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Polson educator receives Presidential Innovation Award

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Polson Middle School students held their sixth annual Harvest Dinner on Thursday evening in celebration of the fall bounty, which was harvested from the school’s vegetable garden.

Family and friends gathered in the middle school’s lunchroom for a buffet-style dinner that the students worked hard to put together that featured numerous indigenous ingredients. The menu included bison lasagna, nasturtium pesto pasta, bison and bean soup, pumpkin chili, fresh garden vegetables and a tasty assortment of homemade desserts and pies.

The dinner was made even more special by the fact that Polson Middle School teacher Amy Williams received a presidential award for her work in environmental education.

“It’s an honor and a huge shock,” Williams said. “With Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota and North Dakota in region eight, it didn’t seem that there would be any chance that I would be in the running.”

Awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Williams received the Presidential Innovation Award that recognizes, supports and encourages K-12 teachers who employ innovative approaches to environmental education and incorporate the environment as a context for learning in their classrooms and teaching methods.

During the harvest dinner, EPA Regional Administrator Greg Sopkin, from Denver, presented Williams with an award plaque and a cash award of $2,500 to be used to further her own professional development in environmental education and fund environmental educational activities.

According to a press released by the EPA, “Wiliams, a special education teacher and Indian education coordinator with more than 13 years of experience, provides learning opportunities that are hands-on, environmentally diverse and culturally significant. Students at Polson Middle School spend time in the school’s community garden to learn science, history, traditional agricultural practices, sustainability and life cycles.” 

“Williams encourages environmentally sustainable growing practices, such as using locally sourced wood for structures, using recycled materials to make traps for trespassing rodents, designing and implementing a low-flow irrigation system pumped from an irrigation canal, utilizing beneficial insects to control pests, using pots made out of recycled newspaper to grow seedlings and using composting and vermicomposting instead of synthetic fertilizers.”

The EPA press release explained William’s current project, “Williams mentors students in her after-school Environmental Advocates for Global and Local Ecological Sustainability Club. This year, students in the EAGLES Club are focusing on water conservation issues associated with the Flathead River and Lake. They are learning about plants and animals that depend on the water, the effects of plastics and pollutants on lakes and streams, and how the pollutants impact water quality.”

Back in May, Williams and her students were awarded a check for $1,000 and title of 2018-19 Montana SMART School Recycling Challenge champions for their efforts. Through their efforts, 1,600 pounds of lunchroom waste that would have gone into the trash where composted and used as energy for the school’s garden project. Students also saved eight tons of recyclable paper, plastic, cardboard and metals from making it into the local landfill.


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