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A Teacher Who Inspires, Educates and Excels

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About: Judy Whitesell, the Upcycler!

Judy and her Green Team students are creating treasure from trash and beautifying their school and community in the process. The Green Team recycles inkjet cartridges, small electronics, shoes, and plastic bags. They also maintain a vegetable garden that uses compost from school lunch waste and water from the school rain barrels. The plants they place in every classroom help purify indoor air so that everyone can breathe easier. The Green Team also prepares "plarn" by cutting and tying plastic pieces together to crochet into bedrolls for the homeless. Community partners recognized her superhero abilities last year when they named Gilbert Elementary “All Around School of the Year” for the SC GreenSteps program.


“A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.” This quote by Brad Henry is reflective of the outstanding teaching ability of Judy Whitesell.

Throughout her career, Judy Whitesell has inspired numerous students to hope and achieve beyond what they thought they could, has lit their imagination on fire with her teaching techniques, and has fostered a love for learning. Her passion for teaching is evident immediately upon meeting her and stepping into the doors of her classroom.  I know this first-hand through my inquisitive son who is an avid reader and aspiring future scientist. He knew from the moment he met his teacher, Mrs. Whitesell, that she would teach and inspire him. He gazed about her classroom with a smile and wonder when he entered it on orientation night.  Her classroom, the students’ hands-on learning lab, was filled with cotton, nests, rocks, shells, and other tangible examples of science and agriculture. She had him hooked at that moment – and the learning that began then – has continued.

Mrs. Whitesell goes above and beyond in her teaching style and abilities and has offered additional projects and opportunities that can be continued at home. Students are motivated to expand upon what they were taught in the classroom.  Units of study come alive with interesting samples of rocks and minerals when learning about the classes of rocks. Her soil unit featured a guest speaker who supplemented her instruction about soil sampling, the layers of soil, and nutrition in the soil.  After students had an understanding about the soil, they were given the opportunity to participate in the Bonnie Cabbage Growing project.  Mrs. Whitesell encouraged her students to plant and care for their cabbage plant at home. 

Mrs. Whitesell and the schoolwide Green Team, which she sponsors, meet weekly before school to beautify the school grounds, plant and manage a school garden, and learn more about agriculture, sustainable solutions, and overall care for the environment.  The Green Team is also reusing plastic bags to make "plarn," short for plastic yarn, for bedrolls. Together, the group is involved with an anti-litter project, and actively participates in composting and using rain barrels.

Mrs. Whitesell has also been able to weave together her knowledge and passion about science with her instruction in South Carolina history as well.  Through her creative approaches, the various subjects of science, history, economics, stewardship, and an overall passion for learning more about history were threaded together into daily learning.  The learning did not stop when the school day ended. Often on weekends, I would have a request from my son to look up a topic on the internet, to check out relevant books at a library, or to bring in something the following week from home to share with Mrs. Whitesell and classmates about the current school topic.

From the perspective of a grateful parent, who is also an educator in the public schools, I am thankful for the passion, creativity, and dedication that she carries with her daily into her teaching.  Judy Whitesell is not just a teacher but has found her calling and purpose through her dedication to her students, her community, the environment and sustainability, and the field of education and agriculture.  The lessons she has taught so many students have expanded well beyond the science standards.  She has taught students about life, self-discipline, a zest for learning, and an appreciation for the environment and the role of agriculture. I am honored to know her and to have been able to share some of my reflections about this outstanding educator.

Written by Catherine Oxner. 

Catherine Oxner Parent

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