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Lifelong Learners Insights

On Willow Pond

Rebecca McLelland, Class of 2004

M.S. in Education > Ed.D. Teacher Leadership


February 2007


Rebecca McClelland

With sunken tires, rusty bicycles, abandoned shopping carts, and the occasional mattress, Willow Pond sometimes looks more like a flooded Superfund site than a potential home for freshwater fish. But standing on its shore, Walden alumna and current student Rebecca McLelland says looks can be deceiving.


“Willow Pond has the potential to be something beautiful,” says McLelland, who teaches at Perth Amboy High School in Perth Amboy, N.J. Her environmental club adopted the polluted pond a few years ago and, with borrowed rowboats from the local firehouse, removes hundreds of pounds of junk from the pond every month.


“It could be a wonderful home for migratory birds,” says McLelland, a Walden Ed.D. student. The 13.5-acre pond could also support fish and other creatures if the water is aerated, she says. In addition to seeing the pond’s potential, McLelland sees the pond as an ideal teaching tool—a perfect way to connect classroom science to her students’ lives.


McLelland’s environmental science and marine science students work on the pond throughout the year. They test the water quality for dissolved oxygen, pH, nitrates, phosphates, coliform bacteria, and turbidity. The young scientists then log their data into spreadsheets and complete qualitative and quantitative studies of the pond. “They have become the de facto Willow Pond experts,” McLelland says.


McLelland likes to challenge herself as much as she challenges her students. She’s in Walden’s Ed.D. Teacher Leadership specialization because she wants to teach college courses in science education while remaining a full-time high school teacher.


“I don’t think I ever want to be a school principal or an administrator. I enjoy being in the classroom too much,” she says. But McLelland believes college students could benefit from her hands-on experience. “A lot of professors I had in my undergraduate courses didn’t have much experience teaching in the classroom,” she says, adding that her instructors didn’t teach college students one of the most important things they need to know—how to get their students interested in science in the first place.


“I spend as much time engaging my students—whetting their appetites for new material—as I do teaching. Whetting their appetites is like the trailer for the movie. It gets them excited about what’s coming up next,” she says.


Her ability to engage students was a factor in her being named the 2005 Phi Delta Kappa/Wal-Mart Teacher of the Year for New Jersey. She was awarded a $10,000 grant, part of which went to pond cleanup efforts. She also established a scholarship to reward graduating seniors who helped clean the pond while in high school.


Also in 2005, McLelland’s environmental club officers and an environmental engineering firm applied for a grant from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s Green Acres Program to stabilize Willow Pond.


McLelland recently found out that the group was awarded the grant. “Perth Amboy is the only high school involved,” she says. “As part of the $800,000 grant, the pond will be equipped with an aerator.” In addition, the grant will fund a boardwalk for public access. “The school will get its own rowboats to help keep the pond clean and a boathouse in which to keep them,” she adds.


For now, McLelland and her students are still getting their hands dirty. Trash is dumped in Willow Pond as fast as they can take it away. On a recent weekend, she and the environmental club removed 10 tires, a bike, and a shopping cart.


McLelland, however, shows no signs of fatigue. “Teenagers are so energizing,” she says. “When I work with them, at the end of the day I go home feeling invigorated.”


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