Mount Carmel 'earth teacher' gets A+ Ecology courses bring $10,000 prize

September 24, 1992|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Sister Ellen Callaghan has been making her world a littl greener for a long time, and yesterday was particularly lush.

The longtime science teacher, one of nine winners in a national "earth teacher" competition co-sponsored by Amway Corp. and Time magazine, "joyfully" -- and tearfully -- accepted $10,000 for the tiny eastern Baltimore County high school where she has taught for 11 years. She also accepted $500 for herself, an invitation to address a United Nations environmental forum next summer and a bag of Amway products.

"I'm almost speechless about the whole thing," she said.

Sister Ellen teaches biology, physiology, ecology and health at Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School on Old Eastern Avenue in the Essex-Middle River area. She is one of two full-time science teachers at the high school.

Although she has been at the forefront of the school's environmental projects, Sister Ellen won the "earth teacher" award for creating a one-semester senior course called "The Bay Revisited" and for establishing an ecology club, the Society for a Cleaner Bay.

"So many of our students live on the water or near the water. They have been using it for recreation," said the Franciscan nun, whose course helps the teens look at the bay as more than a playground. "We have a gold mine, and it's in our back yard."

The "earth teachers" were chosen from more than 300 high school teachers nominated for motivating their students to become environmentally conscious and active.

Sister Ellen said she teaches her ecology course in the fall because the weather is warmer then and students can watch the waterfowl migrate.

The course includes three daylong trips on the water. The students canoe and row through marshes and accompany watermen in their workboats.

"Nature sells itself," Sister Ellen said. "All you have to do is let them see it."

On the nomination form, which she completed at the urging of one of her freshman students, Sister Ellen echoed those sentiments, writing: "Teens want to make a difference and, with guidance, they do."

Under her guidance, Mount Carmel's 150 students have adopted a stretch of Route 702, started a school recycling program, painted storm drains leading into the bay and helped restore the shoreline at Coxs Point Park on Back River.

Growing up in Delaware, Sister Ellen said, she enjoyed the shore and learned very young "to respect everything."

She has taught in Maryland for more than 20 years.

"We knew that this program was really excellent, but it's nice to have it affirmed," said Kathy Sipes, the Mount Carmel principal. TC "We are really pleased, for Sister Ellen and for the school."

Representatives of Amway, Time and the Alliance for Environmental Education, which judged the entries, presented the awards during an all-school assembly at Mount Carmel.

Mr. Bogacz also announced that Sister Ellen and her students will appear in Time next summer as part of a series of Amway advertisements. The $10,000 is earmarked for environmental educational materials.

"The principal and I are going to go and sit by the water . . . and make some prudent choices," Sister Ellen said. "That's an exorbitant amount of money. Do you know how many fund-raisers that would take -- suppers and dances?"

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