Peet Junior High’s Venessa Wallace Honored as 2024 Texas Environmental Educator of the Year

By: Sarah D. Blakelock
| Published 03/22/2024


CONROE, TX -- Coach Venessa Wallace’s portable is usually crammed wall-to-wall with students, but no one seems to mind. When you teach Wildlife Management – the most popular class at Peet Junior High – an overflowing roster just comes with the territory.

Recognizing her work as a stand-out teacher in environmental education, Coach Wallace was recently selected as the “2024 Texas Environmental Educator of the Year” by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and Governor Greg Abbott. This award recognizes Wallace’s outstanding teaching initiatives in advanced environmental conservation, including preserving productive and healthy ecosystems, principles of land stewardship, and sustainable fishing and hunting.

Asked about receiving the prestigious governor’s award, Coach Wallace shared, “Animal conservation and welfare has always been a passion of mine. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with kids so we can leave this place better than we found it.”

Kids who sign up for Wildlife Management figure out pretty quickly that this isn’t any ordinary elective. In addition to being certified teachers for Conroe ISD, Coach Wallace and her teaching partner, Coach Dawn Davis, are both certified instructors with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, which enables their junior high students to earn official state certifications in Hunter Ed. Safety, Water Safety, Boating Ed. Safety, NASP Archery, Shelter Building, and more.

“Learning archery was the best,” said Russell Rousseau, a 7th grader who’s completed the first class in a two-course curriculum designed by Coaches Wallace and Davis. “It turns out, I’m really good at archery, and I never would have found that out if I hadn’t taken Wildlife Management.”

Coach Davis, who introduced Wildlife Management to Peet Junior High six years ago, has also received many accolades as an outstanding teacher, including “Professional Educator of the Year,” first recipient of the “Next Generation Award,” and the “President’s Lifetime Achievement Award” for volunteering over 4,000 hours with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

Reflecting on the impact of her Wildlife Management courses, Coach Davis shared, “God has blessed me with teaching and coaching for 33 years – all in the Conroe area. Building this course from scratch has been six years of hard work and dedication. I wanted to create a class that students would want to take, while staying within TEA [Texas Education Agency] guidelines. Since it began, this class has had a waiting list of students, so hiring another full-time teacher was needed, and Wallace has been an integral part of growing this program.”

On any given day, Wildlife Management students might tend vegetable and flower gardens that they built themselves around campus, practice archery, analyze animal skeletons and anatomy, fish “Backyard Bass” (cast fishing lines up to 30 yards in a grass field of plastic fish), design floral arrangements, investigate the effects of littering, drought, and flooding at a creek that runs behind the school, or study Texas Parks & Wildlife manuals at picnic tables in the outdoor learning center, which students designed and built themselves.

“It’s a really, really fun class,” said student Emily Atkinson. “The coolest activity was aging different deer just based on their jawbones. A lot of kids thought it was gross, but I thought it was really cool.”

Environmental learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom, outdoor learning center, or campus. Each semester, Coaches Wallace and Dawn Davis collaborate with the San Jacinto River Authority to take over 250 students to Lake Conroe and put their classroom skills into practice. For many 12- and 13-year-olds, it’s their first time catching a fish.

“These kids are learning skills they’ll use in the real world,” said Coach Davis. “I’ve received emails from parents whose kids knew how to fish during COVID to help their family with food, whose kids knew how to grow vegetables from seeds. I even had a parent whose boat broke down in the Gulf of Mexico, and their student knew what to do in that emergency situation to get them back safely. That’s what this class is all about.”

Later this month, a documentary team will visit Peet Junior High to film interviews, activities, and lessons in the Wildlife Management program, in preparation for the awards ceremony where Coach Wallace will be honored as Texas’ Environmental Educator of the Year.

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