Andrea Smith is Allen’s education specialist under trash and recycling services. Smith’s involvement in the PTA setting up events and contests to educate students on the importance of keeping the environment clean has earned her the PTA Lifetime Achievement award, for which she was recognized at last week’s Allen City Council meeting. Smith works with schools in Allen ISD to help students realize the impact they can make on the environment.
How did you get into the PTA?
I supported the PTA and PTA events when my children were in school. They graduated from Allen High School. As an education specialist with the city of Allen I became the contact for the AISD Council of PTAs environmental chair for events and contests sponsored by Keep Allen Beautiful. I was then asked to serve on the board as the environmental chair for the past two years and coordinated directly with the school PTA environmental chairs. My term has ended, but I will continue to support the PTA behind the scenes and help the new environmental chair. You do not need to have a child enrolled in school to show support for the PTA. Anyone can become a member through the Texas PTA website.
What inspires you to focus on the environment and conservation?
One experience made me really connect the dots about how we have a direct effect on our environment. When I was 14 years old my family went camping by a creek near a town in Arkansas named Fifty-Six. The creek was very pristine; I played in it during the day and fell asleep listening to its relaxing melodies every night. Some campers left behind their trash. They just dumped it on the ground. No one else picked it up because it wasn’t their trash. It rained hard that night and the litter washed into the creek and then it became everyone’s problem. That experience made me think about consequences and personal responsibility. When I was in my mid-20s I worked for the Texas Water Commission, now Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. For over 17 years I have been fortunate to work for the city of Allen in the environmental field.
Why is it important that children engage in these programs?
Some of the contests that Keep Allen Beautiful sponsors help fuel the students’ creative sides while getting them to think about the environment. Other programs or contests can be very empowering; they realize that even though they are children they can have a positive impact or make a difference in others’ lives.
How does it make you feel to see that impact?
My favorite Dr. Seuss quotes is, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” When you see the students light up when they gain that understanding, it is very special.
Since joining the PTA, what have been the most rewarding aspects?
There are some truly phenomenal people who volunteer their time to serve on the PTA or who volunteer in the schools. I was so honored when the Council of PTAs chose me for the Texas PTA Honorary Life Membership Award. Another rewarding aspect was how I gained a better understanding of how the PTA operates and how to more effectively provide support through my job at the city.
What have been the most challenging times?
Sometimes there are so many good ideas or programs you want to help implement, but there is just not enough time.
What are the day-to-day responsibilities of an education specialist?
I love my job because there is a lot of variety. I work for the city, but as part of my duties I support Keep Allen Beautiful and their events and programs. Some days I may talk with residents to help resolve trash or recycling issues, create curriculum, teach lessons about recycling or litter prevention to children and adults, write up award or grant applications, perform miscellaneous administrative work, and plan and prepare for citywide events sponsored by Keep Allen Beautiful. The next event we are preparing for is Allen USA Celebration, which takes place on June 29 at Celebration Park. Volunteers have been stuffing reusable vehicle litter bags with a trash bag and recycle bag to hand out to attendees. The bags will be tagged with instructions. This small step of providing bags to capture trash and recycling has greatly reduced the amount of litter found on the grounds after the event’s fireworks show.
What have been your favorite programs?
The Reuse-A-Shoe Contest because it can make such a difference in a child’s life in impoverished areas. They cannot attend school unless they have shoes. If they receive an education, they will have more opportunities. I also love the Recycled Art Contest and the Arbor Day Poster Contest because the children are so creative! I love seeing what they come up with. My favorite event is Earthfest, which is held in April each year at Dayspring Nature Preserve by Boon Elementary. It is geared toward families and hands-on environmental education.
Which programs seemed to be the most successful/impactful?
The Reuse-A-Shoe Contest because it makes such an impact on a global scale. This year students helped gather over 4,000 pairs of shoes, which will be delivered to El Salvador in July.
What age groups are most of your programs geared toward?
Most of the contests are geared toward students in K-12 grades in the Allen ISD, but we also provide programs for homeschool students and for toddlers through adults. You are never too old or too young to learn!
How do your programs differ to reach each age group whether it be young children versus preteens versus teens?
When working with younger children, they have a shorter attention span so the lessons should be very concise with one main idea, and I like to include action or music to keep them engaged. Older students can be given more complex ideas and thinking activities. While we also provide presentations to adults, but they often learn through their children. Ask any parent when their young child came home from school and lectured them on how their teacher said things should be done! Last summer I gave a presentation to a group of kids aged 5 to 12 about litter prevention. We discussed entanglement and I showed them plastic rings that hold drink six packs together. This type of plastic is not recyclable! I demonstrated entanglement by having them place a rubber band across their hand from their thumb to their little finger. They got it! A 6-year-old went home and talked to her mom about how important it was to cut the rings apart before placing the plastic in the trash so animals wouldn’t get entangled in it. She then showed her mom the rubber band demonstration. The mom attended the next Keep Allen Beautiful board meeting and informed us about how impressed she was.
After a long day, how do you decompress?
Reading or playing with my dogs. It is easy to get caught up in a good book and be transported to another place or time. As for the dogs, they are always so happy to see me when I walk in the door. With wagging tails and bright eyes, how can you not smile and relax?!
What are your favourite travel destinations?
This is a tough one because travel is my favorite thing to do. I really enjoyed my trip to Scotland and plan to return. On a train ride I enjoyed seeing the horses in the pastures with their plaid blankets, plus I was impressed with how clean Edinburgh was, with no graffiti and lots of recycling and trash receptacles. The scenery everywhere was very lush and green. The hotel grounds included a lovely garden, a pub built in the 1500s, and afternoon tea in front of a working fireplace.
What are your favourite shows/movies?
I appreciate a good murder mystery like “Midsomer Murders,” or something in science fiction like the various Star Trek or Star Wars series. I also like “NCIS” and “Survivor.”
What is it that interests you in theses shows and movies?
The unknown and the endless possibilities.
What is your daily routine?
Wake up, take out the dogs, read, get dressed, love on the dogs, watch the news and eat breakfast, drive to work, sometimes attend meetings or give presentations in the evening, drive home, check on the progress of the backyard habitat, spend time with my boyfriend, eat dinner and either read or watch some of our favorite TV shows, plus pet the dogs of course! I’ve also been trying to incorporate some exercise into the mix. Allen has a great trail system, so thank you Parks & Recreation!