MUNFORD — State Department of Education officials toured Munford schools Friday as their first stop on the “Celebrate Innovation” trail.

Talladega County School Superintendent Dr. Suzanne Lacey could not say enough about the monumental changes Munford schools have made in recent years.

“We would like our signature motto to be ‘proactive and resourceful’ in all that we do throughout the schools and into our community,” she said.

The Munford school system has partnered with several organizations to help fund and provide students with innovative, hands-on learning. The U.S. Forest Service, Georgia Pacific, The Alabama Forestry Commision, Jacksonville State University and Auburn University are just some of the organizations that help fund or donate items to aid with Munford Schools Project-Based Learning.

PBL is a teaching method where students work for an extended period of time to research and respond to a challenging question to gain knowledge and skills.

This teaching method is displayed throughout the Munford, from the elementary school to the high school.

Dr. Brooke Morgan, principal of Munford Elementary, said the school’s main focal point for PBL projects is conservation. This method is portrayed in several different activities throughout the elementary school.

For example, the kindergarten classes planted and grew its own lettuce.

“They were amazed to find out it didn’t come from Walmart,” Morgan said.

Munford Elementary also holds a monthly “Club Day” the first Friday of each month that helps the students learn how to be resourceful and environmentally friendly within their special interests. The clubs in Club Day range from “sports club” to “blast from the past club.”

Although these clubs are not strictly science, they help engage students in learning to conserve as part of their daily lifestyles.

Teaching elementary-age kids the importance of recycling has been echoed by all the Munford Elementary staff. For example, all of the used or damaged Crayola markers students use with school work  are recycled and later used to make fuel for boats.

Off-campus learning

The PBL projects even include field trips. Munford Elementary’s fourth-grade class attended the Coosa River Science school for an overnight field trip last year.

Munford Middle continues to carry the torch for innovative learning by also including PBL projects within its curriculum.

The middle school recently recycled more than 8,000 pounds of electronics and in return used the funds to buy recycling bins for schools all across Talladega County.

Munford Middle also has incorporated a low ropes course to help with team building activities.

Munford High School has spearheaded the PBL initiative by having several outdoor environmentally friendly classrooms.

Some of the outdoor classrooms include: a catfish and koi pond, and an outdoor agriculture class, a frog pond, and various areas dedicated to the planting of native Alabama trees and wildlife.

Munford High student Ethan Leahy took samples of water from the koi pond to check for changes.

“I love getting to work in the water and learn about the fish,” Ethan said.

Harleigh Roberts, a senior, said her favorite part of outdoor learning is being around the bluebird houses. “It’s became known as my spot,” she said. “I go out there as much as I can.”

Munford’s going green initiative has benefited the schools in various ways.  Superintendent Lacey said “the teamwork from student-to-student, grade-to-grade and even student-to-teacher is special and unique to Munford Schools.”

“If you can dream it, you can do it,” Talladega County board member Johnny Ponder said.

Ponder, a former worker for Georgia Pacific, played a major role in helping the schools become environmentally friendly. Dating back to 1998, he noticed a disconnect between students and the world around them. He said the experience he gathered by cutting timber for Georgia Pacific helped provide him with the tools to help the Munford School system become environmentally proactive.

This innovative thinking aided the schools to shift their existing resources and use them in different ways.

“I’m just honestly speechless, State Superintendent Dr. Tommy Bice said. “The focus at Munford Schools is to learn. I never hear anything pertaining to a specific subject or how something is graded. How students learn is the true focus here. Munford is focused on the right things.”