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The award 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.
In 2016, Settles Livers was awarded a $35,000 grant from the 3M Corporation. She used it to to build an aquaponics lab where students can learn about sustainable agriculture — and then distribute the food they grow to local co-ops.
She said she wanted to "connect STEM education and nature" while also giving students a chance to give back.
"An opportunity like this, to add hands-on learning experiences right here on campus, is always exciting," Livers said in a news release. "Our students not only get to learn about sustainable agriculture and giving back to those less fortunate, but they also get to experience the emotional response that comes along with actually doing so."
Students in Settles Livers’ Natural Resource Management course participate in experiential learning opportunities including maintaining and troubleshooting the classroom’s two aquaponics lab systems and using engineering and design principles to build their own mini-aquaponics systems. During the aquaponics project, her students learn about the importance of sustainable farming practices and how agricultural farming using scientific concepts of genetics, botany, physics, and environmental engineering can help tackle issues that contribute to food deserts in their community.
Settles Livers also has formed local community partnerships to bring representatives from environmental businesses into the classroom as guest speakers including the National Sales Director from Organic Valley Farms who spoke about his company’s sustainable business model; the Chief Executive Officer of Hatponics, Inc. who shared his startup story; a representative from the University of Georgia’s extension center who delivered a lesson on fall gardening; a water consulting firm contracted by the Gwinnett County government who spoke about water conservation; and the City of Snellville’s Economic Development Advisor who spoke about his honey bee farm and concerns of colony collapse disorder.
As a national winner, Settles Livers receives a Presidential Award plaque and an award of up to $2,500 to be used to further professional development in environmental education. She also received a congratulatory letter from a senior official from EPA and/or the White House. In conjunction with her award, Gwinnett County Public Schools will receive an award of up to $2,500 to fund environmental educational activities and programs.
Up to two teachers from each of EPA’s 10 regions, from different states, were selected to receive this award. The White House Council on Environmental Quality, in partnership with the EPA administers this award to honor, support, and encourage educators who incorporate environmental education in their classrooms and teaching methods.