SEDI, the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative, held an awards event on May 19 to celebrate excellence in education. Awards were presented to teachers dedicated to teaching sustainability as part of their curriculum. This year, four award winners and six runner-up winners received a total of $16,000 in cash awards from citizen donors who support education.

The teachers were recognized and feted, along with the 2016 northern Arizona Rodel and Flagstaff STEM award winners, at an event on May 19 at the 1899 Ballroom in Flagstaff.

“This year brought SEDI innovative and creative applications from across northern Arizona resulting in one of the most highly competitive programs in our seven-year history of recognizing excellent teachers with these awards,” said Eric Marcus, SEDI executive director. “Our team of expert judges were hard put to select the best from so many outstanding teacher-led programs. The way the children were able to combine science, technology, engineering, arts and math into valuable real-world experiences is both impressive and heartening.”

The Teacher Awards for Sustainable Curriculum began as the brain-child of Lynn and Wayne Fox. Lynn has retired from teaching middle school in Flagstaff and Wayne is now the Assistant Dean at the W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University.

As Lynn recalled, “The idea for the awards came while we were out walking and trying to think of ways to recognize teachers for their special efforts in the classroom. I know how difficult it is to provide today’s students with a great education when schools are so terribly underfunded. When we decided to step up and finance the fledgling program, we never dreamed it would become so successful so quickly.”

The awards are open to teachers in Apache, Coconino, Navajo and Yavapai Counties and are divided into four grade categories: kindergarten through second grade, third through fifth, sixth through eighth and high school grades nine through 12. The purpose of the awards is to recognize development and implementation of innovative educational approaches that instill in students the importance, value and practicality of local environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainability. As such, they mirror the economic development mission of SEDI in Arizona.

The programs judged to be the best for 2016 are: Gabrielle Mills of Peak School for her “Where Our Produce Comes From” program for 1st and 2nd graders; Danitza Hill of Leupp Public School for her “Natural Tie Dye T-Shirts” program for 3rd graders; Gretchen Downey of Sinagua Middle School for her “Future City: Waste Not, Want Not” program for 8th graders; and Linda Lenz of Flagstaff High School for her “Reclaiming the Courtyard” program for 11th and 12th graders.

The projects were judged for their innovative approaches, the actions taken, real-world applications, and sustainable outcomes. The projects had to demonstrate practical application that empowers action at the local level while aligning with the Arizona Department of Education Standards. Each winning teacher received a check for $2,500 as a thank you for their leadership.

This year, thanks to two additional donations, SEDI was able to offer six runner-up awards of $1,000 each. These educators include: Dr. Lisa Hirsch and Jean Turocy of Sedona Charter School; Tim Begley, Heather Horner, Samantha Runger, and Pearl Smith of Killip Elementary School; Jillian Worssam of Sinagua Middle School; Kyla Palmer of West Sedona School; Janeece Henes of Flagstaff Arts & Leadership Academy; and Rachel Steagall of Ponderosa High School.

“We wish we could do more for all the hard-working, underappreciated teachers in Arizona,” said John Neville, former head of the SEDI Education Team. “Our children are our future, and their teachers help them into the world we’re creating for them. Today, children need all the help they can get, and these creative teachers are going well above and beyond to provide learning experiences that prepare them to deal with the challenges they will face.”

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