Maplewood Schools / Kids South Orange

Seth Boyden’s Maggie Tuohy Wins Abernathy Hull Environmental Education Award

From Seth Boyden Elementary School:

Earlier this week, the Garden Club of America surprised Maggie Tuohy, Seth Boyden School’s Outdoor Learning Center teacher, by presenting her with a 2019 Elizabeth Abernathy Hull Award for Early Environmental Education, a prestigious honor that is bestowed upon only a few people in the entire country each year.

Seth Boyden alumni parent Laura Gilkey spearheaded the application, which was kept a complete secret from Tuohy, as per the Garden Club’s rules. Principal Shannon Glander, Assistant Principal Sheila Murphy, and Seth Boyden PTA President Alison Poe also wrote letters on Tuohy’s behalf. All were on hand in the garden to congratulate her on her achievement.

Below is Alison Poe’s letter of recommendation for Tuohy:

On a chilly, rainy day this past fall, Seth Boyden garden teacher Maggie Tuohy led fourth-graders on a field trip to South Mountain Reservation a few miles from the school.  Parent chaperones hunkered under umbrellas and shuffled miserably along the wooded paths. The children, though – roughly three-quarters of whom are black, Latinx, or mixed-race, and nearly half of whom would eat a free or reduced-price lunch later that day through the government subsidy program – looked around eagerly in wonder and put their hands to their ears as Ms. Tuohy excitedly pointed out flora and told them to pause and listen for fauna.  On the way back, a quiet boy confided to a chaperone, “I’ve never been in a forest before. It was amazing.”

Maggie Tuohy pours her love of nature and her love of children into the students of Seth Boyden.  Her stewardship of our Strawberry Fields produce garden and the rest of the school’s enormous Outdoor Learning Center over the years has helped to make environmental education a linchpin of the school’s curriculum.

Throughout the week, as arranged with the classroom teachers, Ms. Tuohy welcomes classes into the Outdoor Learning Center, where she teaches them about weathering and erosion, bird migration, photosynthesis, and a host of other natural science topics.  She holds classes in the OLC for the summer program as well, giving a boost to Seth Boyden’s struggling learners. Her pedagogy includes emphasis on healthy eating and lifestyle choices. In her “Garden Recess,” which she holds every weather-amenable Friday, Ms. Tuohy invites any and all Seth Boyden students on their recess break to join her in the garden, during which – in addition to delightedly examining bugs and other discoveries – they plant and pick fruits and vegetables, preparing and eating meals with their harvest in the outdoor kitchen.  My daughter, an extremely picky eater, came home from one Garden Recess declaring, “I love raw asparagus!” At another teacher’s class party to celebrate a “Charlie and the Chocolate Party” performance, where candy was in plentiful supply, children went back for second, third, and fourth helpings of the kale that Ms. Tuohy had provided from the garden.

Ms. Tuohy also helps knit together and improve the lives of our racially and socioeconomically diverse school community. She and the PTA’s Outdoor Learning Center Committee have brought about tremendous improvements to the school’s outdoor facilities, many of which have been executed by parent volunteers.  On work weekends that Ms. Tuohy helps to organize, dozens of parents and their kids – of different races and social classes – can be seen working together in the school’s back yard, happily getting to know one another better while installing irrigation, pulling up weeds, painting birdhouses, and the like.  In the summertime, Ms. Tuohy organizes “Seth Boyden Shares,” a program in which she and volunteers harvest produce from Strawberry Fields, then set it out for Seth Boyden families and other neighbors to pick up for free as they choose. (The accompanying flyer reads, “Enjoy this fresh food, cared for and grown by our amazing Seth Boyden students.”)

Ms. Tuohy’s contributions rely both on her deep knowledge about the natural world and on her training and expertise as a teacher.  She has infused that knowledge into the forthcoming book that she has co-authored with a Seth Boyden parent, Recipes for a Successful School Garden: A Guide for Parents and Teachers (Ig Publishing, 2019).  As a teacher, Ms. Tuohy has the gift of commanding students’ attention by talking more softly; the children silence themselves to hear what she has to say.  It’s clear to them, just as it is to the parents who observe her in action, that she cares deeply about them and about their education.

I believe that Ms. Tuohy embodies and enacts the ideals celebrated by the Hull Award.  I hope that the Garden Club of America will seriously consider her for this honor. Thank you very much!


Alison Poe

Seth Boyden PTA Vice President and Public Relations Coordinator, 2018-2019

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