Mary Priestley is Conservation Educator of the Year

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Mary Priestley, director of the Summer Bridge Program at Sewanee: The University of the South, has received the Conservation Educator of the Year Award from the Grundy County Agricultural Business Council. Mary is working in the Grundy County Schools on a three-year grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to Sewanee’s Department of Biology. The grant, which is largely for studying land use changes on the Cumberland Plateau, has an educational outreach component. In addition to supporting environmental education at the Sewanee Elementary School, the department is also working closely with four schools in Grundy County: Swiss Memorial, Coalmont, and Tracy City elementary and high schools. At Swiss and Coalmont, Mary is working with teachers and parent volunteers to construct nature trails through forested areas on campus, while at the high school she is involved with environmental science classes in that school’s 16-acre outdoor classroom. At Coalmont, she works with younger children in grades K-4, to put together a book about the county’s important natural and cultural features. The grant is now in its third and final year. “I think it says a lot,” said Mary, “that the Grundy County Agricultural Business Council is recognizing the importance and impact of this work. These children have the most beautiful and biologically diverse land in the world at their backdoor, and through the Hughes grant we are helping them to learn more about it.”

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