Knowledge can be infectious, and it has spread from one classroom in Greensburg to another at the top of the state.

Stephanie Ward, a biology teacher at Elkhart Central High School, was recently named Elkhart County Conservation Teacher of the Year. However, how she came to sharing her passion for environmentalism with students started much earlier.

Ward is a 1990 graduate of Greensburg Community High School. She said she has always harbored a life-long love of science but it was former GCHS science teacher Larry Glore who helped nurture that love into a career.

“I had a science teacher, Mr. Glore, who was wonderful. It is because of his influence that I went into biology,” Ward said.

It was his passion for the subject, and his concern for his students, that guided her to biology at Indiana University, she said. She received her bachelor’s degree in the subject and went on to receive a master’s in secondary education.

Like Glore, she chose to spread her love for science and the environment to high school students. Ward eventually got a job in Elkhart where she spends her days trying to help the students of the urban school learn about the natural world around them. Often, she said, it can be a daunting task.

“It sometimes shocks me how many kids are ignorant of the outdoors. They don’t know anything about any animals or they’re afraid of every bug that flies by,” Ward said.

Through nature walks and hands-on projects, Ward said she tries to fill the students with knowledge. She includes a strong emphasis on conservation and environmental stewardship in her classroom as well as encouraging her students to become active in the community in environmental and conservation initiatives. Through her efforts, her students have participated in such activities as the St. Joseph and Elkhart River cleanup and the storm water drain education and identification projects sponsored by Envircorps, Riverwalk cleanups, adopt-a-road and Hoosier Riverwatch. Despite her wide array of activities, she said it can still be difficult to get kids hyped-up about Mother Earth.

“As far as high school students, I’m seeing a decline in the passion for the environment. It shocks me because it seems very important to them in elementary school,” Ward said. “If the only thing I can do is get them to recycle, I feel I’ve made an impact.”

Ward not only spreads the knowledge with her students, but the whole school. She sponsor for the extracurricular student organization “Society for a Better Earth.” The society organized a school-wide newspaper and office/notebook paper recycling project. The society prepared and implemented the distribution of collection boxes for each room, and then facilitates the collection of the paper for recycling. She said even in this endeavor, changes have been hard to come by.

“It’s been a little bit of a battle even at the school level,” Ward said. “Some teachers still throw away their paper and they see me coming, it’s like ‘Oh, no, here comes Mrs. Ward.’”

Ward also fights her battles on other fronts. She and her husband, Jason Ward, are board members of the Trillium Land Conservancy and remain active supporters of the Conservancy’s habitat preservations efforts. They also participate in the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program sponsored by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Through this, they conduct field research on frog and toad species in Elkhart County. The frog’s place in the environment is just another thing she learned from Glore.

“My husband, a friend and I will go out at night and listen for different frog calls,” Ward said. “If the frog population is in trouble, then the environment is in trouble.”

Despite her myriad of commitments to helping the environment, Ward said she was still surprised to win the award, which is given to her for trying to instill environmental awareness and encouraging volunteer participation among students. Ward was nominated, without her knowledge, by the department chair. He didn’t tell her until she won. Even after being honored, she still remained humble.

“I was really excited and surprised. I wanted to share it with my students because without them, none of this would have been possible.”

She hopes, like Mr. Glore, she can inspire some of her students to become adults who dedicate their lives to saving the environment.

Ward, formerly Simmonds, is the daughter of Steve and Diane Simmonds of Greensburg and the granddaughter of Bob and Rita Simmonds of Adams and Omer and Martha Fry of Milhousen.

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