WOLF LAKE, Ill. (AP) — Jamie Nash-Mayberry has always endeared herself to her students. One of the most popular educators at Shawnee High School in rural Union County, the 31-year-old teacher works to make the classes she teaches in the social sciences fun and interesting. Her teaching style and passion have won her recognition and accolades both inside and outside of the classroom.

Lately however, Nash-Mayberry's focus — and that of her students — has gone beyond textbooks, desks and lessons. Since 2010, Nash-Mayberry and her students have been leading the charge to draw attention — and hopefully, much needed funding — to the decaying levees that protect the school and much of the county from rising waters of the Mississippi River.

"I read an article in The Southern where a local levee commissioner described how the levees were in such bad shape and how researchers at Southern Illinois University called them a ticking time bomb," she recalls. "I simply shared the article with my students and that started them talking."

The talking led to lessons about the history of floods in the region, discussions on flood prevention and the current state of levees. Those classroom topics grew into public forums and letter writing campaigns, trying to draw the attention of elected officials to the problem. The group even hosted a "Levee Summit" to address problems.

"It has just grown and grown and become an ongoing project where each class would take on another aspect and tackle it," Nash-Mayberry explains.

The students' efforts have been a true grassroots effort that has earned the respect of local levee commissioners.

"The commissioners have come to depend on us," Nash-Mayberry says, adding that the efforts are designed to bolster the five levee districts stretching from Grand Tower to Thebes. "When they need something, they know we are still here and we're here to help."

Shawnee High School teacher Jamie Nash-Mayberry gives instructions to her students in January 2016 on the first day back at school following the recent flooding, for an assignment to write about their experiences during the historic flooding.

There have been what Nash-Mayberry calls "little successes."

"Raising awareness has been our biggest accomplishment," she explains. "We've gotten people talking about the problem. The commissioners knew about the issues, but no one else really did until we got started."

Students under her direction have held fundraisers including T-shirt sales and other events, netting almost $5,000.

"While it's not a lot in the big scheme of things, it all helps," she says. "Even the little we raise can help keep the levees mowed, plus it is teaching the students that little successes are good, too. We're just doing our part."

Nash-Mayberry's efforts even contributed to the area receiving grants for drainage pipe repairs and other maintenance.

"That was all thanks to connections we made with the Levee Summit," she says.

Even though Nash-Mayberry is the one motivating and driving the students to be involved, she deflects the attention.

"If it were just me, I wouldn't have been able to achieve all this," she says. "The power came from the students who used the power of the pen and the press to their advantage. This has been great for our area and it's a great way to teach students about government, politics and how to be civic leaders. It's become something these students can relate to. They know now that if the levee fails, they could lose their homes, their farms, their schools, everything. It all hits home."

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Source, The (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, http://bit.ly/2neUfzc

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Information from: Southern Illinoisan, http://www.southernillinoisan.com