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A Year of Success for one North Kansas City School District Educator

Laura Gilchrist is a sixth grade science and social studies teacher at New Mark Middle School in the North Kansas City School District. One could certainly describe the twenty-year-veteran’s last 13 months as a success: 2014 Christa McAuliffe Pioneer in Education Award, successfully connected students at New Mark Middle to the Kansas City Pet Project for a service learning project, secured a grant that changed the way lunch was disposed at Fox Hill Elementary and New Mark Middle, and was nominated as a 2014-15 Missouri State Teacher of the Year.

In April 2014, Gilchrist was honored with the Christa McAuliffe Pioneer in Education award at the annual Northland Regional Chamber of Commerce Excellence in Education banquet. The banquet itself brings together over 1000 attendees and is the largest education celebration in the region. The McAuliffe award, named after the American teacher who was tragically killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion, is only given to one educator every year.

Laura Gilcrist Pioneer in Education Christa McAuliffe Award 2014
Laura Gilchrist received the 2014 Christa McAuliffe Pioneer in Education award

The McAuliffe award recognizes the innovation, motivation, and spirit that McAuliffe demonstrated. According to a news update from the North Kansas City Schools, Gilchrist was recognized for redefining creativity in her approach to curriculum and expanding learning far beyond the classroom walls. Over the last year, Gilchrist has continued to present opportunities to students that exemplify the reason she won this award.

While attending the Kaufman Foundation’s 1 Million Cups, Gilchrist learned about the Kansas City Pet Project. The Kansas City Pet Project is a 501c3 that operates the Kansas City, Missouri Animal Shelter. Their goal, according to their website, is to create a No Kill Kansas City.

Gilchrist realized that there was a significant opportunity for service learning for students at New Mark Middle School. Throughout the 2014-15 school year, Gilchrist created volunteer and charitable opportunities for the student body at New Mark Middle. The end result for the KC Pet Project was a total of numerous volunteer hours and a total of $1500 donated to the Kansas City charity.  

In addition to the work with KC Pet Project, Gilchrist has successfully secured grant funding that allowed New Mark Middle School to transform the way it deals with solid waste in their lunchroom. Instead of everything going into one bin, students now sort their trash into three separate bins.

The idea was born out of a science lesson on environmental impact during the 2013-14 school year. Gilchrist tasked her kids with forming groups to solve a local eco-issue. Students discovered the FRED project and a company called Missouri Organics. Founded in 1992, Missouri Organics (see video below) is a family-owned company that takes organic waste and turns it into usable compost. During the summer, Gilchrist continued to dig deeper into the possibilities for creating an effective recycling program at New Mark Middle.

The kids just completed the waste audit/inventory with one of the 7 big cans of lunch waste! It was ‘interesting’, smelly, and disconcerting. Eye-opener. Only 4 of the 36 pounds (11%) needed to go to the landfill–but Friday we sent all of it, like we have for past 41 years at NMMS. 28 of the 36 pounds total was FOOD waste which will now be composted by Missouri Organic–78%. 4 pounds was recycling (11%). The 89% can AND WILL be recycled and composted starting Monday thanks to a MARC grant and @sharileakc and Gary Kannenberg. The kids are ready to tackle our plastic landfill forks, spoons first. Changing to reuseable will get us to 10% and under to landfill. I believe school districts can impact communities greatly by committing to recycling and especially composting. Chiefs, Target, WalMart, Harley-Davidson and many more KC businesses already compost with Missouri Organic. Where there’s a will there’s a way. ☺️ #kcedu#moedchat #squaready

A photo posted by Laura Gilchrist (@lauragilchrist4) on

During the summer she attended a Green Business Network KC meeting. At this meeting, she met Gary Kannenberg who happened to be writing a grant with Shari Wilson of Project Central. It just so happened that they needed two schools for the grant, so Fox Hill Elementary and New Mark Middle were added. The $47,000 grant was awarded from the Mid-America Regional Council (other schools included Smithville Primary and 2 schools in the KCMO school district). According to a blog post by Gilchrist, the grant pays for Kannenberg and Wilson to coordinate the lunchroom flow with red/blue/green barrels, problem-solve with custodians to get it running smoothly, coordinate and pay for Missouri Organic to pick up our food waste three times per week, coordinate teacher training, help in classrooms with curriculum and teaching, set up waste audits with kids before and after, and buy Vermicomposting kits.

When students go to throw their trash away in the lunchroom, they now sort it quickly into three separate barrels. About ten percent of the waste now goes to the landfill, ten percent goes to recycling, and a surprising eighty percent is hauled off to be composted. Gilchrist mentioned one of the challenges of the program is that it does add a little cost to waste disposal at area schools. She believes that if more schools and businesses would adopt this method of waste removal, market forces may take over and make this a more economical and productive way to remove waste.

Reinforcing Gilchrist’s success this year, she was also a nominee for the Missouri Teacher of the Year award. Gilchrist was the exclusive nominee from the entire Kansas City Metro. Unfortunately, Gilchrist was not selected by the Missouri Deparment of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) as the finalist. Chris Holmes, a journalism teacher from Hazelwood was selected. Overall, Gilchrist is incredibly pleased with the past year and looking forward to the 2015-16 school year.

For anyone in the community wanting to follow Gilchrist as she begins the next school year, you can follow her on one of her many social media channels. Her blog can be found here: http://lauragilchrist4.com/

You can follow her on Twitter:

And on Instagram here: http://instagram.com/lauragilchrist4/

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About Andrew Palmer