Proving Kermit Wrong Every Day, Clausen Gets2Green

By Office of Communications
Employee News
December 04, 2023

Every day she comes to work, Rachel Clausen asks herself, “Is this real life? Do I get to do this for a living?” 

In her 12th year of teaching, Rachel is now working for Get2Green as a resource teacher, helping to connect students with teacher-leaders to build sustainability programs and learn about the environment. 

Based on the looks she sees on students’ faces when they go on meaningful environmental and outdoor learning experiences, “those are the things kids remember,” Rachel said.  

Rachel was very into science and the outdoors in high school. But due to health problems, missed out on part of her high school experience. 

“That feeling of not having that connection — I want every student to feel embedded in their community,” she says. “How many kids feel disconnected and how can we connect them with school and engage them? We don’t want anyone feeling like they didn’t make a difference.” 

A key element of Get2Green is the emphasis on student voice. School leaders create a club or classes that empower students to delve into areas they are interested in. “That’s what they’re going to be most excited about,” Rachel said. “And with that student interest, that will bring more staff and parents to be excited.”

Get2Green Projects

Clausen in front of a class in a nature center.
In her previous position as an environmental science teacher, Clausen speaks to Lewis High School students at Hidden Oaks Nature Center. 

Get2Green projects can range from simply getting outside and completing observations to planting gardens, composting, water conservation projects, and waste reduction. 

“I think students and staff are all looking for joy and mental wellness,” Rachel said. “The outdoors is such an exploratory space that we learn about. And after the pandemic, there has been an extra hopefulness to be more attuned to nature and to take care of it.” 

One project that is underway that Rachel is excited about, is a collaboration with Food and Nutrition Services to figure out how to lower food waste and food insecurity at schools with food-sharing tables. The offices are working together on the best guidance for schools. 

Rachel started her career in education as a Knowles Fellow teaching biology and environmental science at Lewis High School. Get2Green was a “lifeline” for Rachel as a teacher. “When you are trying to take risks and do things that are exciting for your students, having a support system makes all the difference.” 

Through Get2Green, Rachel began reaching out to community partners and working to get her students outside more often. When a job opened for a resource teacher on Get2Green, Rachel was excited to “be that person for others so more students get to have these opportunities.” 

Supporting School Sustainability

Of the eight people on the Get2Green team at FCPS, four of them are new resource teachers. They each serve a geographic area of schools in the county, connecting with FCPS schools and Get2Green Leaders at each school to support sustainability and student-led environmental stewardship.

“Some schools have been doing this work for years, some are more new [to it],” Rachel said. The resource teachers are meeting the schools where they are in environmental stewardship. “Some are taking on brand new student action projects, others are maintaining/sustaining their current programs.”

Rachel is proud there are now leaders in every building — including student leaders — who are helping to shape the direction each school is taking toward a more sustainable future. The staff Get2Green leaders at the school, with the help of Get2Green, are helping to connect students with community members and professional scientists who are “authentic experts” and can help open up possibilities for future job opportunities. 

“Local scientists that do outreach in soil and water conservation, professionals from Casey Trees and urban forestry — they give wings and air to the students and staff to feel like we’re all connected to the broader Fairfax community,” Rachel said. “These people are willing to use real time to be authentic experts in the school building.” 

One thing that Rachel has seen increase over the years is the way students are talking about helping their communities. Students' “passion and intensity” have increased. Through the work she and her colleagues are doing, Rachel hopes “all students will have this opportunity to share what they care about, their own ways of tackling these issues; and that this will become a process that continues their legacy.”

Earlier this month, Rachel was honored by the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts as the Secondary State Conservation Education Teacher of the Year.  

“Rachel’s experiences and ability to develop relationships with both staff and students have contributed to early successes in her new role,” said Donna Volkmann, manager of Get2Green. “Rachel brings enthusiasm, creativity, and a dedication to equity and student voice to the Get2Green team. Rachel helps schools start small and makes it fun and easy to Get2Green.”

Advice for Colleagues

Although sometimes the idea of living sustainably can be overwhelming, Rachel suggests “starting small.”

“Whether you personally start with trying out meatless Mondays, or facilitating recycling in your classroom, you can inspire others with your own entry point,” she said. “You will spark student and staff interest. Overtime a school will grow into a culture of environmental stewardship.”