Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE) Honorable Mentions
The White House Council on Environmental Quality, in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recognize the Honorable Mentions of the 2011-2012 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators.
EPA Region 1
Jeannie Kornfeld, Hanover High School
Hanover, New Hampshire
As an honors environmental science teacher for 11 years, Jeannie Kornfeld seeks to spark her students’ enthusiasm and passion for learning by implementing the principles of sustainability in their lives. Jeannie’s course begins with a trip to Elizabeth Copper Mine, an abandoned mine in Strafford, Vermont that generates acid mine drainage. Students discuss the role of dissolved oxygen, metals and pH in a river ecosystem and participate in a topographic map exercise. They collect data from the river downstream and upstream from the mine, then submit a paper on the effect of acid mine drainage on water quality. Every other year, Jeannie organizes a trip to Costa Rica for 20 students who are interested in learning about biology and the impacts of agriculture on ecosystems. Students learn how pesticides affect rivers and coral reefs, and participate in community service efforts. In addition, she started a recycling effort at Hanover High School, and serves as the advisor for the environmental club. Last summer, Jeannie designed and co-taught a free workshop for teachers from surrounding schools who are interested in learning about how to incorporate sustainability into their environmental science courses.
EPA Region 2
James Hefti, Pulaski Middle-Senior High School
Pulaski, New York
Using technology-based environmental education lessons, James Hefti encourages students to explore environmental education content in a self-directed manner. His students create podcasts that connect birds to environmental issues and use global positioning systems (GPS) to delineate insect habitats around the school property. In the spring, James’s students conduct stream monitoring of the Salmon River to determine how agricultural land use affects water chemistry. They also discuss how economic issues affect the environment and discuss solutions. In November 2011, James traveled to Mexico as part of a professional development team to learn about environmental issues in Guadalajara. James also participates in a national curriculum writing team to develop environmental education resources that can be shared between students in the United States and Mexico. Through his technology-driven, inquiry-based teaching methods, James’s students develop an appreciation for conservation, knowledge about being stewards of the environment and awareness of issues that affect the planet.
Alan Fiero, Farnsworth Middle School
Guilderland, New York
For more than 15 years, Alan Fiero has collaborated with the Albany Pine Bush Commission to involve students in research and restoration projects in the Pine Bush Preserve, a globally rare ecosystem of inland pine barrens. Alan launched the Pine Bush Project, which expands efforts to encourage students of Farnsworth Middle School to become agents for restoration of the preserve, especially the lupine habitat for the endangered Karner Blue butterfly and other threatened species. At the inception of the project, students built exclosures to protect lupine habitats, worked with community volunteers to plant pitch pine seedlings and girdled unwanted aspen trees to open habitat to native plants. The project has received several awards and grants that have helped support the building of a butterfly house and native plant sanctuary. Students breed native butterflies at the butterfly house and teach visiting community members about the Pine Bush, biodiversity and ecological restoration. Alan has collaborated with math, social studies and language arts teachers to create interdisciplinary lessons that facilitate the integration of environmental education across disciplines and grade levels. Alan’s innovative project is providing students with leadership opportunities and empowering them to make a difference in the world.
EPA Region 3
Gina Mason, Palmyra Area School District
As the environmental science teacher for all seventh grade students in the Palmyra Area School District, Gina Mason inspires students by connecting them to first-hand outdoor environmental educational opportunities. Her students engage in guided-inquiry using scientific protocols by conducting stream studies to determine water quality. They participate in experiential and place-based learning by identifying and removing invasive species, conducting stream cleanups, planting native trees and sampling soil to identify the difference between wetland and upland soils. Gina provides her students with opportunities to engage with professionals in various environmental careers, and encourages them to conduct presentations on their projects to community members. She also serves as the Envirothon advisor at the high school, middle school and elementary school levels. In 2010, she created and implemented the Watershed Day Program for the fourth grade, which includes a stream study and macroinvertebrate laboratory. As Gina’s students discover the relevance of watersheds, biodiversity and sustainability, they take a vested interest in developing solutions to improve the environment.
EPA Region 4
Diane Parton, Warren County Schools
Warren County, Tennessee
While serving as a kindergarten through eighth grade science teacher and coordinator, Diane Parton formed a partnership with the Bridgestone tire manufacturing corporation to develop a state-of-the-art classroom learning site, the Bridgestone Environmental Education Classroom and Habitat (BEECH). BEECH a corporate land-for-learning site that is certified with the Wildlife Habitat Council, enables students in Warren County to expand their science knowledge through hands-on environmental lessons. The site includes a 1.7-mile teaching trail that includes mini lessons, involving a composter, weather station, animal pavilion, lily and frog ponds, and an observation deck. Diane works at BEECH to teach students about habitats, life cycles, and physical and earth sciences, such as machines and energy. As the developer of the BEECH curriculum, she conducts regular trainings for people who volunteer to assist with the students. Diane also worked with Warren County’s administrative office to obtain recycling containers for every school in the county, and conducted a survey to quantify the amount of recycling collected. Through the BEECH site and her classroom teaching efforts, Diane has enhanced student awareness of the human effect on ecosystems and has taught them how to become stewards of the environment.
Doug Anderson, Williamson County Schools
Williamson County, Tennessee
As a teacher of honors ecology and Advanced Placement (AP) environmental science, Doug Anderson focuses his curriculum on local topics. Students work on assignments centered in their backyards and local nature areas to enhance their appreciation of the local environment. Students conduct bird banding research in conjunction with the Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship (MAP) Program, which challenges them to interpret real-time data. They complete quarterly water quality biotic index and physical parameter readings of the Little Harpeth River, which is considered one of the most endangered rivers in the United States. The river is a main drinking source for the local area and is threatened by runoff from growing communities. Doug has partnered with the City of Brentwood to create an Environmental Education Day, during which students work with city engineers and scientists to investigate chemical and physical pollutants in the river. His students also coordinate the school’s recycling effort and use data from the effort to produce recycling and litter reduction campaigns. Doug currently serves as the Vice President of Keep Williamson Beautiful, an organization that focuses on anti-littering campaigns and environmental education for the general public.
EPA Region 5
Lisa del Muro, Wheeling High School
Lisa del Muro founded the AP environmental science course at Wheeling High School and made the course relatable to students by referencing local historic environmental issues. Students study environmental problems related to the Asian carp invasion of the Mississippi River and the Zebra/Quagga mussel invasion of Lake Michigan. She encourages her students to consider the social and political factors that influenced the decisions that resulted in environmental issues. She implemented an eco-casting study to familiarize her students with bioaccumulation and biomagnification, persistent organic pollutants (POP) and the threat they pose to human health, and how to recognize POP pathways in a lake ecosystem. She also invites environmental professionals to visit the classroom to introduce her students to varied perspectives and careers. Lisa sponsors the school’s environmental club, and has led efforts such as electronics recycling, battery collection and recycling, and removal of invasive species. Lisa’s instructional methodology has helped her students learn to think critically and use decision making skills to make informed, responsible choices.
Patrick “Pat” Arndt, Berlin High School
As an environmental science teacher who engages his students in real-world projects, Pat Arndt’s approach to developing lessons is by backwards design, which involves identifying what the student should know and experimenting with the most effective way to achieve that learning. Pat transformed the school’s lawn into the Native Roots Education Gardens, which contains a wetland, native prairie, native tree arboretum, flower beds and organic vegetable garden boxes. The gardens serve as an experiential learning site for all grade levels and diverse subject areas. He also helped convert one of the Berlin School District’s forests that was underutilized and overrun by invasive species into the Vertical Ventures high and low ropes course. Pat includes a field component in each of his lesson units such as teaching students how to identify waterfowl, amphibians and reptiles; conducting forest inventories; and performing water quality assessments of local water bodies. Over the past 20 years, Pat has led students to a camp in Northern Wisconsin called Trees for Tomorrow, in which students participate in outdoor environmental education activities including ecology hikes and wildlife tracking. He also launched a task force for the Environmental Science Network and serves on the board of directors of Wisconsin’s environmental education professional organization. Pat’s development of effective and engaging environmental education programs has connected students throughout the Berlin School District to the natural world.
EPA Region 6
Holly Anderson, Coppell High School
Holly Anderson’s teaching philosophy is to connect students to environmental topics that are relevant to their lives by incorporating service learning, case studies and current event issues into her lessons. Her students have developed a campus recycling program, created an outdoor classroom with native plants and organized a school-wide conference on sustainability. Each year, Holly partners with teachers at a Title I middle school to have students in her AP Environmental Science class teach seventh graders how to conduct water quality tests on a local stream. She also provides students opportunities to work with community partners. Last year, her students researched and developed a plan for restoring a section of a community nature park to a prairie ecosystem. They worked with community partners such as naturalists, wildlife biologists and the park’s board members and received a grant to help complete the project. Holly’s innovative approach to teaching has provided her students with inspiration and the skills necessary to work for improving the environment.
Rachel Bossier, Fairfield Junior High School
Each year, Rachel Bossier focuses the lessons for her sixth grade AIM students on an environmental issue of local significance. This year, her students are researching viable solutions for recapturing carbon dioxide emissions from the coal-burning Big Brown power plant in Fairfield, Texas. The power plant provides important economic benefits to the community and may be shut down as a result of carbon dioxide emissions. Students conducted research and discovered that carbon dioxide can be used in rocket fuel, cement and algal biofuel, and they interviewed people who work for companies that use carbon dioxide in these ways. The students then prepared media presentations, met with community members and developed an information website called “New Life for Big Brown” to promote the findings of their research. The website also includes newspaper articles about the project and links to student videos, presentations and interviews. Rachel challenges her students to think critically to address issues confronting the local community and helps them become proactive in protecting the global environment. This project has enhanced student and community awareness about carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and inspired students to research solutions that are environmentally responsible and economically viable for the power plant and community.
EPA Region 7
Kathleen O’Brien, Derby High School
Kathleen O’Brien oversees the Derby High School environmental science curriculum, which incorporates history, government, politics and literature into lessons that help students relate to the natural world. She uses the school grounds, field trips and other outdoor spaces to teach lessons and promote environmental literacy. Her students conduct experiments in which they create a plastic polymer from corn starch, water and corn oil, and then discuss various other uses of corn and their influence on the price of food. At her previous school, Kathleen recognized the importance of connecting kids to nature and worked with the curriculum coordinator to add an environmental science course. She also developed a water day celebration when students visited a local park to conduct a macroinvertebrate study of ponds and a creek. Guest speakers from the local water treatment plant spoke to the students about wastewater and how it affects the local environment. Kathleen is active in the National Science Teachers Association and the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education and has presented at various conferences to increase environmental awareness.
EPA Region 9
Mark McKay, Venture Academy-Delta Vista High School
Mark McKay’s innovative approach to environmental education generates hands-on learning opportunities for students that focus on collecting and analyzing authentic results. Delta Vista High School serves a diverse ethnic population, and Mark embraces the diversity as an opportunity to address the community’s environmental issues. Mark’s students live in the Calaveras and Mokelumne River watersheds. The Calaveras River is affected by urban pollution and water flow is decreasing, whereas the Mokelumne River has been carefully managed to maintain healthy salmon populations. Students conduct water quality testing of the rivers, analyze the data, discuss how watersheds are affected by pollution and explore approaches to improve the health of watersheds. Mark believes that students can play an important role in their communities, and his students have presented their project findings at the Satellite Education Forum and through other community opportunities. Mark is active in the “Storm Drain Detectives” program, where community members and students monitor water quality in the Mokelumne River, and he participates in the Student and Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship. Mark also was a core member of the team that designed Delta Vista High School’s cross-curricular theme, “Sierra to the Sea,” which promotes the importance of watersheds and water in California.
EPA Region 10
Susan Milan, South Whidbey Elementary School
Since she began teaching full-time 15 years ago, Susan Milan has used the local environment as the context for place-based experiential approaches to learning. As a former ornithologist, Susan encourages her students to learn about birds by recording sightings during observation walks and tracking migration patterns online. Susan also has engaged students in a forest ecology project, where student groups study an area of the forest ecosystem and then teach the other students in the class. Through a class garden, students record growth patterns and learn about the plant life cycle, weather and soil. She has developed relationships with community speakers and guest teachers and has an ongoing partnership with the South Whidbey State Park rangers, who visit the class each month to conduct hands-on lessons that reinforce learning. Susan’s students have demonstrated academic achievement above district and state averages and display a passion for environmental learning that extends beyond the classroom. At the national level, Susan serves as a mentor teacher through the Ahima Institute in Pomona, which works to establish curricula focused on sustainability and social justice. In addition, she served on the steering committee for development of the Washington State Environmental Literacy Plan.