EPA Celebrates Earth Day and Environmental Education:

News Releases from Region 02

Announcing Winners of the President’s Student-Teacher Environmental Awards

04/22/2020

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New York, NY. - Today, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in partnership with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), is pleased to announce the recipients of the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE) and the President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA). From across the country, 10 educators and 35 students are being recognized for their leadership and commitment to environmental education and environmental stewardship.  In EPA Region 2, which encompasses New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and eight Indian Nations, Veronica Morabito-Weeks, a teacher at Bretton Woods Elementary School in Hauppauge, NY will be receiving the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators and five students from Bridgewater High School in New Jersey will be receiving the President's Environmental Youth Award.

“As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, we are also celebrating nearly 50 years of environmental education that fosters awareness about conservation issues, and helps communities make informed, responsible decisions about their environment,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “We are also honoring dedicated educators who spark enthusiasm in our youth to develop a love and respect for the environment and find solutions for issues that impact our air, water and land.”

“Environmental educators and students are the future of sustainability in our nation,” said EPA Region 2 Administrator Pete Lopez.  “I commend the winning students from Bridgewater, NJ and the winning educator Ms. Morabito-Weeks from NY on their extraordinary efforts to make this Earth a better place as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.”

Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators

The Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators recognizes outstanding kindergarten through grade 12 teachers who employ innovative approaches to environmental education and use the environment as a context for learning for their students. The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), in partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administers this award to honor, support and encourage educators who incorporate environmental education in their classrooms and teaching methods.

The winner of this year’s Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators for EPA Region 2 is Veronica Morabito-Weeks.  Veronica is a fifth grade teacher at Bretton Woods Elementary School in Hauppauge, NY, integrates environmental concepts into other classroom subjects including: English, language arts, social studies, and math to ensure all her students experience nature firsthand.  She utilizes her 26 years of teaching experience to create inclusive, rich experiences that meet the diverse needs of her students.

Veronica’s students gain firsthand experience interacting with nature by studying and caring for animals including axolotls, chinchillas, trout, Bobwhite quails, and horseshoe crabs. She offers her students the opportunity to work with environmental professionals, hoping it may spark student interest in stewardship projects.  Building on the classroom experience, students can work with staff from Cornell University to release the trout they’ve raised and study invasive fish species through river sampling after school. Also, in collaboration with Caleb Smith State Park, the students hatch and raise quails to support a tick reduction program in the park.

The entire school community benefits from Ms. Morabito-Weeks environmental leadership.  Students benefit from Ms. Morabito-Weeks’ initiative in creating a butterfly garden, a native plant garden, and the Environmental Science Club.  Every year Ms. Morabito-Weeks organizes multiple environmental education field trips for the entire fifth grade.  As a New York State Master Teacher and a Lead Teacher for her Teacher’s College Language Arts Program, she provides professional development for other educators and takes part in continued citizen science opportunities to bring new projects back to her school.

“I am absolutely thrilled to receive this award,” said PIAEE teacher winner Veronica Morabito-Weeks. “I am motivated every day by my students’ deep commitment to make positive change in the world. I know that they are ready to be powerful stewards of the Earth, and I share this great honor with them.”

For more information on the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators, visit: https://www.epa.gov/education/presidential-innovation-award-environmental-educators-piaee-winners.

President's Environmental Youth Award

The President's Environmental Youth Award recognizes outstanding environmental projects by K-12 youth. Since 1971, the President of the United States has joined with EPA to recognize young people for protecting our nation's air, water, land, and ecology.

This year’s Region 2 honorees were a group of five students from Bridgewater High School  who discovered a stormwater runoff problem on their school grounds.  The students were part of a Green Infrastructure Club at the school. After extensive research, the students concluded that the creation of a rain garden would be effective way to fix the flooding problem. They involved elementary, middle and high school students in the development of the rain garden.  In addition to protecting pollutants from entering the nearby Raritan River, the rain garden also provides an outdoor science laboratory for students in the school district. 

In 2019, the rain garden treated 3,950 gallons of rainwater.  The students are in the process of planting 600 bulbs to keep the rain garden going in 2020.   This project significantly improves the environment for students, teachers and members of the surrounding community. 

The five student winners are: Sujay Edavalapati, Pravar Jain, Amogh Jupalli, Aneesh Nagalkar and Ritika Thomas.  Their supervisors are Elizabeth DeMeyer and Sharon Blanke.  The students also fostered relationships with Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program and the Raritan Headwaters Association. 

“When I learned the Bridgewater-Raritan High School Green Infrastructure Club had been selected to receive the Presidential Environmental Youth Award I was elated,” said Bridgewater-Raritan High School Principal Charles Ezell. “The young people who comprise the Green Infrastructure Club are tremendous stewards of and advocates for a sustainable environment.  For people so young to be thoughtful about the posterity of their community is remarkable, which is exactly how I would describe them.”

More information can be found at: https://www.epa.gov/education/presidents-environmental-youth-award-peya-winners.

Follow EPA Region 2 on Twitter at http://twitter.com/eparegion2 and visit our Facebook page, http://facebook.com/eparegion2

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