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#039;Tree Lady#039; recipient of national award

She gets affectionate smiles as she walks down the hall past her students, decked out in a handmade tree costume complete with a lounging frog on her shoulder and tree roots hanging from her hemline.

The kids know Ironton Middle School science and social studies teacher Alice Brown enjoys her work. Now, some state officials know it, too. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources honored Brown's enthusiasm for and commitment to environmental studies by giving her the Outstanding Educator Award for 2002 from Project Learning Tree-Ohio (PLT).

Brown has been a teacher for 33 years, 31 of them with the Ironton City Schools. She is best known for starting the Landlab -- a three-acre tract of ground at the end of Means Street adjacent to the school -- three years ago. The Landlab provides a hands-on, up-close-and-personal lesson in the environment.

"We learn about biodiversity, and plants and animals, and soil and how it all joins together and how we all depend on it," she said. "I teach them about why we should care about endangered species and we talk about the problems with littering."

Brown's eyes light up when she discusses these things. -- hence her nickname, the "Tree Lady."

"I've taught all these years and I still love teaching," she said. "This Landlab is a lot of why I do love teaching. The kids love it. They learn so much more when they can touch and see."

The site is open to all Ironton City School students and students from Open Door School. Fourth-grade students go once a week to the Landlab.

Brown introduces a new theme each week, such as insects and leaves and seeds.

She took a $5,000 grant from the Ohio EPA last year to reestablish rivercane at the outdoor site. Her students wrote a letter to a rivercane specialist at the University of Illinois to make certain their efforts were productive. About a third of their transplants are flourishing.

Some of the EPA money also went to an Earth Day dig and rock party. Set on a Saturday,, even the parents were invited.

"The kids liked to come, even if it was on Saturday, and the parents liked it too," Brown said.

Money is a big concern when trying to keep a living classroom alive and functional. Donations and grants are a necessity. She is thankful for help from the Ironton Lions Club, which donated money for a shelter. Students once had a penny drive and collected enough money for other improvements. Brown is trying to get a Sam's Club grant for other Landlab projects.

In giving the award, PLT-Ohio State Coordinator Bill Schultz praised Brown's efforts to take learning to a new level.

"She is a very creative and innovative teacher who is always trying to make learning fun for her children," Schultz said. "She is a perfect example of what PLT is all about."

As part of her award, Brown will be Ohio's nominee for Project Learning Tree's National Educator of the Year Awards for 2003.

Only five recipients will be selected for this award by the PLT National Office in Washington. Teresa Moore/The Ironton Tribune