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Catonsville Chamber honors teacher who focuses on the environment

Mount Saint Joseph High School teacher Allison White delivers a lesson in her classroom Tuesday, May 3. White was named the Catonsville Chamber of Commerce’s Outstanding High School Teacher of the Year.
Mount Saint Joseph High School teacher Allison White delivers a lesson in her classroom Tuesday, May 3. White was named the Catonsville Chamber of Commerce’s Outstanding High School Teacher of the Year. (Jon Bleiweis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

It has been five years since Allison White gave a test or quiz to her college prep environmental science students at Mount Saint Joseph High School.

As testing has become more prominent in students' lives, she realized she doesn't have to add to it.

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White, who lives in Catonsville, said she would rather focus on teaching skills that students more likely need beyond high school — working well with others, researching and making presentations.

"I just thought the students are tested enough," she said. "They have plenty of opportunities to take a test and become proficient test takers."

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Instead, students in her class are evaluated based on projects and lab work.

"In most classes we do more book work, more reading, more strenuous work," said junior Darryl Morsell. "But when we come in here, we know we're going to do hands-on stuff. We're going to have fun and learn about the environment. It's more interesting than most other classes we have."

It's White's unique approach to teaching that earned her the Catonsville Chamber of Commerce's Outstanding High School Teacher of the Year award.

"Her infectious enthusiasm for the subject inspires students, staff and faculty to see the environment around them in a different light," the chamber said in a released statement.

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Teachers had to be nominated for the recognition. White was nominated by assistant principal Robert Peace. It's the first time someone from Mount Saint Joseph has won the recognition.

In Peace's nomination letter, he highlighted how White encourages critical thinking among her students and has helped teachers as the chairwoman of the school's science department.

"In her time as a teacher and a leader at the Mount, Mrs. White has been a tremendous inspiration to her students and her colleagues," Peace wrote. "She clearly articulates, encourages, and lives out the school's mission of providing a rigorous academic curriculum with an emphasis on community building and enduring personal relationships."

When White graduated from West Virginia University with a degree in wildlife management in 2000, teaching was something she hadn't considered.

One year in, she was hooked. She enjoys being able to share what she knows about the environment and how ecosystems function with young people, particularly those who are learning about it for the first time.

Sixteen years later, she's still at Mount Saint Joseph, the same school her father and brother attended.

"Once I started, I realized this is what I wanted to do," she said.

White uses the school's entire campus as her classroom. On a recent Monday, she halted a lesson to point out a yellow-crowned night heron she saw out the window. Students went out to take a better look. Some took photos. Binoculars hang on a wall by the window to give students a closer look at what's outside.

Each quarter, she assigns a project in which students have to identify and take photos of five wild animals or plants, as a way for them to recognize living things that are around them. The project aligns with White's goal as a teacher – for her students to have a better understanding of the environment.

"It's kind of cool to be able to embrace their curiosity — or to hopefully enhance it in some way — about the world around them," she said.

Students describe White as a teacher who makes the subject matter fun to learn about.

On Fridays, White asks students to bring in current events articles about the environment to facilitate a classroom discussion. It's one of White's lessons that junior Sam Goodman enjoys.

"You always hear stuff in the news about how keeping the environment is important, but you don't really know the underlying factors as to why it's important," he said. "Here, I feel like you can come in every day and learn something new that you didn't know before."

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