Credit: Courtesy

Santa Barbara, Ca. (February 18, 2021) – Marymount of Santa Barbara Math and Science teacher, Melissa Wilson recently received the Best Short Film Award at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival for her documentary “Stay Wild.” The film features beautiful footage from her time teaching and researching on the U.S. Virgin Islands. The landscape’s flourishing biodiversity inspired her research on national park land conservation as a solution for climate change.

“If you save land, climate change fixes itself, because land actually absorbs carbon,” Wilson explains. While attending Harvard University’s Extension School to obtain her second master’s degree, Wilson was enthralled by biologist, E.O. Wilson’s book “Half-Earth,” which makes the case that, in the words of Wilson, “Saving land, saves us.”

Armed with inspiration, Wilson dove into research of her own, analyzing how expanding national parks and connecting them through recreational trails and wildlife corridors could help sequester carbon and combat climate change. After winning the Dean’s Prize for Outstanding Thesis at Harvard, Wilson moved to St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands with a grant to help students build STEM skills. She also partnered with the National Park Service to get the students internships and involve them in citizen science.

“When kids are outside they learn how to be brave and how to try hard things. It also develops a land ethic that serves the world,” Wilson said.

While working on the island, a former student who was unemployed due to the pandemic, reached out to Wilson over email and said she’d love to come to St. John and create a film on Wilson’s research. “It’s kind of amazing how your former student can evolve into a filmmaker,” Wilson said with a smile.

Wilson continues to ignite a passion for Science in her students as a teacher at Marymount. As Marymount is one of the few schools that has been able to host students in-person this year, students have been extraordinarily engaged in Ms. Wilson’s classes.  Whether her young scientists are simulating plate tectonics with graham crackers, creating volcano models, or engineering seismographs with a laser cutter, hands-on learning is essential.  “As a teacher, I feel that my role is to give middle school students as many moments of discovery or experience as possible,” Wilson said. “I believe that students should find joy at school and eventually develop skills for their future professions.”

Wilson is excited to share her film with her students through a school-wide viewing party in the spring followed by a Q&A with Fowler and herself. “This is a good thing for our community. It’s a good thing for biodiversity. It’s a good thing for carbon sequestration,” Wilson said.

“Stay Wild” can be viewed online as part of many different film festivals, including the Colorado Environmental Film Festival, next week. Wilson is meeting with several sponsors that could help turn the short into a feature film and get it to distributors such as Amazon and Netflix.

At Marymount, we provide student-centered, individualized learning in a joyful and nurturing community, inspiring academic excellence and valuing difference. The educational vision for each Marymount graduate is to empower individual potential, inspire purpose beyond self, and cultivate social responsibility as they prepare for high school and beyond.

For more information, email or call 805-569-1811 ext. 131.


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