Tacoma teacher, SAMI earn EPA education awards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week presented several awards and grants to Washington State educators focused on innovative approaches to environmental education.

Tacoma teacher Ralph Harrison and the Science and Math Institute in Tacoma were awarded a 2013 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators, which recognizes and supports teachers and schools using experiential and environmental opportunities with creativity and community engagement to help students develop civic responsibility and ecosystem stewardship.

According to EPA officials, Harrison creates a unique and innovative approach to high school environmental education, science and physical education at the Science and Math Institute through his Outdoor Education Program, which utilizes the outdoors, experiential, and place-based learning to encourage students to participate in the environmental field through environmental, conservation, science activities and projects. Students learn to collect data for forest certification and participate annually in the “bio-blitz” inventory of the Point Defiance Park area, as well as participate in numerous scientific studies with local universities and Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, according to EPA officials. Harrison’s students experience daily hikes while maintaining field notes and sketches of their observations, and project-based classes are tailored to meet diverse learning needs. His students also learn environmental education through integrated work in science, natural histories, civic responsibility and connection with community that has a lasting impact and skill set that is carried into their future studies and endeavors, according to EPA officials.

The award includes $2,000 to promote Harrison’s professional development in environmental education, and $2,000 to the Science and Math Institute for environmental education programs.

The EPA also awarded a $216,000 environmental education model grant to E3 Washington, formerly the Environmental Education Association of Washington. E3 Washington’s Educator-to-Educator Initiative for Student Learning project will work with environmental education leaders in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington to develop and implement a model for classroom and community environmental education.

EPA officials presented the awards and grants at a ceremony Thursday at the McKinstry Innovation Center in Seattle.

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. Up to two teachers from each of EPA’s 10 regions, from different states, are selected to receive the award. The White House Council on Environmental Quality, in partnership with the EPA, administers this award to nationally honor, support and encourage educators who incorporate environmental education in their classrooms and teaching methods.

More information is available online here.

Tacoma Science and Math Institute teacher Ralph Harrison was awarded the 2013 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (COURTESY PHOTO)