Richland County conservation teacher earns state award

A Richland County educator has been named the state’s Conservation Teacher of the Year (Primary) by the S.C. Association of Conservation Districts.

Jennifer Mancke of Harmony School was nominated for the award by the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), which named her the County’s Conservation Teacher of the Year in 2019.

Jennifer Mancke leads students in hands-on activities related to conservation in her classroom at Harmony School in Forest Acres.

Mancke is the first- through fifth-grade lead teacher at Harmony School, a nonprofit Forest Acres institution that offers a multiyear blended curriculum inspired by Montessori, Waldorf and inquiry-based principles.

During the school day, Mancke gets students directly involved in conservation efforts through activities such as gardening, composting, rainwater collecting, water testing and recycling.

“I’m so glad to be at this school that I’m at, or I would not be able to do all the things that the kids inspire me to want to do,” Mancke said.

Teacher Jennifer Mancke, back row, middle, is shown with her class at Harmony School in Forest Acres in 2019. Mancke was recently named the state’s Conservation Teacher of the Year (Primary) for 2020 by the S.C. Association of Conservation Districts.

Mancke’s class has learned about conservation through visits to community sites, including the wastewater treatment plant, municipal water treatment plant and several farms. At the start of each school day, her students also discuss current events, including sustainability and environmental issues.

To celebrate Mancke’s state title, Chanda Cooper, education analyst for Richland County Conservation, brought a pollinator prize basket to Harmony School. The basket included a hummingbird feeder, wildflower mix, sunflower seeds and other items to help expand the school’s pollinator gardens.

“It’s really gratifying when we see local teachers get recognized at the state level and receive these awards because they put in a lot of hard work, a lot of time and a lot of passion into teaching these students about nature,” Cooper said.

Through the Conservation Teacher of the Year program, the Richland SWCD seeks to recognize and reward educators who prioritize environmental learning and teach their traditional curriculum through a conservation-minded lens.

For winning the County honor, Mancke received a cash award and a $500 Conservation Education Mini-Grant toward school conservation projects. She will receive another cash prize for earning the state title.

Mancke will be recognized Tuesday, Feb. 18 at the Association of Conservation Districts’ Partnership Conference in Charleston.