Elms Elementary School in New Jersey’s Jackson Township is a greener place thanks to second grade teacher Shaina Brenner. She spearheaded a new recycling initiative, acquiring recycling bins for every classroom and creating signage to show which materials can and cannot be recycled. Brenner created a student “Green Team” focused on improving the school’s environmental policies, including gardening, recycling and energy conservation. The team has promoted classroom energy audits, led schoolwide energy contests, and provided training, guidance, tools and resources to help students bring conversations about energy conservation home to their families. Students compost food scraps, contribute to a food sharing table and donate to a local food pantry, including produce grown in the school’s 500-gallon aquaponic garden. Brenner has helped add green topics to the curriculum, including water conservation, beach erosion and the importance of pollinators. Due in part to Brenner’s dedication to environmental projects, the U.S. Department of Education named Elms Elementary a National Green Ribbon School on Earth Day 2022, the only New Jersey school to receive the honor and the first in the county.
Brenner is known as an innovator with a passion for preparing her young students to thrive in a rapidly changing world. She goes to great lengths to create an accurate picture of each child’s strengths and areas for improvement, providing students with a rubric and individualized checklist with expectations for each unit. Brenner looks for opportunities to connect learners to the world around them. She started a postcard exchange with 49 second grade classrooms across the country, representing every state. Every postcard students receive becomes a cross-content lesson as the class discusses interesting facts about the writer’s state, including symbols, location, customs, food and slogan. Students color in the state on an oversized map that hangs outside her classroom along with the postcards, providing a learning opportunity for everyone who walks by. Brenner’s second graders thrive: For the past three years, 70% of her class ended the year reading above grade level, with 90% showing mastery of state math standards.
A leader in her building and district, Brenner has participated in or led committees on school improvement, math, Read Across America, climate and school culture. She has led professional development for K-2 teachers in the district on high frequency word instruction based on orthographic mapping. Brenner promotes cultural understanding in her classroom, as well as at schoolwide events where families celebrate and learn about the school community’s many cultures and traditions. The bulletin board displays she created to celebrate Elms Elementary’s history and staff members — complete with newspaper clippings, historical artifacts, photos, quotes and trivia — are loved by all.
Brenner earned a bachelor’s in communications from Rutgers University in 2007.
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2007 B.A., Communication, Rutgers University