2018 Sustainable Teacher Award Winners

School Leadership: Nathan Fields, John Early Museum Magnet Middle Prep 


Nathan Fields joined John Early this year and has displayed remarkable leadership among the Exceptional Education Department with his innovative way of thinking and upbeat determination to help all students. His goal was to incorporate sustainability practices school-wide but was entering a new school, so he developed relationships with teachers, students, and community partners to make it happen. In just one year, Nathan spearheaded a recycling program, organized composting for leftover food, taught new food justice topics, rejuvenated the school's community garden with a student leadership team, and solicited funds to aid in his efforts. John Early has a rich history and acclaim as the only museum magnet school in the country, but it is faced with challenges such as poverty and injustice impacting student learning. Nathan is committed to establishing deep connections with his students and inspiring them to become advocates for their community, the environment, and for themselves.

A quote from Nathan that demonstrates his school leadership; "My hope is that the whole school sees the connection of environmental justice to their real lives, and that through seeing the world with new eyes, we see ourselves and one another with those same eyes."

Curriculum Enhancement: Susannah Fotopulos, Plant the Seed

Mech Kneidinger accepting on behalf of Susannah

Mech Kneidinger accepting on behalf of Susannah

Susannah Fotopulos is the founding director of Plant the Seed, a nonprofit that inspires and empowers young people through garden-based learning — connecting them to the land, their education and one another. Plant the Seed partners with Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and Casa Azafrán reaching around 1,000 children in some of Nashville’s most vulnerable neighborhoods. Susannah and her organization have excelled at curriculum enhancement but developing a toolkit with 27 lessons that enhance and support multiple academic standards, training and supporting over 70 teachers weekly, and helping teachers integrate the garden into their classrooms as a meaningful education tool. The organization has found innovative and creative ways around the common barriers to gardening education by bringing the garden to the students, aligning lessons to learning objectives so they may be taught during the school day as well as throughout the year including winter, and engaging volunteers and older students to care for the garden spaces over the summer.  It is also important to Susannah and the Plant the Seed team to live the environmental tenets the organization teaches, from those with large-scale impact to daily tasks, recognizing that these simple seeds of action grow a better future for all.

Project Management: Jay Renfro, Knowledge Academies 


When Jay shared with his students that the area around their school is a food desert, they decided to do something. What resulted was a student-run pumpkin business, Renfro Farms, where students plant seeds, harvest pumpkins, and design and implement a marketing and business strategy to sell pumpkins to the community. In his own words, “The mission of Renfro Farms is to redefine education by forming students into entrepreneurs and agents of change in their community. It encourages students to pursue their craziest, most innovative ideas that address agricultural and environmental challenges in their community.” In addition to the farm, Jay also led a recycling club and designed a park-improvement project for students. He accomplished these projects by taking the initiative to apply for, and received the LRNG Educator Innovator Grant, sponsored by the Show Me Campaign and MacArthur Foundation. This coming year Jay will be the Outdoor Learning Education Coordinator, a role specifically designed for him to design and implement outdoor and environmental education into their curriculum. 


Thank you to our sponsors