Lewis County teacher named WVDEP Make It Shine Environmental Teacher of the Year

Tracy Arnold

Leading Creek Elementary School is a newer, multicounty school with students from both Lewis and Gilmer counties. Teacher Tracy Arnold had worked at Troy Elementary from 2012 to 2015 when it was consolidated with Alum Bridge to create Leading Creek Elementary. Tracy has taught fifth grade at Leading Creek Elementary since 2015.

When asked what she likes about teaching Tracy told us, “teaching is a rewarding profession in so many ways. I never chose to do something in life based on the pay. Even though I could probably earn more in another profession, I love teaching, working with students, inspiring youth, and helping students grow academically and mentally. The students are why I teach. I have had several former students reach out to me to tell me how they are doing in life. It is great to see the productive adults they grow up to be.” She went on to speak about her personal experience, “I appreciate all the content that I need to share with students, but some lessons cannot be taught from a book.”

“In 2016, our fifth grade class lost a student to gun violence. Our whole class was in mourning, and it was so difficult for students to express their feelings. When it happened, all the professionals (counselors, administrators, etc.) wanted to step in and show their support. However, this overwhelmed my class, and they froze. It took about two months for students to process the death to even talk about it. It finally happened during a spelling lesson. We were talking about the word keening, and I mentioned that as a writer I experienced the sound of someone hearing for the first time that their loved-one was dead. We talked about the sadness, and this led into a discussion of us all talking about where we were when we heard that the student had died. For some students, this was the first time they were able to talk about it comfortably. This discussion was a part of our healing process, as a class, as classmates, and as a fifth grade family. I am so glad that I recognized that spelling instruction needed to stop, so that we could process the student’s death. I believe that I was their teacher for a reason. I feel that the emotional instruction was so important that day, and it will be remembered more so than any math or English lesson. Our class survived a difficult, sorrowful time, but we processed it, so we could all move on.”

Tracy told us about her love of introducing students to “ideas, people, and concepts that they have not heard. I am proud when students recognize the unjust treatment of slaves, Native Americans, and women.” She added, “we study the Civil War in fifth grade, and I enjoy bringing out my traveling trunk of artifacts from the Battle of Gettysburg.” She told us about differentiating instruction and embedding music in her lessons, “such as songs regarding math concepts or grammar concepts. My students are big fans of a Youtuber named MC Grammar. If anyone could make grammar sound cool, it is MC Grammar, who creates raps and songs about different grammar concepts. This is a perfect opportunity for me to prove to students that it is cool to be grammatically correct.”

Tracy was a recipient of two West Virginia Department of Environment Protection Make It Shine awards. She told us how it started last year, “I did not find out about the grants and awards available for us until last year when Beth Henry-Vance, with the DEP, informed me that I might be eligible. I applied for the first-time last year, and our school received the Save Our Streams Award in 2023 for our stream studies and maintenance.” That award provided $300 to the student group whose project was selected.

This year Tracy was honored as the West Virginia Department of Environment Protection Make It Shine Environmental Teacher of the Year! This award comes with a cash prize of $500 to the teacher and $1,000 to the school to promote STEM programs! In speaking about the award, Tracy told us, “I qualified for this award because of several things that I do in my classroom. First, I have had a stream study in my fifth grade as a part of our science class, along with a non-profit Experience Learning since Leading Creek Elementary opened. In addition, every year students go to clean up around the stream in the spring that we evaluated in the fall. Also, I created and organized World Water Day at Leading Creek Elementary, which started in 2022. This annual event has brought a variety of water-related topics and presenters into our school. The stream study is only for fifth grade, but the World Water Day is for the whole school.”

Tracy told us she dreamed of being a teacher from a young age. She would play school with her stuffed animals and play teacher. “So even at a young age, my dream was to be a teacher, writer, or game show host! I loved teaching from the moment I learned to read and write. I used to write poetry at a young age, and I was a ferocious reader. For my seven-year-old birthday, I was excited that my surprise was a trip to the library! I did not actually start teaching until I was 30. I originally went to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. My first two years were in Elementary Education, and then I switched majors, and I got a degree in Magazine Journalism. I worked as a staff writer at a newspaper for a few years at the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, and then worked for the Department of Health and Human Resources. At 27, I started to reflect on the impact I wanted to make on the world. I started to remember my education classes. With a stepdaughter at home in early elementary, I felt the profession pull me back. Returning to education was one of the best decisions of my life.”