Community Voices - Donna Shurr

Optimized-DSCN0153Donna Shurr has been teaching Family and Consumer Sciences at Oberlin High School since she moved to the town in 1998. She is involved in many volunteering pursuits such as managing the Oberlin Backpack Program, which gives eligible students from Prospect and Eastwood Elementary Schools meal items and snacks to bring home for the weekend.

Q: Have you had any interaction with the Environmental Digital signs in the Public Library, The AJLC, or Prospect Elementary School, and if so, what do you think about it?

A: Well, I guess I’ve had a lot of interaction because when I came here, when I moved to Ohio in 1998 and began teaching here, I found out from a colleague that I could take classes at Oberlin College for free. Every teacher here is allowed to take one free class per semester. At first, I was taking some random classes because of their availability in the afternoon. Then, all of a sudden, I ran into problems and I realized, “Oh, Environmental Studies, I’m really interested in that and they have classes in the evenings.” So I started signing up for those—I think I’ve taken every class that David Orr teaches—and one by one, I’ve taken a number of them. In those courses, I interacted with the Dashboard. Then I got very excited about the Environmental Studies program and sustainability and since I teach Family and Consumer Science, I started having Oberlin College students coming over to my classes and just sharing things about energy. Almost every year, I’ve had Oberlin students working with my students. I would say that 5 out of my 16 years, I’ve taken students over to take tours of the AJLC. Also, in the summer for many years, I taught architecture for the Oberlin Early Childhood Center for an organization that’s now Oberlin’s Heritage Center, Every summer, I had one class and I would bring that small group of students from that one class to the Center and we would go on a tour of the Living Machine and of the Dashboard.

Q: As both a resident of Oberlin and as a teacher at OHS, do you perceive those aspects of your relationship with the town as being separate or intertwined?

A: I think everything is connected. I’m a teacher, but I’m also a resident, a wife, a mother, and a sister. All of that makes me - “me”. It’s all interconnected. When I came here in 1998, my principal asked me what kind of club I wanted to be involved with, because, you know, we teachers all try to be involved at least one club here. No one wanted to do the community service club and that’s right up my alley, since I’ve always done community service just as a natural part of my life. So I guess that’s really made me even more connected with the community since my students are constantly doing community service and we interact with many organizations like the Public Library and we do things at Oberlin Community Services. Also, we work with the Community Meals Program where the kids serve meals, and we bake and do lots of things, so I’ve had lots of interactions with the community. I write for the newspaper at least on a monthly basis, if not two or three times a month. I’m a Rotarian, and as a Rotarian, we raise money to support things, like to help people pay their bills in the winter if they don’t have enough money, we supply coats and mittens to the school for kids who forget their coats and their mittens and hats. The Rotarians do a lot for the community as well.

Q: What word(s) or image(s) would you use to describe Oberlin? Why did you choose those word(s)/image(s)?

A: I would say Oberlin is a welcoming community. I know at the high school, we welcome kids from all over the place. We only have three foreign exchange students this year, but sometimes we’ll have up to seven or eight. They really add a great deal of color to our community here. I’ve felt very welcome here. I’ve been asked to be on a number of boards in the community. Right now, I sit on the board of the Oberlin Heritage Center. I’m part of FAVA—I’ve been asked to be on their board as well, but I can’t do that currently with the Oberlin Heritage Center. I’ve been a Rotarian for about ten years. So, it’s been very welcoming—I’ve been here for about sixteen years, and even coming from Florida, I feel like Oberlin is my home. I think another thing that’s great is that the residents reach out as well. I know this week, on December 6th, Ben Franklin is having a celebration in conjunction with one of our French and Spanish teachers—they reached out to her, and they’re going to celebrate together and the College French students and our French students are putting on music and games and there will be a student interpreting for Father Christmas, who does not speak French but who will also be there. I think that’s going to be a really nice event—and that’s something new! Barry Richards, who’s the president of the school board, he and some other folks brought a Chalk Walk here and that’s been happening every summer now for ten years—people from all over Lorain County come for a day in the summer and they create chalk art all over the city. We have lots of great things to bring people together. I would say the other thing about Oberlin is that’s it’s creative—we have loads of creative people, and lots of creative ideas, not just in visual arts but in music and dramatic arts as well. We are just a really creative and innovative community. I think the whole community is really also beginning to embrace environmentalism and it is a community process of bringing awareness about taking care of the community here that will help us affect surrounding communities and the world.

Q: Some people use the word “sustainability” to mean actions that enhance/maintain the economic, environmental and social welfare of the Oberlin community.” What does sustainability mean to you/in your own life?

A: I think personally, sustainability means to me that I have the skills and the means to be able to take care myself and my family and help my students understand that they can do this as well. For instance, I think eventually, perhaps, there may be a day when the power grid goes down and I want to be able to take care of my family if it does. I have to use computers frequently because I’m a teacher and I’ve learned a great deal about using them since I’ve come to Oberlin. I’m learning technology, but I do refuse to have a cell phone—I don’t want one. Technology is great and I love it, but I would like to be able to live without the grid. NOTE: Since this interview we have gotten a cell phone.  We were in a car accident this summer and realized that technology is important in this instance. We have had it for two months and it has been useful. I wish we could have held out longer – getting impossible.

 My husband and I do a lot of things—we have our own garden. When we freeze the fruits and vegetables from our garden, we remain on the grid, but I do a lot of canning and freeze-drying in order to be more sustainable. There’s another thing that I talk about when I talk about sustainability with my students, I talk a lot about water usage. We’re doing water projects now where we talk about water in other countries and how water is not available for so may people, and how food is not available for so many people—a billion people in this world do not have enough to eat each day to sustain their heath and well-being. There is enough food for everyone in the world but it’s not distributed well, so we talk about how we can make it possible for there to be food and water availability for everyone in the world. It’s so important for kids to understand that what they do has a ripple effect and affects the whole world.

Q: Have you noticed any changes in the reactions of your students in regards to sustainability from when you first begin working with them to when you teach them about sustainability during the year?

A: As a matter of fact, I do! We just went to the movies—the Apollo Outreach had a program called Food For Thought and they showed “Polyculture” and another movie (“Hungry for Health”). Originally, the kids were like, “oh, we get a field trip! That’s awesome!” but when we got to the theater, they were very much impressed by the videos, they liked them a lot, and we talked about them later. It was really cool because by the time that we finished up, the kids were making connections and talking about the ways that processed foods can be unhealthy. The kids are really embracing it this year, and they like doing these things—some of the kids have even changed their eating habits, which is great because I’m trying to promote healthy eating and living habits.

Q: Is there anything you would like to tell your fellow community members regarding care for the environment/sustainable living/respect for nature?

A: I’m very proud of the community and the fact that we have a lot of community gardens—I love it. I think I’d just like to see even more people involved in those gardens and bringing that knowledge down to their little children. I think that community gardens really bring people together but also promote sustainable living—yeah, I just love the community garden system and am very excited about them! I am also excited about the Oberlin Dashboard being in every school.  I think this will be a learning tool that all teachers can use in the classroom in every discipline. With the Dashboard also being in other places in the community, students may even become more involved by explaining it to others, maybe even by being “Dashboard Docents.”

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Emily Belle is a second year Environmental Studies major at Oberlin College. Originally from Ithaca, New York, she loves waterfalls, woodland adventures, and growing and eating tasty food. Emily works in the Oberlin community as a Bonner Leader and America Reads Tutor.

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Emily Belle
Emily Belle is a second year Environmental Studies major at Oberlin College. Ori
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