WILMINGTON — For most people, designing a curriculum to get an entire class of third-graders involved in learning how to help the environment would be intimidating. For Terry Brinson of Alderman Elementary, it was just another Monday. But after twenty six years of teaching, Brinson doubts she will ever get tired of doing it.
“When you see the light turn on in a child’s head, and they’ve learned something,” Brinson said, “it warms my heart.”
The N.C. Coastal Federation awarded Brinson with a Pelican Award this year to commemorate her outstanding involvement in environmental education. This annual award is given to people who rise above and beyond in the effort to protect our coastlines.
Brinson, third-grade teacher at Alderman since 1994, created a rain garden in front the school with the help of her class and the federation. The garden is a collection of plants and trees with fibrous roots that collect the dirty runoff and allows it to seep into the ground instead of flowing to the nearest creek. It also helps counteract the flooding that occurs in the parking lot and around the school.
“Every child got their own plant,” Brinson said. “They marked them and watched them grow over the school year.”
When the federation approached her three years ago with the idea to build a rain garden at Alderman, Brinson saw it as a chance to give her students a hands-on lesson in environmental awareness. She helped coordinate between the school and the federation to build the garden. After planting the garden, each student chose one of the garden’s plants to take care of for the school year.
“Without Terry’s enthusiasm and support,” said Ted Wilgis, an educator with the federation, “we would not have been able to implement the project.”
Brinson didn’t hesitate to take ownership of the garden after the project was introduced. She immediately set to creating lessons for her class, teaching the students about the garden and the importance of environmental awareness. The students have a responsibility in keeping the garden maintained, as well.
“We have them come out and remove dead leaves.” Brinson said, “They’re responsible for a lot of the upkeep. They love doing it.”
For three years, third-grade students at Alderman have been helping keep their new garden clean and efficient. Taking care of the garden is part of a unit on environmental science and helps engage young students to get involved in it. However, nobody engages students quite like a dedicated teacher.
“I’ve always been teaching elementary,” Brinson said, “watching them grow into wonderful and caring students makes me happy.”
A native of Wilmington, Brinson left as a child when her father’s government job made him move to Savannah, Ga. Later, she moved to Cary. From there, she decided she would become a teacher, and received a full scholarship to Fayetteville State University. In 1988, she started teaching second grade in Dunn.
“I tried teaching kindergarten for one year,” Brinson laughs, “but it definitely wasn’t my forte. They were crying, and I was too!”
She says she enjoys the challenge that comes with teaching children at such a young age.
In 1994, she moved back to Wilmington to be near her family and has been teaching at Alderman since then. She says she loves living in Wilmington, and thinks that it’s like being on vacation all year long. She has three children, a granddaughter and another grandchild on the way.
Brinson’s work with the federation has been instrumental in providing much-needed environmental education to young students. Her passion and dedication to the well-being of her school and her class is unwavering. Even small projects like her class’s rain garden help create positive change in the environment, and there’s no denying that the lessons her students learn from it will stay with them the rest of their lives. She believes it’s not just about teaching students, but also preparing young people to grow up into wonderful human beings. For her dedication to the environment, she earns a pelican award. But for her dedication to her students, she earns something more – a role in positively shaping our future generations.
“It’s an adventure every day,” says Brinson, “I couldn’t think of doing anything else.”