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President's Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) 2004 Winners

Each year, EPA recognizes national winners of the President's Environmental Youth Award (PEYA)

Winners by year: 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004 | 2003 | 2002

EPA Region 1

Putting the Forest Back Into Forest Avenue
Megan Larcom
Middletown High School

Rhode Island

With earth's natural resources dwindling, Megan Larcom, a student of Middletown High School in Middletown, Rhode Island, decided to pursue a project that focused on preservation of the environment through proper use of renewable and nonrenewable natural resources. Specifically, Megan's goals were to (1) teach a group of Forest Avenue Elementary School students about natural resources and the significance of Earth Day and Arbor Day, (2) lead an event that the students could participate in and the entire school could benefit from, and (3) help educate the community about preservation of the environment by displaying student artwork with environmental themes.

To meet her goals, Megan first conducted extensive research on preservation of the environment. She then created lesson plans for teaching fourth-grade students at Forest Avenue Elementary School. The lesson plans included interactive, hands-on activities that focused on renewable and nonrenewable resources, recycling, and the benefits of having a clean planet.

Megan then led an activity in which the fourth-grade students planted a beech tree outside the school. Prior to the event, the students had learned about the history and significance of Earth Day and Arbor Day. Although only fourth graders participated in the planting of the tree, the entire school benefited from its beauty and environmental advantages.

The final element of Megan's project involved promoting environmental awareness in her community. Megan arranged for 200 paper bags provided by a local supermarket chain to be decorated by students throughout the Middletown Public School District. The bags were decorated with student artwork related to Earth Day and Arbor Day themes. For example, phrases such as "Save Our Earth" and "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" were prominently displayed on the bags. During the week of Earth Day 2004, the bags were distributed to customers of the supermarket chain.

Megan's project had a direct impact on many students in the Middletown Public School District, particularly the fourth-grade students of Forest Avenue Elementary School. Megan's focused, fun-filled project helped many students understand that they can contribute to preservation of the environment no matter what their age--all they need to do is start today.

EPA Region 2

Saving Staten Island's Cavity-Nesters
James Q.
Elias Bernstein School

New York

The development of new communities on Staten Island, New York, is destroying many wooded areas. This trend is causing the loss of natural tree cavities, where birds classified as "cavity-nesters" build their nests. Four species of cavity-nesters--American kestrels, barn owls, eastern bluebirds, and wood ducks--are found in Mount Loretto Park (a state preserve) on Staten Island and are the focus of James' project.

James built and maintains a "nest box trail" at Mount Loretto Park. His construction of nest boxes in areas where trees are not plentiful has provided nesting cavities for the four bird species. James set up seven nest boxes containing wood shavings at Mount Loretto Park in February 2004. When spring began and birds started to return to the park, they looked for cavities where they could nest, and some birds nested in the boxes. James had two boxes containing a total of 11 eggs of tree swallows, which are also cavity-nesters. Depressions in the wood shavings in the other five boxes indicated that more birds were preparing to lay their eggs.

In addition, James serves as New York City's ambassador to the Birdhouse Network, which is sponsored by Cornell University's Laboratory of Ornithology. In this role, he monitors the nest boxes under a permit, prepares and delivers presentations to community groups, and answers people's questions about birds by email and telephone. James hopes that more people will become involved in protecting the rare birds of New York City, enjoy watching the birds in their natural habitats, and help to restore the natural balance of bird populations on Staten Island.

EPA Region 3

Team Estonoa
Saint Paul High School


In about 1900, when the sons of a farmer in Saint Paul, Virginia, dammed a creek and flooded their father's cornfield, Lake Estonoa was born. For years the lake served the farmer's family and the local community as a swimming hole and recreational area. At some point in the history of the lake, a local resident attempted to beautify the lake by introducing lily pads, and a road construction company began dumping waste into the lake which eventually made the once appealing lake an unsightly and dangerous water body.

In spring 1999, a Saint Paul High School senior named Stevie Sabo decided to focus an ecology project on investigating the eyesore of Saint Paul, the forgotten, lily pad-laden Lake Estonoa. His project included researching the lake's history, assessing its present condition, and developing a plan to return the lake to its former state. After Stevie graduated from high school, Nikki Buffalow, a fellow student, adopted the project in fall 1999. Through the hard work of Stevie and then Nikki, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took an interest in the lake, and determined that designating and protecting it as a wetland (which also could be used as an outdoor classroom) would be the best use for the area.

Since 1999, Saint Paul High School ecology and physics classes under the direction of Mrs. Vencil have continued the project and formed Team Estonoa. Because of its diligent environmental efforts, Team Estonoa has received many awards including the Virginia Naturally Award and the 2004 Sea World/Busch Gardens/Fuji Film Environmental Excellence Award.

Students, faculty, and other community members have worked together on the Wetlands Estonoa Project to address local environmental, political, financial, and social issues. As part of its efforts, Team Estonoa is developing the wetland site into a productive educational asset for the high school and community. The members of the team have used their leadership skills to address problematic situations in the Saint Paul area and develop its natural resources, thus leaving a legacy for the next generation.

Through Team Estonoa's efforts, a dangerous, mosquito-infested swamp has been transformed into an outdoor classroom for the Saint Paul community. Lake Estonoa now has walking trails, a wide variety of vegetation, a dock, and a sanctuary for birds. The team plants and maintains the entire area. A building project was planned 4 years ago, and thanks to the team's fund-raising and grant application efforts, a $175,000 learning center is now under construction at the site. Team Estonoa's motto explains its mission: "Remember when you were young and thought you could change the world...WE ARE!"

EPA Region 4

Environmental Issues Project
Cairo High School Science Club and Biology Students' Environmental Issues Outreach Program


The Cairo High School Science Club was formed 3 years ago with an initial membership of 10 students, and has grown to 70 members today. One of the main goals of the Science Club is to promote awareness of scientific issues, and during the 2003-2004 school year, the Science Club focused on local environmental issues by sponsoring, developing, and participating in three activities.

In the first activity, the Science Club raised money to sponsor a wildlife program for all of the high school's biology classes. Sandy Beck of the St. Francis Wildlife Refuge in Tallahassee, Florida, conducted the program which focused on animal adaptions, habitats, and the various measures people can take to protect them. Ms. Beck completed her presentation by showing the students a barn owl that was blinded by pesticides, a great horned owl and red-tailed hawk that were injured in automobile accidents, and an American kestrel that suffered an illegal gunshot wound.

A newspaper article concerning the local landfill, which at the current rate of dumping will be full in 9 years, prompted the second activity. In an effort to promote recycling, the Science Club sponsored a Saturday Science Camp for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Student activities at the camp included storytelling, making recycled paper, entering the Georgia Recycles Coalition Art Contest, participating in a "polymer detectives" activity, and constructing and launching water bottle rockets made of recycled items.

In the third activity, the Science Club focused on local water quality concerns. Tallahassee was accusing the wastewater treatment facility in Cairo of degrading the Ochlockonee River's water quality. Cairo was being fined $1,000 a month for illegal discharge of effluent water, and Tallahassee was also threatening to sue Cairo if the problem was not corrected. The Science Club completed a comprehensive investigation in which its members toured the wastewater treatment facility, attended Cairo city council meetings, interviewed the Cairo public works director and a Tallahassee water quality specialist, and conducted water quality testing at various Ochlockonee River locations with the help of environmental protection division personnel.

Science Club members also participated in seminars conducted by a river management analyst from Florida State University and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel at Tallahassee's Apalachee Audubon Society. During the investigation, the Science Club members discovered that Cairo had been the victim of faulty engineering at the wastewater treatment facility and was trying to find the money to correct the problem. The Science Club presented its findings at an Apalachee Audubon Society meeting in Tallahassee to demonstrate that Cairo was concerned about the problem and was working toward a solution. The Science Club also created a web page on the Global Rivers Environmental Education Network ( to share the findings with a wider audience. Finally, for Earth Day in 2004, the Science Club members created posters depicting each step of their investigation and sponsored a question-and-answer contest for all Cairo High School students, teachers, and administrators to raise their awareness of local water quality issues.

EPA Region 5

Save Our Stream
Karoline Evin McMullen, Angela Primbas, and Amanda Weatherhead


A trio of Hawken School ninth graders in Geauga County, Ohio, decided that more should be done to save one of the last reproducing populations of brook trout remaining in the state. The trout or "brookies" live in Spring and Woodie Brooks in the Munson Township area east of Cleveland. The three girls learned that these environmentally sensitive fish are good indicators of the health of the brooks and the surrounding Chagrin River watershed. The trout's existence in the brooks was already considered remarkable because the streams flow through heavily populated areas.

Because the brook trout are viewed as a local treasure, the girls set out to learn all they could about the species and its habitat. They interviewed naturalists, conservationists, park staff, and public officials and discovered that no management protection plan existed for the fish. During extensive research, the girls learned that brook trout need cool (below 60° F), clear water to thrive. Silt, warm water, and pollution are the biggest threats to the brook trout. The trio discovered that stream monitoring was being performed but that no one was trying to inform people about what they could do to protect the fish.

The girls then started the organization Save Our Stream (SOS) and created a logo to place on shirts, hats, and brochures. SOS, which is made up of students, established partnerships with park officers; area schools and teachers; city officials; conservancy groups; the Ohio Department of Natural Resources; and even experts in the fields of graphic arts, landscape architecture, golf course management, and public marketing. SOS also brought together groups such as the Geauga County Park District and Geauga County Soil and Water District to work on Chagrin River watershed issues.

SOS mounted a sophisticated public education campaign and focused on reducing non-point source pollution such as runoff containing lawn fertilizer or vehicle cleaning and oil wastes. The SOS team-taught other students and local residents that healthy brook trout serve as indicators of the conditions needed for good human health as well. Because of the hydrology of the local watershed and groundwater, a thriving brook trout population means that the numerous residential wells in the area are providing clean, safe water for people to drink. To help people understand how their personal actions affect the local watershed, SOS sponsored a sticker application project for storm water grates in Solon, Ohio; the stickers remind residents that whatever flows down the drain winds up in area streams. In addition, the SOS team designed a survey that not only explored residents' environmental knowledge but also asked them to make written commitments to environmental protection. The team also created a pamphlet on riparian buffers that explains how residents can create such buffers in their yards.

The education and survey efforts of SOS paid immediate dividends. The team's survey revealed that 88 percent of the respondents had been unaware of the presence of brook trout in nearby streams. Another 67 percent of those responding admitted not having known that storm drains were connected directly to the streams. For the environmental pledge, 63 percent of the respondents committed to recycling cans and bottles, and about 50 percent promised that they would not pour anything down storm drains.

The trio of students and SOS also acted directly to preserve the brook trout by nurturing pregnant fish at a school hatchery and releasing fingerlings into the streams. The team's combined education and preservation efforts will help the brook trout population thrive for years to come.

EPA Region 6

Sustaining a Creek and Developing an Outdoor Science Classroom
Del City High School Water Watch Program Student Volunteers


Student volunteers in the Del City High School Water Watch Program engaged in a two-phase environmental project during the 2003-2004 school year. Both phases of the project, which involved maintaining Crutcho Creek and developing the Eagle Point Outdoor Science Classroom, relied heavily on a core team of students to take initiative and provide leadership. Heading up this team were Del City High School junior Heather Dorman and her teacher and sponsor, Gaile Loving.

The students began the project in October 2003 by testing the water in Crutcho Creek, which runs behind the high school campus. The test results revealed that the creek had a poor stream quality rating, which is indicated by a large number of limited macro invertebrates living in the water. With the intention of revitalizing the creek and making it more useful to the high school and the community, the students cleaned up the manmade debris in the creek from 1 mile upstream to 1 mile downstream of the campus water testing point. They also monitored creek macro invertebrates before and after the cleanup. Final test results revealed that the creek was sustainable, and final monitoring results indicated that the macro invertebrate population was actually increasing and that various organisms were present.

Even before the creek was cleaned up, the students began planning an interactive outdoor science classroom to be built on vacant school property adjacent to the creek. The improved creek was to be a source of wildlife to be studied in the classroom. The students studied the biotic and abiotic factors in the area, and they conducted research on Oklahoma songbirds, monarch butterfly food sources, wildlife needs, and groundwater issues.

To make the project successful, the students needed community involvement. They produced a video of the creek cleanup and showed it on public access television, at other schools, and to civic organizations. They also contacted the print media and developed a web site to promote their work. In addition, the students convinced the business community to get involved in the project and received food and monetary support from Burger King and Sam's Wholesale Club. Finally, they solicited help from state environmental agencies, which provided training in water testing and two separate grants. These grants paid for equipment for the outdoor science classroom, including birdhouses, bird feeders, and items to be used to build and maintain a nature trail.

By March 2004, the students had completed the Eagle Point Outdoor Science Classroom. Not only are the science classes at Del City High School using the classroom, but the fine arts and creative writing classes are taking advantage of it as well. The classroom is a resounding success and a credit to the hard work of the Water Watch Program student volunteers.

EPA Region 7

Groundwater Education and Program Development
Allyson L.


Over the last several years, Allyson L., a fifth-grade student at Humann Elementary School in Lincoln, Nebraska, has been involved in many groundwater-related activities and events in both Nebraska and California. She incorporates groundwater knowledge and education into many aspects of her life. Through her participation in science fairs and competitions, Girl Scout events, and community activities, and even in her free time, Allyson has enhanced many people's understanding of groundwater at school and in her community.

Allyson participated in the development of a new event for the Science Olympiad called Awesome Aquifers. She served as an assistant in setting up and preparing for various Science Olympiad trial and test procedures; constructed models for the events; researched additional information about groundwater; and served as a test proctor, monitoring and grading the Awesome Aquifers event tiebreaker. During trial events held throughout the development process, Allyson offered her expertise to participants while assisting them in assembling their aquifer models for demonstration. Allyson's perspective as a student along with her capacity to apply her knowledge to the development process was beneficial to the Groundwater Foundation in formulating the final product, Awesome Aquifers for the Science Olympiad.

In addition, Allyson has taught others in her community about groundwater through hands-on activities, showing adults and young people alike that they can make a difference in addressing groundwater issues. She has devoted hundreds of weekend and evening hours to Earth Day and environmental education events where she has taught others about groundwater using such activities. For example, she taught people what an aquifer is by making one with ice cream, chocolate, gummy worms, and other food products, and she explained the elements of the water cycle by directing the design of colorful bracelets in a Water Cycle Bracelets activity.

Allyson's involvement in water-related education resulted in an opportunity for her to learn and to share her knowledge as a delegate to the 2004 Tunza International Children's Conference on the Environment. Allyson examined environmental concepts and discussed important issues while interacting with 450 other delegates from 52 countries.

Allyson has voluntarily taken action to benefit the environment by continuously learning and teaching others. Through her actions at school and her community service, she has shown both young people and adults that learning about groundwater can be fun and that everyone should protect and conserve this resource.

EPA Region 8

Habitat, Wildlife, and Population Monitoring Projects
Students at South Cache 8-9 Grade Center


Students at South Cache 8-9 Grade Center in Hyrum, Utah, examined the impacts of urban sprawl and found ways to improve the environment for their community as well as for wildlife. The students felt that it was imperative to establish and restore wildlife habitat around their school and at other locations in the community. As a result, the students pursued projects in three major categories: habitat, wildlife, and population monitoring.

The habitat projects included such student activities as installing winter feeders for pheasant and grouse, improving trout habitat, monitoring water quality in the Little Bear River, establishing a Utah Native Plant Heritage Garden, planting a tree wind row, composting, and promoting forest growth. The plant species targeted for population monitoring in habitat projects included milkweed, currant, penstemon, sunflower, yarrow, butterfly weed, mullen, coneflower, daisy, aster, cottonwood, and maple.

In the wildlife projects, the students maintained an indoor honeybee hive; built a pheasant flight pen; installed bird houses and bat houses; monitored songbirds; established American kestrel nesting boxes; raised and released fish; and raised, tagged, and released monarch butterflies. The wildlife species studied in these projects included Italian honeybees, ring-neck pheasants, western and mountain bluebirds, grouse, various species of bats, nonmigratory songbirds, American kestrels, rainbow trout, German brown trout, and western monarch butterflies.

Among the population monitoring projects, students represented Utah in the National Journey monitoring program. Observations of seasonal changes were sent via computer to National Journey headquarters, where national maps were displayed to illustrate observations of robins, hummingbirds, earthworms, tree buds, melting lake ice, emerging and blooming tulips, frogs, and other indicators of the coming of spring. Students also administered the school's paper and cardboard recycling program, for which a local company collected waste products. In addition, some students studied various ecosystems and painted 4- by 8-foot murals depicting what they had learned; the murals were hung on the walls surrounding the classroom. Other students performed experiments involving growing plants without soil (hydroponics) as is done in spacecraft. In 2004, South Cache 8-9 Grade Center students received special recognition from Governor Olene S. Walker for their efforts regarding watersheds.

Finally, in memory of Dr. Seuss and his book, The Lorax, students constructed a model of the "Unless" monument, which is described at the close of the book: "And all that the Lorax left here in this mess was a small pile of rocks, with the word . . . UNLESS." Brown Monument Company donated the sandstone for the 20- by 36-inch, engraved model.

As the next generation of responsible citizens, the students at South Cache 8-9 Grade Center felt that they needed to positively impact their community and the environment for the benefit of future generations.

EPA Region 9

Hickory Creek Watershed Bioassay Project
Scott Elder


Winding between the back yards of homes in the southern California community of Chino Hills, Hickory Creek is a little-noticed stream in a small nature park. For Scott Elder, a Chino Hills High School freshman who lived near the creek, it became both a laboratory for studying water pollution and an opportunity to serve his community. Scott's project focused on monitoring and cleaning up Hickory Creek, which he had long explored with friends. The year before beginning his project, Scott had performed a global positioning system experiment that involved surveying the creek. The survey revealed that the creek ran about 2 miles through several types of topography. Fascinated by this diversity, Scott was dismayed to discover that the creek had been used as a dumping ground. Shopping carts and batteries rested in the creek bed along with street trash carried there by storm water runoff.

Scott set out to clean up the creek as best he could. He also analyzed its water for toxic pollutants. Once toxic characteristics were charted for the creek's watershed, he performed analyses to determine the locations and sources of pollution. To carry out his project, Scott used bioassay methods at 16 locations along the creek. Meticulous recording of the bioassay results-over 260 individual measurements in all-enabled Scott to pinpoint six different sources of the pollution in the creek. These sources included oil and tar deposits and tainted runoff from yards and streets.

Working in a makeshift laboratory in his bedroom, Scott kept detailed records of all his tests, complete with charts, graphs, and photographs. Upon finishing his project, he forwarded his findings to city and county authorities, resulting in further cleanup and restoration of the creek. Scott's presentation of his findings earned a first-place prize in the San Bernardino School's Science Fair, and he also received awards from three local community organizations. His dedication, scientific discipline, and desire to understand and address environmental problems close to home serve as an inspiring example.

EPA Region 10

Saving the Fender's Blue Butterfly
Eighth-Grade Students of 2004
Grant Community Middle School


A project to help preserve the Fender's blue butterfly was developed by 30 sixth-grade students who worked on the project until they completed the eighth grade. Part of their classroom work at Grant Community Middle School in Salem, Oregon, involved learning about different environmental issues. The students first chose local endangered animals for their 3-year project. They then narrowed their focus to the native and endangered Fender's blue butterfly, which they were to study in detail in order to assist the species.

The students learned all they could about Fender's blue butterfly from the Internet and local experts. It became clear that the most important factor endangering this butterfly was the loss of its habitat. Fender's blue butterfly was originally widely found in upland prairie habitats throughout the Willamette Valley in Oregon, but over 90 percent of the native prairies in the valley have been destroyed by the actions of humans. In addition, the caterpillar has a very narrow range of food options, the most important being the threatened Kincaid lupine plant. The Kincaid lupine is a long-lived, perennial species that is native to the vanishing Willamette Valley prairies. The students found that the Kincaid lupine is not easy to grow and is also difficult to harvest, transport, and replant.

After 3 months of research, the students devised a two-part plan for their project. The first part of the plan involved restoring some of the butterfly's lost habitat. They found a park (Bonesteele Park) that was being converted into a native Willamette Valley prairie by the county public works agency. The students then spent 7 class days harvesting and cleaning native prairie seeds, preparing a ¾-acre plot in the park for seed cultivation, and removing weeds from the plot. After 2 years of labor, the student plot was transformed into a budding example of a Willamette Valley prairie. Throughout the plot were many small but vibrant Kincaid lupine plants, which the students hoped would attract Fender's blue butterflies.

In spring 2004, students made two unconfirmed observations of Fender's blue butterflies. The butterflies observed looked exactly like the Fender's blue butterflies seen in pictures. The students are staying in touch with the county public works agency in the hope of confirming that the butterfly has returned to their part of the Willamette Valley.

The second part of the students' plan was to develop a Celebrating Prairie Festival to be held for over 600 elementary school children in the Salem/Keizer School District. The festival was partially intended to teach the children about the life cycle of butterflies and to make them aware that a special species native to their own region, Fender's blue butterfly, is endangered. The students also wanted to educate the elementary school children about the importance of the prairie biome and to make them think twice before casually picking small wildflowers or carelessly stomping through sensitive grasslands. In developing events for the festival, the students composed a bilingual play (in English and Spanish) about the life cycle of and threats to Fender's blue butterfly. They also developed different activity stations to encourage hands-on learning among the children. In addition, some of the eighth-grade students accompanied a third-grade class to two native prairie sites in Oregon and helped guide the children through species identification activities.

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