Inspiring Environmental Awareness One Student at a Time

story by Katrice Williams          photos by Sheila Scott

Zeal can be defined as a substantial amount of energy or enthusiasm when pursuing a goal or objective. Interestingly enough, Jessica Lyons is an impressive reflection of that definition. She has been teaching at South Effingham High School for nearly 13 years.

     Jessica has always maintained a noteworthy passion for education and strives to be a meaningful inspiration to all of her students. She currently teaches Advanced Placement (AP) Environmental Science, though she has also taught Physical Science and Biology I and II.

     Jessica has lived in the area for about 13 years along with her husband David and 16-year-old daughter Laila. The Illinois native grew up in Rhode Island prior to receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from Savannah State University and a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Armstrong State University.

     “I love learning. I really love science and studying the world around us and how things work. My goal is to try to find out what works best; there are a lot of things to try but not everything works. I wanted to be able to share that with students,” Jessica reveals.

     Jessica always wants to make a significant impact on her students, as she also persists to show them the necessity of being responsible citizens and the true relevance of environmental consciousness. That said, Jessica feels privileged to see the growth and success of each individual student.

     She remarks, “I think that it’s very rewarding when you form relationships with your students and see that they’re excited–to see that they’re succeeding…to see who they are and what they’re doing in their lives. I learn from the students; they teach me a lot also.”

     As Jessica’s love for science was a big factor in her deciding to be an educator, she is always eager to pass that passion along to her students in hopes that they might embark upon new and exciting scientific interests of their own.

     “I hope to inspire a love for science in my students. I hope they appreciate the environment as well. My goal is to make the information relevant and rigorous. I want to challenge them.  I’m giving them a good foundation. I hope they go on to be global leaders…community leaders. I hope they go on to make the world a better place; I hope to contribute to that,” Jessica states. She feels that all teachers should be concerned with helping to properly connect with each student while motivating them to reach their highest potential.

     She comments, “Everyday good teachers are trying to solve the problems: How can I reach the kids? How am I making this interesting for them today? How am I going to get their attention today? You’re definitely competing for their attention sometimes.”

     Environmental science is probably Jessica’s favorite scientific field thus far. Actually, she has long been an avid nature lover.

     “I grew up in a family that was always outdoors—we camped, we hiked…went to the beach. Environmental science is just a good fit for me. I’m really passionate about the environment. A lot of times, people think of the environment as something to exploit. I want to pass on to my students that it’s associated with human health. I think there are more sustainable ways to meet our needs. I don’t think we’re there yet; I think we need to go in that direction. It starts with being aware and being educated on the issues,” she asserts.

     In order to educate her students in the most interesting and impactful ways possible, Jessica uses a variety of approaches. Her students may watch documentaries, complete Internet-based labs, do projects or even travel to Skidaway Island to participate in workshops. They have also been able to visit the island’s Institute of Oceanography to enhance their researching skills in that area. In addition, Jessica allows her students to participate in open and thought-provoking educational debates on vital issues like the Georgia-Florida Water Wars and the construction of dams. She has found that many of them “really enjoy the debate format.” Some of the kids appreciate the “hands-on aspect” of some of the nature-based studies, like Tree Frog Studies, that Jessica incorporates into the curriculum. Jessica wants to steadily promote a dynamic and exciting learning environment for each of her students.

     “If you’re doing what you love and teaching topics that you love, it’s easy to be enthusiastic in the classroom and spread it to the students,” she insists.

     With such a remarkable perspective and enthusiasm, it is no surprise that Jessica recently won an international scholarship, the Key Issues Institute Scholarship offered by Georgia Pacific. The scholarship is “geared mainly towards science teachers.” After completing an extensive application process last school term, her qualifications and overall field acumen were reviewed and accepted by sponsors. Jessica learned of her phenomenal accomplishment just before school ended. The scholarship allowed Jessica along with other select international scholars to participate in the week-long Keystone Institute Program. The program, titled “Bringing Environmental Issues to the Classroom,” was held in Keystone, Colorado and began on July 11, 2017.

     The program relied a great deal on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) related approaches to educational development and enhancement. Many of the tasks and objectives of participants involved “investigating and reviewing STEM issues and topics.” This incorporated a substantial focus on environmental issues. Whether tangible or intellectually-based, educators were “provided with tools to help students be good leaders” in order to “inspire student problem-solving, broaden perspectives and encourage them to be engaged citizens.”

     Jessica declares, “STEM areas are so important. I feel that students will really benefit from them in today’s world.” She is excited to take beneficial tools acquired during the program “back to the classroom to increase academic vigor.”

     Some areas addressed involved incorporating environmental sustainability and proper research and data analysis into the class curriculum. Jessica appreciates the “amazing opportunity.”

     In her spare moments, Jessica loves spending time with her family. Whether traveling, relaxing at the beach on Tybee Island or attending music festivals, she feels that their time together is priceless. Moreover, Jessica coaches the boys’ soccer team at South Effingham High, as she does “love soccer” and being able to work with the athletes on their skills. What’s more, she enjoys being outside with her four dogs that she adores. In fact, Jessica volunteers some of her time at the One Love Animal Rescue. Further, she likes gardening and yardwork, though she is quick to admit that her husband David is “better at it” than she is.

     By doing what she enjoys in a field that she loves, Jessica Lyons encourages students to have a sincere interest in their education while developing a healthy appreciation and responsible attitude towards the environment. She is making a real difference in and out of the classroom.

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