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Rockport, Mass. Students Honored by White House and EPA for Environmental Project

04/22/2020
Contact Information: 
David Deegan (deegan.dave@epa.gov)
617-918-1017

BOSTON – A group of students from Rockport, Mass. were recognized today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), as awardees of the 2019 President's Environmental Youth Award (PEYA). The program recognizes outstanding environmental stewardship projects by K-12 youth.

Across the country, 35 students are being recognized for their leadership and commitment to environmental education and environmental stewardship. The students demonstrate the initiative, creativity, and applied problem-solving skills needed to tackle environmental problems and find sustainable solutions. The Rockport student team has six members and one faculty advisor receiving recognition today.

"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."

"I am very impressed by the hard work and commitment displayed by these Rockport students. Their work demonstrates that dedicated individuals can make a positive and lasting difference for our environment and their local community," said EPA New England Regional Administrator Dennis Deziel. "The Rockport Green Team members, and their teacher/advisor, have earned the honor of their recognition."

The Rockport, Mass. Public Schools Green Team, a student-run club of 6th through 12th grade students, initiated the "Greenhouse Project" to help educate students and community members about environmental concerns and reduce negative environmental impacts in Rockport. As part of their project, the team fundraised, purchased and constructed a greenhouse, which has been used to grow vegetables locally in order to reduce the waste and pollution from transporting food. The project helped engage with students and community members on sustainable agriculture.

The team's goals were to increase community knowledge, exposure, and access to healthy food. They accomplished their goals by learning about and teaching every aspect of food production, including sustainable practices such as water barrel conservation and solar energy, concepts of pollination, and soil science for planting. With this initiative, the Rockport Green Team increased community participation by encouraging people to go outside, working side by side, and harvesting and eating the fruits and vegetables that were planted and harvested together. The garden continues to be used as an educational resource for teachers and community groups to learn about food waste and production, pollination, climate change, water cycle, composting, and how to live and work together with the common goal of creating local, healthy food for their community.

Bob Allia, the Rockport Public Schools Green Team Faculty Advisor said, "Motivated by a strong desire to save the environment, and with strong student leadership, the Rockport School's Green Team soars past just recycling into sustainable agriculture, which benefited the school cafeteria and the Rockport Farmers Market with fresh produce. Using the school's greenhouse, which we helped to construct, the students learned about and started growing with a hydroponics system and over time expanded to eight raised beds, both in and outside of the greenhouse. During the summer, they spend their Friday evenings harvesting the produce and then early Saturday morning, they went off to the Farmers' Market to sell to and educate the public. This is a truly inspiring group of students."

Nathaniel Kirby, Rockport Public Schools Green Team Student President said, "The members of the Green Team have put countless hours into making this project a success – from daily watering to spending Friday nights harvesting and Saturday mornings at the Rockport Farmers' Market throughout the summer. Bringing sustainably grown produce to our town has helped to strengthen an already supportive community, connecting students and community members to protect our environment in unprecedented ways. Not only have we helped to educate younger students about the environment, but, with the support of our community, we've been able to help reduce single-use plastics in our town as well. We hope that communities around the world will be able to come together, both to help each other get through this pandemic, and to support the preservation of our planet now and in the future."

During the project, members of the Rockport Green Team learned how to plan a garden, plant vegetables, maintain plants, and harvest produce, all while using sustainable practices. The team chose not to use chemical pesticides on the plants and instead the students researched and employed environmentally friendly and less toxic ways to control pests, including using beneficial insects and hand soap. The team donated their produce to the school's cafeteria for use in school lunches during the school year. Once summer began, the students organized themselves to sell produce and seedlings at the community's local farmers market. At the farmers market and elsewhere in the community, the team educated community members about environmental solutions they were discovering. One of the team's primary goals was to help their community learn to become more environmentally conscious.

These 2020 awardees of the annual President's Environmental Youth Awards were among 13 student projects nationwide honored for their efforts. Other student projects recognized come from states including Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Established by the 1990 National Environmental Education Act, the PEYA program promotes local environmental awareness among our nation's youth and encourages positive community involvement. Each year the PEYA program honors environmental awareness projects developed by young individuals, school classes (kindergarten through high school), summer camps, public interest groups and youth organizations.

More information:

EPA information on President's Environmental Youth Awards: https://www.epa.gov/education/presidents-environmental-youth-award-peya-winners

EPA environmental education info: https://www.epa.gov/education