SEATTLE (June 29, 2022) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, announced the 2022 recipients of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators.
“The tradition of excellence in environmental education continues with this year’s winners and I am so proud of their efforts to tackle the most pressing environmental challenges we face,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “I’m happy to celebrate the climate action and environmental stewardship work of the dedicated youth and educators who are leaders in their classrooms and communities. Environmental education is one of the most important tools in our work to protect the environment and combat the climate crisis.”
“I’m inspired by these dedicated educators who spark enthusiasm in our students to develop a love and respect for the environment and help find solutions for issues that impact our air, water, and land,” said EPA Region 10 Regional Administrator Casey Sixkiller. “EPA is proud to honor these educators among the many Northwest teachers who dedicate themselves to teaching students about the environment, and how they can make a positive difference in our communities.”
The Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators was established by the 1990 National Environmental Education Act and seeks to recognize, support, and bring public attention to the outstanding environmental projects performed by teachers who go beyond textbook instruction to incorporate methods and materials that utilize creative experiences and enrich student learning in K-12 education.
From across the country, 11 educators received the 2022 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators, and 2 educators were recognized with an honorable mention distinction for their leadership and commitment to environmental education and environmental stewardship. Winning educators demonstrated leadership by integrating environmental education into multiple subjects and using topics such as climate change, waste management, water quality, wildlife conservation, and STEM education.
In EPA’s Region 10, two Washington teachers were honored for their outstanding work:
Alfonso Gonzalez, Jr., Chimacum Elementary School, Chimacum, Washington
Mr. Gonzalez is a math and science teacher for 6th grade students at Chimacum Elementary School. He draws upon his 30 years of teaching to implement place-based experiential learning and innovative game-based learning to make learning science and math a fun, challenging, and engaging experience for his students.
One of Mr. Gonzalez’s teaching achievements, the Ocean Guardian School project, sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is an environmental stewardship project begun in 2000 as a water quality monitoring activity. Funded by a small grant, the project engages students in the creek running by the school in hands-on activities including fish trapping, benthic macroinvertebrate sampling, and water quality testing. The information and data is shared with the county’s conservation district tracking database. Students are excited and motivated to learn about the ecosystem they live in; the outdoor classroom makes learning fun and relevant and engages students who sometimes struggle in traditional classroom settings.
Mr. Gonzalez uses innovative teaching methods to make curriculums fun and engaging. He integrates gamification and game-based learning into science class materials, lessons, labs, activities, and projects that are enthusiastically received by his students. In 2021, Mr. Gonzalez led his students to participate in a global UNESCO Minecraft Global Build Challenge focused on sustainability; the team identified an unsustainable challenge within their community, conducted research to learn how to solve the problem sustainably, and built in Minecraft a town showing their solution in action. Mr. Gonzalez shares his creative educational approaches with other STEM educators on how to use technology to engage and enhance student learning and incorporate game-based learning to motivate and make learning fun.
Elsie Mitchell, Chief Leschi Schools, Puyallup, Washington
As a high school teacher at Chief Leschi Schools, Ms. Mitchell is the creator of the school’s Natural Resources Career and Technical Education (CTE) Pathway. As part of the CTE program, Ms. Mitchell developed three innovative science courses: Natural Resources and Ecology, Natural Resources and Conservation, and Environmental Science. Each culturally relevant course incorporates ecology and conservation and Native American perspectives while also emphasizing Puyallup Tribal salmon and shellfish programs. Chief Leschi Schools is a State Tribal Education Compact School run by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. The student body is 66 percent Puyallup Tribal members and 98 percent Native American. Ms. Mitchell designed the CTE Pathway courses in response to the community’s request for a student program designed to prepare them for leadership roles within local tribal businesses. Participating students gain lab science skills while also learning about the impact of dams on salmon and the environment, renewable energy, the current and historical importance of salmon, and environmental protection.
In her first year leading the program, Ms. Mitchell began a multi-year project to restore the Lake Leschi wetlands located on the school’s campus. Under her leadership, students identify and dig out invasive species and replace them with native vegetation. Restoration activities also include monitoring water quality and vegetation growth. Students love this hands-on outdoor classroom and enjoy checking on the vegetation they planted. In partnership with the Puyallup Tribal Fisheries, Ms. Mitchell teaches students how to support native salmon by assisting with the spawning process, both at the local salmon hatchery and by managing an on-campus hatchery. The students also learn about future careers in science and natural resources fields. In 2021, Ms. Mitchell added a new Environmental Science class, the Personal Energy Consumption Lab and Alternative Energy Solution Lab. Students in this lab are required to research and write a report on the actions of another nation and the resulting positive or negative impacts on the global environment, create a brochure detailing environmental impacts to the local salmon population, and design a project on land use planning and treaty rights. As a result of Ms. Mitchell’s efforts, her students are more interested in protecting the lands in their community and she inspires the next generation of Indigenous youth to become scientists.
To read about the winning projects, visit: https://www.epa.gov/education/presidential-innovation-award-environmental-educators-piaee-winners