Melissa Nunnink

Two-Wheeled Commuter Brings Perspective to Earth Day

What Earth Day Means to Me

An essay by Melissa Nunnink, bicycle commuter

"If I play outside instead of on the computer, is that better for the Earth?"

This was a question posed to me recently from an 11 year old student of mine at Inman Middle School where I teach Earth Science. Every day, I witness the disjointed relationship kids have with the planet. At the same time, my students inspire me with their questions about the dynamics of our place here in the solar system. This compels me to teach them the fascinating and mysterious nature of science.

As the only faculty member who bikes to work every day, I make a purpose of dragging my bike into the classroom so the students see an alternative transportation choice. This helps when we discuss the paradox of "clean coal" or the most recent study on climate change. I may be known as that crazy teacher who bikes to work, but secretly I'm hoping the lonely rack at school will brim with neighborhood bikes.

My students are a prime motivator for me both in the classroom and in my own daily life. The increased rates of asthma in children, rampant obesity and our consumer culture - factors I witness every day - make me suit up with a helmet every morning.

The irony of all my earth-friendly practices is that I find immense pleasure in them. I enjoy biking to work, and spending less on gas which saves me at least $30 to $50 a month.  I also enjoy shopping at a farmer's market and tending my chicken flock. The fact that my trash never smells because I compost makes me happy. 
This past school year, my colleagues and I started "GROW", an after school gardening/culinary program to reconnect kids with food and how food choices can impact our own health and the health of the environment. We planted fun vegetables "(kohlrabi)" as well as the typical easy-growing fare (tomatoes, radishes, kale and collards) and have chefs come in to give valuable and sumptuous culinary tastings. More often now, the students beg to taste the greens (they LOVE broccoli!) rather than scrutinize the fresh produce like alien creatures on a plate.

When we live simply, and reduce our demands on the planet, we simultaneously increase our quality of life as well as that of our neighbors. A learner for life, I search out experiences over material goods, and encourage everyone I can to do the same. This Earth Day, connect with a young person who looks up to you, and let them guide your daily decisions with their ability to believe we can make a difference.