President’s Environmental Youth Awards

Environmental Education Week 2015

This week, April 19-25, EPA and the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) are celebrating National Environmental Education Week along with thousands of students and teachers across the country. Through environmental education, educators show students how science is a part of our daily lives, teach them the skills to develop a deeper understanding of environmental issues, and encourage them to make responsible decisions. Earth Day, which falls in the middle of Environmental Education Week this year, is an important time to reflect on our environmental impact and what we can do to protect our planet.

Over the past several years, NEEF has led Environmental Education Week by focusing on “Greening STEM,” encouraging teachers and students to explore the connection between the natural world and STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEM education provides the building blocks for questioning, investigating, interpreting, and ultimately protecting the world around us. Within the STEM classroom, environmental education can help students relate the formulas on the whiteboard to real world, outdoor experiences. Environmental education and STEM together equip students to critically analyze and identify effective solutions to environmental problems.

This Environmental Education Week, EPA offices across the country are working with their communities to connect with educators as well as recognize outstanding young environmental stewards—the new winners of the President’s Environmental Youth Award. This year’s winners are directly restoring damaged ecosystems, exploring exciting new alternative fuel options, and mobilizing their communities to support sustainable solutions to environmental problems. Later this year, our Office of Environmental Education will announce recipients of our Environmental Education Grants. Each year, we award $3.5 million to school districts, local governments, universities, tribal education programs, and other partners to support environmental education projects promoting awareness, stewardship, and skill building.

On Earth Day, NEEF staff will visit Nizhoni Elementary School in Shiprock, New Mexico, for the unveiling of a brand new Schoolyard STEM Lab, a unique learning space where students and teachers can participate in hands-on activities that exhibit the “greening” of STEM activities, from a greenhouse for science investigations to outdoor stations for engineering projects and more.

These unique experiences are what environmental education is all about—encouraging students to combine the skills they learn in the classroom with their curiosity about the natural world. It’s up to all of us to give them the chance to discover solutions to environmental challenges. We’re excited to explore the connections between environmental education and STEM throughout the year and to help teachers find the most engaging ways to enrich education through environmental themes.

There are many ways to get involved. Be an Environmental Education Week ambassador. Get outside this week and learn something new about the natural world. Share your understanding and encourage those around you to do the same. Find resources for your classroom or your child at http://www2.epa.gov/students/lesson-plans-teacher-guides-and-online-resources-educators and visit http://eeweek.org/ to learn more about how you can join the environmental education Week celebration.

About the authors: Stan Meiburg is the U.S. EPA Acting Deputy Administrator and Diane Wood is the President of the National Environmental Education Foundation.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Local Kids Make a Global Difference

By Ameshia Cross

One of the great things about my internship with EPA is that I get to continue working with youth and youth related issues.  Recently I was lucky enough to serve as one of the judges for the President’s Environmental Youth Awards (PEYA) in EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago.

PEYA was created by EPA and the President of the United States to recognize the ideas and innovations of youth working on environmental issues. PEYA is a competition open to youth around the country and students can participate by themselves or in a group project.  Serving as a judge, I was immediately wowed by the applicants. Projects ranged from outreach efforts with state legislatures and communities about water issues and recycling to wetlands and conservationism.   The winning applicant from Region 5 was a group from Chicago – the EcoMacs.

The EcoMacs are a group of teenage women who attend Mother McAuley Liberal Arts High School. The Operation Haiti project they designed is simply phenomenal. These young women studied the region and its people; they learned about its economy and its environmental resources and decided to do something to help.  The group devised a plan to bring economic stability to the village of Pichon by using untapped natural resources.  As desolate as the village seemed, the Eco-Macs saw that Haiti had two major eco-friendly resources, the Jathropha plant and extensive sun exposure. The students built a solar-powered biodiesel processor for a school in Pichon. They worked with farmers to plant Jathropa whose seed oil can be converted to marketable products. Additionally, the students advised the school in Pichon on the process of making soap out of a glycerin by-product as well as using the biodiesel for use in oil lamps and much more.

Unfortunately, the processor has not made it to its final destination due to logistical issues in Port-au-Prince. In the meantime, the EcoMacs have continued to educate the local community about the project through appearances and Power Point presentations at elementary schools and Earth Day programs.

These young ladies are making a difference globally. They thought beyond the borders of the United States and created something for a region that many people forgot about after the earthquake headlines stopped running. The EcoMacs saw a problem and an environmental asset that could alleviate it. This is the kind of thinking and inspiration that deserves recognition…CONGRATULATIONS LADIES!

About the author:  Ameshia Cross joined the EPA in December as a STEP intern in the Air and Radiation Division in Chicago. She has worked for numerous community organizations and holds seats on youth education boards. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Public Administration with an emphasis on environmental policy and legislation.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Grow a Green School

By Megan Gavin

GreenRecently I attended the first Green Schools National Conference held in Minneapolis. One of the many cool things about the conference was the variety of people who came together with the common goal of how to make schools ‘greener’ and more sustainable. When you think about it, there are a lot of environmental issues surrounding schools – you have lighting, food, garbage, ventilation, schools with and without access to nearby nature and teachers who need to teach standards but want to integrate sustainability concepts into the curriculum – just to name a few. Sounds a bit overwhelming! Where do you even get started?

As part of the conference, the Will Steger Foundation sponsored a youth summit for 100 high school kids from across the country. While the adults were trying to choose between sessions about green jobs, using renewable energy, energy & water conservation, waste reduction, recycling, green purchasing and cleaning, creating a school-wide green culture, school garden programs, school lunch programs and more, students were learning about how to be leaders themselves.

The highlight came at the end of conference for me, when students who attended the youth summit reported out about what they learned. One of the student presenters was a Region 10 President’s Environmental Youth Awards (PEYA) winner form last year. Students spoke about learning tips and tools to get grants to fund their projects, how to be advocates and get media attention for their issues and more. I learned that active, interested high school students have a voice and they will not stop until they are heard. Adults and students alike had come together to support the concept of green schools!

In addition to learning from students, I learned from other organizations too. For example, I learned the U.S. Green Building Council has a center for green schools which helps to engage educators in creating sustainable learning environments for their students and apply solid research to inform leadership about the benefits of healthy, high-performing schools. I learned about other cool resources such as ‘Green my Parents’ which is a movement and a book that teaches kids that through fun, simple activities, keeping score and grading their parents, young people reduce energy consumption, water usage and waste at home to save over $100 for their family and take charge of creating a more sustainable future today.

All in all, I was reminded that green schools aren’t only about the building but the people inside the building. The opportunities to get involved in this movement are endless. My goal is to find kids doing ‘green’ projects in my area and help them get the recognition they deserve through EPA’s President’s Environmental Youth Award program.

About the author: Megan Gavin currently works as the environmental education coordinator in the Chicago office of EPA.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Illick's Mill Does D.C.

On Wednesday, May 19th, students of the Illick’s Mill Project (IMP) dropped their garden shovels, grant proposals, and finishing paint and embarked to Washington, D.C. After a debacle where the group was split into three different trains at three different times, the class made its way (in segments!) to the hotel. The students broke off into smaller groups to see the city, their stomachs full of pizza and their legs ready to walk. My group and I walked from the hotel and down about a million blocks to the Lincoln Memorial. Abe was on his platform, sitting just as deliberately as always, and I felt a pacific energy omitted from everyone at the monument of union (no pun intended!). My friends and I turned to see two separate groups of our class heading towards of us. The power of the monument was in full force and we all were united under its amity.

I, as well as several other students of the Illick’s Mill, left Washington D.C. with a piece of the city. Judging from the bright eyes
and exhilarated faces after speaking in front of Lisa Jackson and our congressional representative, many IMP members began to consider governmental professions.

The entire project enjoyed a swanky neighborhood, Adams Morgan, for a Mediterranean night out on Thursday night. The group broke into smaller sections to once again indulge in the city where many made first time trips to the Jefferson Memorial and other local attractions.

The next morning, through the blistering heat students maintained their smiles as they walked to the big white building hidden beneath the trees. The students giggled to themselves when they saw a volleyball on the front yard; it was our own private look into the lives of the first family, and seemed like a intimate encounter. What I remember most about the president walking up the hill was the presidential swagger unlike anything I’ve ever seen. When we met, the president was devoid of pretentiousness, as he showed that he was honored to meet us, a group of 60 dripping, lovesick kids.

Because of the trip’s balance of rich education and fun, students were able to gain an inside look into the wonderful city that is D.C. The most effective representation of our trip can be quoted from an IMP student, “Overall, the Illick’s Mill Project’s trip to D.C. was
educational, ephemeral, and unforgettable.”

About the author: Niharika Pendurthi is a Illick’s Mill Project Member of the Class of 2011.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Warning About Warming

My experiences at the President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) Ceremony in Washington D.C. were simply unforgettable. It was an unbelievable opportunity to share my knowledge with some of the most influential people in the nation. Some of the highlights of my entire experience were being able to meet and share my knowledge with Administrator Lisa Jackson, Philippe Cousteau, and the children from Earth’s Natural Force.

My project focused on the idea of environmental activism and sharing knowledge to inspire others to make an environmental difference. Seeing the interest that influential people such as Administrator Jackson and Philippe Cousteau had in not just my project but in others as well. It made me realize that the future generation is not alone in the battle to save our environment; on the contrary, there are many willing to support and encourage the efforts of today’s environmentalists – the 2009 PEYA winners.

Being able to share my knowledge with the children from Earth’s Natural Force was an amazing experience as well. Seeing their keen interest in my project gave me hope for the future beyond our generation. If we can inspire and enthuse as many people as possible to help our environment, then our Earth will be in good hands. My mission as an Earth Warrior is to provide the knowledge and enthusiasm that will propel our future into a better place. As Steve Droke said, “Knowledge is power and enthusiasm pulls the switch.”

The PEYA Award Ceremony was truly an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

About the Author: Pavane Gorrepati is a ssophmore at Rivermont Collegiate High School in Bettendorf, Iowa, and has won many awards based on her research projects.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Project Jatropha

Carbon dioxide emissions are local, but their effects are global. We are one hundred and ninety four countries on this globe; our boundaries are fixed, but the air that we breathe is shared. No matter who contributes how much to the CO2 burden, all nations suffer together. The USA, China and India are the largest producers of CO2 in the world. During a time when there are differences between developed and developing nations on how to mitigate climate change, Project Jatropha aims to demonstrate the commitment and action of the youth in developed countries to environmental issues that affect the developing nations as well.

Our vision is to promote Jatropha curcas as an ecologically friendly and economically sustainable source of biofuel initially in rural India and eventually in many countries. Near our project site, poor farmers cultivate tobacco as a cash crop in order to support their families. This has forced them to cut down the local trees and forests, jeopardizing the fauna. Jatropha biofuel has a ready, large global market, as it has negligible emissions and a small carbon footprint. Our project starts at the grassroots level with an international collaboration with Parivarthana, an NGO that helps farmers, and Labland Biotechs, a plant biotechnology company. The beneficiaries are farmers. We distributed 13,000 quality Jatropha seedlings to 50 farmer families from two villages. We have demonstrated the extraction of biofuel from Jatropha seeds, distributed the oil among farmers, and successfully run their irrigation pumps with it. Several farmers have been trained in the agronomics of Jatropha at Labland Biotechs facility.

We have successfully collaborated with high schools in rural India and California to spread the awareness of climate change. Though this project was launched in India, we hope that it will spearhead a movement that will eventually mitigate climate change from CO2 emission, decrease the dependence on fossil fuels and global poverty.

It feels wonderful to have the recognition by the preeminent agency entrusted with guarding our environment. PEYA award has given our project a invaluable visibility and exposure . This will create awareness about the fact that community action is the key to bringing about changes in the way we care for our environs.

About the author: Adarsha Shivakumar is a high school student from Oakland, CA. Along with two other high school students, he recently received a Presidents Environmental Youth Award for Project Jatropha.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Vision is Green

My name is Sarah Jo Lambert and for my Girl Scout Gold Award project I built an environmental center made entirely out of green materials for kids to learn how to take care of the environment and become strong leaders in the future. It is a 100% Carbon Neutral building materials, meaning that everything that was used to create the Lorax Lodge was reduced, reused, or recycled. It is 850 sq ft in capacity and the walls are made out of Earth Co. Megablock systems. This means that the walls are just compressed earth and weighed about 1 ton each. I also created a curriculum guide so if children didn’t get the opportunity to visit the Lorax Lodge then they could study about the environment in their schools. I translated the curriculum into Spanish as well so that it could be available to more people. I also created a Green Challenge that challenges Girl Scouts around the world to implement the same ideals into their communities and lives. I did all of this over a course of two years because I love the outdoors and being in the midst of wildlife. I wanted kids to be able to experience the same passion and love for this beautiful world that I feel everyday. I hope that children will develop this same passion and zeal and have it for the rest of their lives as they learn to become future leaders of the world.

This trip to Washington, D.C., was my first trip to our capitol city, and it blew my mind. I have never felt so much awe before in my life. From the architecture to the history, I think I fell in love. Not only was meeting the President of the United States an unbelievable honor, but it was so surreal it was hard to imagine that it all really happened. I also got to visit many other amazing places. I went to the Spy Museum, the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, a night tour of all of the monuments, and last but definitely not least, the Library of Congress. I got lost with my mom and my new friends and I don’t think I ever would want to be lost in any other way.

This award was very important to me because I was allowed the honor of meeting extraordinary and talented teenagers. They were just as nerdy as I was, and just as passionate about the environment and of life. I believe that everyone who was a recipient of this award, including myself, will have bright futures that will consist of making the world a better place for today’s generation, as well as generations to come. With a future generation that will soon rule the world, I feel very encouraged that tomorrow will definitely be better than today. Not that today isn’t good, but things can only improve. Thank you so much for picking me as a recipient for Region 6, I have never been so honored before in my life.

About the author: Sarah Jo Lambert is a high school student from Lubbock, TX. She recently received a Presidents Environmental Youth Award for project The Vision is Green.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Recycle Because You Care

"Recycle Because You Care" Team, Region 5 PEYA winners

"Recycle Because You Care" Team, Region 5 PEYA winners

This was my first trip to Washington D.C. and it was amazing! We stayed at an awesome hotel. It was located right in between two Metro stations (the subway system in D.C.) We took the Metro everywhere. It was so convenient, clean and safe. I really enjoyed meeting all of the other President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) winners. Their projects were very interesting and covered a wide range of environmental issues. I feel honored to be included in such a smart and motivated group of students! The EPA regional coordinators and hosts were so nice. They made us all feel so special.

On the day we arrived, we met with Congressman Roskam who represents our district. It was neat to see his office and meet the people that work with him. We told him all about our project and he was very proud of us. He encouraged us to continue our efforts. Roskam’s staff assistant gave us a tour of the Capitol Building. It is enormous, beautiful and historic.

The next day was the awards ceremony and luncheon. This event was amazing! EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson gave a speech and presented the PEYA plaques to the winners. She seems like a very nice, smart woman. A great role model for us girls! The performers were fantastic and Philippe Cousteau, our luncheon speaker, was really inspiring. In between all the planned activities we had plenty of time to walk around and sightsee. We stopped in several of the Smithsonian museums, saw the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Arlington Cemetery, Washington National Cathedral and more. And we didn’t even get to see it all!

The following day was probably the highlight of our trip. We got to meet President Barack Obama!!! He talked to the winners and said that we are changing the future today. He seemed genuinely excited about the work all of the teams had done. He even said he is eager to follow our progress as we continue our efforts in college and beyond. We took a picture with the President and he shook the hand of every PEYA winner.

This trip and all of the once in a lifetime experiences made me feel very important and want to continue our work. I also learned about the many careers out there in environment protection. This was probably one of the best experiences we could ever have. Thanks EPA for EVERYTHING!!

About the author: Maggie O’Brien is a middle school student from Addison, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Maggie, along with two other middle school students, recently received a Presidents Environmental Youth Award for a recycling project they developed and implemented, Recycle Because You Care.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Passion and Action – President's Environmental Youth Awards

Do you have a passion for the environment? Have you put the passion into action? Well, you need to let us know and learn about the President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA). PEYA is an award program for students K – 12th grade. Whether you completed an environmental awareness project as an individual, a group, or class, you are eligible, and encouraged, to apply.

image of PEYA logoI have been managing the PEYA program in EPA’s Region 1office for over 5 years. It is one of my favorite programs in the agency and is truly a hidden gem. So many students create projects centered around the environment. How cool is it to be recognized for your passion with an award ceremony in Washington, DC, potentially meeting President Obama, and hanging out with kids from across the country with the same passion for the environment as you. I am always amazed and impressed with the scope and depth of some of the projects submitted. I have had winners who have created a rain garden behind their town hall to prevent runoff from contaminating the river behind it; an Eagle Scout who created a program to have fisherman use an alternative weight to lead sinkers; an afterschool group who created an energy audit and program for its school district and so many more.

The regional award program is conducted once a year, and each of the 10 EPA regions selects a regional winner. Each regional winner is invited to an EPA-sponsored award ceremony in Washington, DC and receives a presidential plague.

I never get bored with students’ passion and action towards the environment. We want to read about your great projects and EPA knows you have worked hard on a project so why not get some recognition? You can get the program details (including applications deadlines), check out previous winning projects for inspiration, and get the application at epa.gov/peya. Get the credit you deserve for putting your passion into action and making the environment a cleaner, healthier place, and remember, it’s never too early to start a project for next year!

About the author: Kristen Conroy is the Environmental Education Coordinator in the EPA Reg 1’s Boston region. Kristen has been with EPA since 1991.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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