Columbia, SC— Rabbi Meir Muller, Principal of the Cutler Jewish Day School (CJDS), has been named Richland County’s 2017 Conservation Principal of the Year by the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) due to his inspiring leadership, steady support for environmental literacy, and commitment to providing opportunities for children to develop relationships with the natural world.
Thanks to Muller, children at CJDS have unique opportunities to spend time in nature. Over the course of several years, Muller has fostered the development of an extensive outdoor classroom featuring an accessible bridge and boardwalk, raised bed gardens, nature trail, play area, and an amphitheater with stump-style seating. Teachers of students aged one through fifth grade bring students into these areas regularly to enhance academic instruction and to help students learn to care for the earth. “Almost every elementary school class [at CJDS] goes into the woods every day,” says Muller. “While local public schools offer a twelve minute recess, CJDS offers a minimum of 45 minutes each morning and 45 minutes each afternoon. One of these periods is often in the woods.”
Children have additional opportunities to immerse themselves in nature during an after-school “Imaginature” program facilitated by parent volunteer Michaux Shaffer, who nominated Muller for this award. “The Rabbi makes sure to tell new parents that ‘this is a school that allows children to climb trees,’” Shaffer says. “All children are now required to have boots to go into the woods and play in the creek…the Rabbi is supportive of outdoor classroom experiences as well as outdoor play.”
“Children in our society are getting less and less outdoor experience,” Muller said recently. Because of this, it is even more important for schools to offer opportunities for outdoor exploration, hands-on learning, and nature-based play. This time spent outdoors is also important for children to develop a conservation ethic—something that reinforces important Jewish ideals, according to Muller. “Jewish tradition teaches us to care for our planet in order to preserve that which G-d has created. Judaism emphasizes our need to preserve our natural resources and generate new ones for future generations.”
CJDS Preschool Principal Kelly Etu Stanton says “what [Muller] values most is children being outdoors and learning about the environment. This ‘woods program’ is more than recess. This is problem solving, math, science, social studies, writing, art…we tie it all into the curriculum.” When asked how important the ‘woods program’ is to the school and its students, Stanton says “I cannot imagine our school without the woods. The woods program defines our school, and it defines [Muller]. There’s not another principal around here that values the woods as much. He gives us—teachers, families, and children—the tools to plant the seeds for the future.”
In addition to his role at CJDS, Muller holds a Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education and has served as a full-time faculty member in the College of Education at USC since 2011. Last year, he was awarded the 2016 Outstanding Early Childhood Teacher Educator Award by the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators for his outstanding leadership and professionalism as an educator of early childhood teachers.
The Conservation Principal of the Year Award is presented annually to an outstanding proponent of environmental education by the Richland SWCD. “People like Rabbi Muller are introducing young people to the environment and helping them to build a long-standing appreciation for the world we live in,” says Richland SWCD Commissioner Jim Rhodes. “We are excited to support and encourage the efforts of teachers and administrators to create these connections.”
Muller will be recognized at the SWCD’s Awards Banquet on May 18th.
Conservation Districts are political subdivisions of state government under the local direction of five-member Boards of Commissioners. In South Carolina, Conservation District boundaries conform to County boundaries. The Richland Soil and Water Conservation District promotes the wise use of natural resources for the benefit of the citizens of Richland County.
Richland Soil and Water Conservation Di
2020 Hampton Street, Room 3063A
Columbia, SC 29204
Phone (803) 576-2080
Fax (803) 576-2088