EHT's Alder Avenue Middle School to receive Governor's Environmental Excellence Award

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EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — Egg Harbor Township’s Alder Avenue Middle School will be presented with the 2012 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award (GEEA) in the Environmental Education category on Monday, Jan. 28, at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, for its innovative environmental and energy conservation classroom efforts.

Established in 2000, the New Jersey Governor's Environmental Excellence Awards Program is the State's premier awards program that recognizes individuals, businesses, educators, institutions, communities, youth and others who have made significant contributions to environmental protection in New Jersey through outstanding environmental performance, programs and projects. Other award categories include Clean Air, Healthy Ecosystems, Water Resources, Land Conservation, Healthy and Sustainable Communities/Businesses, Innovative Technology, Environmental Leadership and Environmental Stewardship.

Taking students out of the traditional classroom setting and introducing them to tangible outdoor learning excursions has been a way of life in Egg Harbor Township for the past 12 years – especially in John Jones’ 6th grade classroom at Alder Avenue Middle School, which serves half of the district’s approximate 1,800 sixth, seventh and eighth grade students.

Reducing their carbon footprint by creating a healthy, energy-efficient school environment reinforced with sound environmental and sustainability education practices has been an ongoing initiative spearheaded by Jones. Successful sister programs, headed up by teachers Jim Thoms and Colin McClain, are also in full swing at Fernwood Avenue Middle School and Dr. Joyanne D. Miller Elementary School. 

Jones and his peers work hard to blend their environmental education curriculum activities with the nationally recognized Energy Education program initiatives kicked off by the District in 2011.  Instead of shielding students from the real-world problems brought on by overpopulation, they turn challenging environmental situations into fun hands-on learning opportunities -- with amazing results.

The largest district in Atlantic County, Egg Harbor Township jumped in population from 30,726 in 2000 to 43,323 in 2010 -- an increase of more than 41 percent. As a former rural farming community the growth surge not only caused overcrowding in the schools, it wreaked havoc on the nearby Great Egg Harbor River -- the jewel and namesake of the Township. 

Infused with character-building service-learning initiatives designed to partner students with area businesses, township leaders, environmentalists, parents, and community members to work together to help solve real environmental problems, Jones’ easygoingness creates the perfect link between the community and the school district. 

Jones, who jumped on the service-learning bandwagon after receiving a $25,000 grant from NJ Learn & Serve America in 2008, has since co-wrote additional grants that have secured nearly $80,000 in extra funding and revived a program that was chopped from the school budget back in 2010. 

“Jones has a way of capturing the attention of all of his students – regardless of their learning level. His teaching method is packed with differentiated instruction that incorporates core content standards and appeals to every child by providing multiple assignments tailored for students of different achievement levels.  He allows his students to choose, with his guidance, ways to learn and how to demonstrate what they have learned -- and structures his class assignments so they require high levels of critical thinking but permit a range of responses,” said Alder Avenue Principal Joseph Marinelli. “He has high expectations of all of his students and creates a learning atmosphere that is geared to different learning styles, readiness and levels of interest,” he added.

Jones also heads up an after-school environmental program that sees up to 50 middle school students staying after school to tend to and expand an outdoor classroom area that students before them created.  The outdoor learning lab features a small tree farm, an organic garden, a pond with a solar-powered pump, native plants, bird houses built by students, and rain barrels to collect surface water runoff from the building roof, which is used to water the organic garden and tree farm. 

Their other labor-of-love project is the 6-acre Community Teaching Garden located on the grounds of the Greate Egg Harbour Township Historical Society in Egg Harbor Township. Partnering with McClain’s third graders from Dr. Joyanne D.Miller School, students are readying the site to be used by community members to till their own gardens and share gardening techniques, and as a workshop host site to educate the public about the importance of protecting and preserving the Great Egg Harbor River from non-point source pollution, overuse and overdevelopment degradation. It will also serve as a place for students to teach community members how to till their own organic gardens and grow their own food using sound environmental practices that don’t pollute the Great Egg Harbor River and other local watersheds.

Catawba Project environmental education programs at Alder Avenue and Fernwood Avenue Middle Schools have received more than $105,000 in grants and has garnered national, state and local awards.


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