Leesburg Teacher Receives Environmental Award for School Garden Initiative

Leesburg, VA – The Leesburg Town Council and the Environmental Advisory Commission awarded Marykirk Cunningham, a dedicated educator from Frederick Douglass Elementary School, the prestigious 2023 John W. Tolbert Jr. Environmental Achievement Award this Tuesday. The ceremony, led by EAC Chair Paul Sheaffer, recognized Cunningham for her significant contributions to environmental education through the FDE Garden Lab.

Initiated in 2012 by Cunningham, with the help of her husband Jim and her father, horticulturalist Pop Goodhart, the FDE Garden Lab has become a cornerstone of practical, environment-focused learning within the school. This innovative project, nestled in one of the school’s interior courtyards, serves as a dynamic classroom for students across various subjects, integrating a hands-on “garden to table” approach with crops like apples, strawberries, and a variety of vegetables.

The garden not only supports the school curriculum but also complements the meals provided in the school cafeteria, in collaboration with the Loudoun County Public School’s nutrition department. This initiative underscores the connection between agriculture and everyday food choices, reinforced by ongoing partnerships with entities like Virginia Agriculture in the Classroom.

Cunningham’s work has extended beyond the school gates, turning the Garden Lab into a hub for educational tours and professional development sessions involving numerous local and national educational organizations.

Reflecting on her motivations, Cunningham highlighted the lifelong influence of her parents who instilled in her the values of community service and environmental stewardship. She remains committed to enhancing the educational landscape, ensuring that the Garden Lab continues to serve as a source of inspiration and learning for the community.