BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — Mike Dick, a seventh-grade science teacher at Gateway, has spent the last several years working on an urban prairie after beginning a tag and release program for monarch butterflies at the middle school.
His efforts have been recognized by the Ohio Federation of Soil & Water Conservation Districts (OFSWCD), which has named him Ohio Teacher of the Year.
“I got the Lucas County Soil and Water Award in November, and Jamie Kochensparger over there nominated me then for the state award, and I thought, ‘Well, there are 88 counties, so what are the odds?’ but they liked what they’re seeing with the prairie initiatives, so the next thing you know, I got the Ohio award, so that was really cool,” Dick said.
In December, he was named the Lucas Soil and Water Conservation District’s 2021 Outstanding Conser-vation Educator and on March 1, he attended an OFSWCD luncheon, where several employees and other conservation advocates throughout the state were honored before the organization recognized Dick as its Teacher of the Year.
Dick was joined by Maumee City Schools Superintendent Dr. Todd Cramer for the luncheon.
“The level of support I’ve gotten here at Maumee City Schools has been top-notch,” Dick said. “Dr. Cramer even came all the way down to Columbus – rearranged all of his meetings to attend the luncheon – and still made it back for kindergarten orientation.”
As the science department chair, it is Dick’s job to work closely with his fellow teachers and the administration to add to the curriculum and provide students with the best opportunities for learning, which he does well, according to Michelle Shafer, MCS director of teaching and learning.
“What he’s done is just let the students have high engagement and high ownership in their learning. It’s such a great thing,” Shafer said. “He’s one of those people that’s a leader in the region. He helps create lessons that other teachers in other grades can benefit from.”
Dick has worked with teachers across several grades and classrooms to find lessons that work for all students. According to Shafer, the prairie is a great benefit in all classrooms because it functions as an outdoor classroom that uses applied learning. Teachers outside of science, including math, history and language arts, are able to incorporate the lessons into their classrooms.
“It’s just such a natural way to engage the students in the world around them. They can get some hands-on learning,” Shafer said. “The students learn about conservation and being a steward of the land.”
A project like this requires the help of not only fellow teachers and the Maumee administration, but from community partners, too.
“It was a huge honor, and even though my name is on the award, it is a collaborative effort – with help from the Toledo Zoo, Lucas County Soil and Water, and our gardening club. This is one where everyone has kind of come together for this,” Dick said. “This will last beyond my career, this impact. We’re really trying to make a permanent change here in the way that we do what we do.”
The prairies are not just an initiative in Maumee – there are prairies at Fort Miami, Fairfield, Wayne Trail and Gateway – but in other school districts, too. The Prairie Project has helped 20 schools install prairies on their properties, and members of the Prairie Project steering committee, which includes Dick, have written curriculum guides for grades 1-8 to use the sites to their fullest potential.
“He’s always willing to try something new if it’s going to benefit his students,” Shafer said. “Mike is amazing and we’re so lucky to have him.”
Shafer said the OFSWCD recognition of Dick’s efforts in the school and community are well-deserved because of the way he has greatly improved numerous classrooms at Maumee – not just his own.