It is no secret that outreach and education are the cornerstones of what we do at Miami Waterkeeper. Our jurisdiction lies in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, but we hope to see the positive impact of our work expand way beyond our local waterways. Jessica Perkins, known as Miss Perkins to her students, is an art educator working in Wallingford, Vermont, and a friend to Miami Waterkeeper. She carried our message up to the land-locked state of Vermont, and her students made our organization “thank you notes” in the form of art. Read more about Miss Perkins inspiration, and how no matter your connection to water, you can share the lessons of conservation in your everyday jobs.
What inspired you to be an art teacher?
It occurred to me early on that I enjoyed working with children and art had always been the center of my universe. I furthered my education in the direction of becoming an Art Educator and became a strong advocate for creativity in education. What inspired me most was that the arts were being stripped away from the curriculum, and I wanted to help change this. I wanted to save the subject that allowed children to be themselves, to express their individuality. I consider my classroom to be a place where children discover and learn through creative problem solving, yet also a place for self-expression.
Why did you decide to incorporate the ocean into your lessons?
I have always done a unit on observational drawing in 4th grade and the children love pretending to swim through the depths of the ocean as we watch a video on the coral reef, and its variety of marine life. We discuss the complexity of the ecosystem of the reef and the connections between the different species, yet it occurred to me this year that I forgot the most important connection a child could make; their own connection to the ocean.
What were some ways that you educated your students about threats to our ocean?
This year we began a discussion on what we do to support our oceans, regardless of being a landlocked state. I wanted their art pieces to not only portray the marine life that they discovered but the appreciation for this part of our Earth. We watched clips from documentaries on what other children around the world do to help their oceans and the devastation that has already occurred.
What were your students intrigued, or shocked by, as they learned more about our oceans?
The empathy these students were showing to the marine animals as they ingested plastics and pollutants in our videos was heartbreaking, but they did not turn away. The students wanted to do something about this, after all, they proclaimed, "this is our world too." Familiar with Miami Waterkeeper that my dear friend and environmentalist is a part of, I decided to share with them some positive news; the people who were making a difference in our oceans. Instantly my desk began to fill with their paintings containing thank you notes on the backs addressed to Miami Waterkeepers. They also drew inventions to turn garbage into healthy foods, and expectation versus the reality of our oceans and reefs.
The connection had been made. Students were no longer considering themselves to be separate from Earth's oceans and you could see this expressed in their art and their letters. This will be a lesson they will not forget.
Thank you so much to Jessica Perkins and the students at Wallingford Elementary School in Vermont! We hope you always continue to help us care for the planet!