Elms Elementary School in New Jersey’s Jackson Township is a greener place thanks to second grade teacher Shaina Brenner. Brenner helps lead the school’s Green Team, and through that role, she spearheaded a new school-wide recycling initiative, acquiring recycling bins for every classroom and creating signage to show which materials can and cannot be recycled. She also put in place a school-wide food share program, and each week she brings unopened, unwanted food to a local food pantry and a local equine rescue. The Green Team conducts classroom energy and recycling audits, leads school-wide energy contests, and helps maintain the school’s 500-gallon aquaponic garden and outdoor sensory garden. Brenner also helped rewrite the district’s second grade curriculum, adding green topics to the curriculum, including ocean pollution, 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. In April of 2023, Elms Elementary was awarded a 10k grant from Sustainable Jersey for Schools to fund Brenner’s plan for an Outdoor Environmental Learning Center and Garden.
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. In the past she participated in a postcard exchange with 49 second grade classrooms across the country, representing every state. Every postcard students received became a cross-content lesson as the class discussed interesting facts about the writer’s state, including symbols, location, customs, food and slogan. Students colored in the state on an oversized map that hung outside her classroom along with the postcards, providing a learning opportunity for everyone who walked 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 been named Educator of the Year two times in her seven years of teaching. She is a district teacher leader and provides professional development to district staff on evidence-based reading instruction and behavior management. Brenner also created and leads her school’s Kindness Club and STEM Club. She is the leading member of her school’s Read Across America committee. She planned and executed her school’s first-ever Career Day in January of 2023. Brenner also developed her school’s social emotional lessons and morning meeting slides for grades K-5. In 2023, Brenner entered her school’s head custodian into the Cintas Custodian of the Year Contest and Tennant Custodians Are Key Contest, securing the head custodian a finalist position in both national contests. She is part of her school’s Climate Committee and Sunshine Committee and is also part of her district’s union executive board. Brenner decorated all of the school’s bulletin boards, creating a staff shout out board and birthday display. The hallways and staff lounges are complete with inspirational quotes, and perhaps one of her favorite bulletin boards is the one celebrating the history of Elms Elementary, complete with newspaper clippings, historical facts, photos, quotes, and trivia.
Brenner earned a bachelor’s in communications from Rutgers University in 2007. She is presently pursuing a master’s in educational leadership from Montclair State University.
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2007 B.A., Communication, Rutgers University