Congratulations to our very own, Amanda Schaeffer, teacher of Art and Ecology at the Innovation Learning Hub for receiving the 2023 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. This award is presented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
The Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE) 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, 13 educators and 41 students are recognized for their leadership and commitment to environmental education and environmental stewardship. This year, nine educators received the 2023 PIAEE, and four educators were recognized with an honorable mention distinction. Winning educators demonstrated leadership by integrating environmental education into multiple subjects and using topics such as climate change, environmental justice, water infrastructure, healthy school environments, environmentally friendly agriculture practices, recycling, and reducing contributions to ocean and marine litter.
Mrs. Schaeffer personally developed her course, “Art and Ecology,” to create advocacy opportunities while empowering students as agents of change in their own communities. With 15 years of teaching experience, Mrs. Schaeffer sees how art is a living voice for change, and her lessons instill that vision into her students while equipping them with the tools to contribute to that change.
One of Mrs. Schaeffer’s quintessential projects was the Rain Barrel Project. In collaboration with the City of Hilliard, the Coca-Cola Bottling Company, and other organizations, her class converted 15 trash barrels into rain barrels as part of a water conservation effort. After researching rainwater runoff, students designed, then decorated, these barrels while raising funds through sponsorship for an additional 50 barrels. Not only was this intellectually and artistically stimulating for students, but the work behind the barrels also taught them about sustainable business models. It resembled another one of Mrs. Schaeffer’s class projects: the creation of a raised garden bed in the school’s courtyard. Thanks to her teachings, students specified the ideal location, set timelines and budgets, and created their own designs and measurements for the garden. Following student presentations on the best approaches, Mrs. Schaeffer guided the class toward a consensus. Together, they finalized the garden, and Mrs. Schaeffer uses it to this day to teach her students about nutrition, food insecurity, and water conservation.
Practicality is a core component of Mrs. Schaeffer’s curriculum, which is why she encourages community involvement in her projects. Produce from the student garden, for example, is donated to the Hilliard Food pantry, and her class coordinated with a local sheep and alpaca fiber supplier to create a felted vertical planter for the Highland Youth Garden. This philosophy drives her “Seeds of Change” project, where students create community connections across neighborhoods so that the lessons and benefits of urban farming and sustainable art are accessible to everyone. In fact, Mrs. Schaeffer’s “Seeds of Change” has been so influential that it even caught the attention of filmmaker Thomas Sawyer, who showcased it across the nation at film festivals and art centers.
Mrs. Schaeffer’s work has contributed to student success stories and a more sustainable Ohio. Many students have continued to work independently on projects that were inspired by her teachings, and community hubs like the Highland Youth Garden remain grateful for the benefits they have received from her class projects. To this day, Mrs. Schaeffer remains an adamant supporter of climate justice, and she inspires her students and her school to make sustainability a reality through conversation and collective action.