Edward Yeakel

My mother, Judith Ann Grenier, is an inspiration. She teaches second grade at an elementary school in Palm Desert, CA. Eighty percent of the student body is Hispanic, and many of the children are only citizens in this country because their parents crossed that southern border to deliver them here in the United States. Every year she turns kids who can barely speak English into ones who can not only speak the language, but read and write it as well.

Five years ago, my mother began a project with her second grade class. The project, constructed by my mother with the help of her students, demonstrated how incredibly efficient earthworms are at decomposing food wastes. The process is called vermi-composting. After one month, the worms are able to reduce the volume of food waste to one-fifth its original volume. The compost food waste is combined with earthworm manure to be used as an organic fertilizer.

That year, the project was entered into district and state competitions for K-12 environmental projects. Her idea won first prize at both levels and were chosen to receive national recognition from the President's Environmental Youth Awards. The awards are given every year by the Environmental Protection Agency to ten outstanding projects that promote the awareness of our nation's natural resources.

My mother and her class were invited to Washington D.C. to celebrate the success. When the award was presented, President George W. Bush was there to congratulate them. I wonder if Bush still would have praised them had he known that many of my mother's students were the children of illegal immigrants.

These second graders enjoyed the privilege of spending an entire week exploring our nation's capital, all thanks to my mother.

Sadly, funding has since been cut and opportunities for projects like this no longer exist at her school. My mother still teaches second grade, but she spends her days preparing for, and administering, standardized tests. She has far too many students (30 now, compared with 20 students five years ago) and is slowly becoming one of those teachers who simply look forward to retirement.

I'd like to blame the system and, while that's probably justified, I know it isn't fair. It's only that I know what my mother is capable of, not only as a mother but as a teacher. I would hate to see her lose that fire. Both as a mother and a teacher, she is the quintessential role model for any child. I would not be half the man I am without her. I love my mom.

Happy Mother's Day.