Toccoa Educator Awarded Conservation Teacher of Year Grant

Social Circle, Ga.

A Toccoa teacher’s proposal to design and install a native pollinator garden earned her school a $1,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Jina Harris, a third-grade teacher at The Learning Tree Academy’s Outdoor Learning School, has received DNR’s 2023-24 Conservation Teacher of the Year grant. The annual award goes to a kindergarten through fifth-grade public or private school teacher in Georgia who demonstrates exceptional energy and innovation in teaching life sciences. Funding is provided by The Environmental Resources Network, or TERN, friends group of the DNR Wildlife Conservation Section.

Linda May, outreach coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Section, said Harris was selected for her proposal Project Pollination: Buzzing and Humming.

“Cross-curricular creativity, hands-on outdoor activities, peer-to-peer teaching, sustainability and community engagement made her proposal rise to the top,“ May said.

For the project, the school’s third and fourth graders will research plants native to Georgia’s Piedmont ecoregion to then plan, install and manage a garden to attract a variety of pollinators. The garden will be used as an outdoor classroom, where older students will teach younger students about pollinators, native plants and biodiversity. Summer campers will work in the garden when school is out of session, and proceeds from a farmer’s market next fall will fund future garden projects.

Current funding will be used to buy native plants, trellises, interpretive signs, hummingbird feeders and a shade canopy. Local businesses will donate mulch and worktables.

Harris was grateful for the grant. “Thank you Georgia DNR for this amazing opportunity to create a native pollinator garden at Learning Tree Academy: Outdoor Learning School,” she said. “This will provide countless possibilities for our students to explore, discover, observe and ponder the many wonders nature offers!”

The grant is coordinated and proposals are reviewed by Wildlife Conservation Section staff and a TERN board member. The primary mission of TERN, a nonprofit formed in 1992, is to help financially support the agency.

Through education, research and management, Wildlife Conservation works to safeguard and restore Georgia’s native animals not legally fished for or hunted, plus rare plants and natural habitats. The agency also strives to increase public enjoyment of the outdoors.

Wildlife Conservation is funded largely by grants, direct donations and fundraisers, such as sales and renewals of Georgia’s bald eagle and monarch butterfly license plates (