU and Motlow. Whoever would like to come is welcome.”
Parton was also quick to mention Bridgestone representative Carol Rose as a crucial part of the BEECH program. She says she works hand in hand with Rose to make the educational experience work.
The Regional Environmental Educator of the Year award specifically recognizes Parton for “teaching children science in a fun and hands-on manner.” Rose says that description is certainly appropriate.
“That is exactly what she does at BEECH and in school classrooms, taking the state science standards and adding hands-on activities in a relaxed atmosphere indoors and outdoors,” said Rose. “These activities allow students to retain the information, as documented in standardized testing.”
The award presentation was made by Tennessee Environmental Association board member and MTSU biology professor Dr. Cindi Smith-Walters.
To teach experiential learning in all types of science, Parton uses various methods and capitalizes on the resources of many BEECH partners.
When Hickory Creek third-graders recently arrived at BEECH, a surprise visit was made by Dr. Nick Gawel who brought Nadeer Youssef, Dr. Jason Oliver, and Joshua Basham from the TSU Nursery Research Center. They presented the BEECH program with an extensive and labeled insect collection to further the educational experiences of students at BEECH.
The Boy Scouts of America and TWRA also partner with BEECH in an effort to offer the best possible science curriculum for local children.
When students visit BEECH, they are referred to as “scientists” and they do not come for a field trip. They are on a field investigation with scientist notebooking. Lessons are specific to our native species.
There is a lab classroom with mounted and live animals for grade-level lessons, assisted by the popular Steve the Snake. In a classroom, students work with materials at grade-appropriate and standards-based centers where they often don’t realize they are learning all kinds of science.