Philanthropy in the Classroom

By Shane Gibson, Environmental Education Director

This article originally appeared in the fall 2017 issue of The Twig, our 24-page member newsletter. To read more from this issue, click here. To become a member and receive The Twig in the mail, become a member.

Not too long ago, I visited a school with a club that was raising money to protect animals in Africa. I thought to myself, “Why not protect wildlife in your hometown? Why not protect land where you can touch the soil you helped save?”

Shane Gibson instructs a class from the Harmony School at Yellowwood Farm, which has a conservation easement with Sycamore. Photo by Rachel Hartley-Smith

Thus was born the classroom membership. A classroom membership to Sycamore Land Trust is only $20. The first $20 donated by a classroom goes toward operational expenses related to land conservation. Additional amounts are invested in our Monarch Environmental Education Endowment Fund to ensure that the educational programming provided by Sycamore will forever be free, in much the same way that Sycamore’s land acquisitions will forever be protected. We are nearing our goal of $1 million for this endowment; contact us to learn more about how you can contribute!

In the spring of 2017, Stinesville Elementary students and I finished planting our native seeds early. STEAM (Science, Technology, Environment, Arts, and Math) Coordinator and teacher Jaimie Miller had a backup plan if we finished early. She gathered the students in front of the projector screen and began discussing philanthropy. I had no idea what her backup lesson would be, but just like the perfect lead-in question in an infomercial, I answered, “Well, I have the perfect philanthropic opportunity for you, a Sycamore Classroom Membership.”

I asked Mrs. Miller why she felt philanthropy was important to discuss with these young students. She said, “Learn to Give is a great resource when starting to teach philanthropy or giving. We define philanthropy as the giving of one’s time, talents, or treasures to improve and give back to the world around us. Richland-Bean Blossom Community School Corp. students are developing new, practical skills through STEAM classes, and with the help of community partners like Sycamore Land Trust, they’re able to employ those skills to meet needs they see in their immediate environment and to feel empowered as young land stewards for their communities.”

Jennifer Lewis is a first grade teacher at Marlin Elementary with Monroe County Community Schools (MCCSC). In the spring of 2017, her kindergarten class became the first official Sycamore Classroom Member. Sycamore’s Environmental Education program partnered with this class throughout the entire 2016-17 school year.

Mrs. Lewis shared, “through the Sycamore Land Trust’s environmental program, my students learned not only about their environment but what they could do to protect and preserve it. I think it’s important for children to understand that in order to do that, it takes a concerted effort. They learned through raising money for our classroom membership that they could make a difference and be part of something bigger to help our environment – even if they were just 5- and 6-year-olds.”

At MCCSC’s Templeton Elementary, Sycamore’s Environmental Education program partners with many classrooms. Students, teachers, school custodians, and Sycamore staff have worked together to revamp the Children’s Garden and to plant native plants in the circle drop-off drive. This project is funded by a grant from Duke Energy and includes site preparation, mulching, and planting.

Templeton K-6th grade teacher Rise Reinier expounded on her students’ experience working with Sycamore and becoming a classroom member: “participating with and working on Sycamore  projects helps students understand the interconnectedness of all things in nature. Physical involvement, be it digging holes, moving mulch, or gathering seed from native plants, is something tangible – active bodies : active minds. A community of people who value the environment and generously and collectively work to make the world a better place is the reason I think this is a wonderful opportunity for students.”

To become a classroom member, contact Shane Gibson at