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President's Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) 2009 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

PA Region 1:

Project T.G.I.F.: Turn Grease Into Fuel
Westerly Innovations Network/Westerly Middle School

Rhode Island 

This group of middle school students, who are passionate about community service, decided to do their part in tackling global warming by creating a sustainable project to collect the town's waste cooking oil, refine it into biofuel, and then distribute it.

The students presented their project to the local town council and convinced them to place a grease receptacle at the town's transfer station to collect waste cooking oil from residents. The group also convinced 64 local restaurants to donate their waste cooking oil, which is a by-product of fried food. To collect the waste oil from restaurants and the transfer station, the students collaborated with a local company to collect the waste oil and bring it to a biodiesel refinery where waste cooking oil is recycled into biofuel. Funds received from the refinery for the recycling of the waste oil were used to purchase Bioheat®, a biofuel, from a local distributor to give to local charities.


This project has been, and continues to be, a success for the environment and local families in need of heating assistance. To date, this project has collected over 36,000 gallons of waste oil and produced 30,000 gallons of biofuel a year, which eliminated 600,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere. The students have donated 4,000 gallons of Bioheat® to local charities and helped 40 families with emergency heating assistance.

Another important part of the project is educating school children and local residents about energy alternatives. The students have made numerous presentations to the local elementary school and local residents to encourage them to participate in the T.G.I.F. project and to teach them about alternative energy sources, the town's recycling program, and global warming.


EPA Region 2:

Steps to a More Sustainable School 
Josh Rubin

New York

When Josh entered Solomon Schechter High School of Long Island, he was surprised that there was no recycling program in his school. Paper, plastic and aluminum were constantly discarded into the trash to be hauled away to a landfill; however, the lack of recycling was not due to a lack of awareness. For almost 40 years, the environmental movement and the media have brought light to issues like air and water pollution, conservation, and deforestation. Locally, towns on Long Island have required residential recycling of newspapers, plastic containers, and aluminum containers. Al Gore's documentary film "An Inconvenient Truth" was a very popular film after its release in 2006, and yet so many people still found recycling and active conservation to be too inconvenient. Many were still skeptical and they did not believe that their personal actions or individual efforts would make a difference.

During Josh's freshman year, hoping to make a difference, he founded the Student Action for the Environment (SAFE) Club at his high school. The goal of the club was to establish a recycling program for the school. Josh called the City of Glen Cove's recycling department, and after many phone calls and e-mails, the city finally began picking up recyclables. Unfortunately, the solution was short-lived. Even after extensive effort, the city stopped picking up recyclables from the school. To continue the program, Josh investigated other possible solutions outside the government realm, and he found a private company called Royal Recycling that was willing to pick up the school recyclables for free. The school now recycles paper, plastics, aluminum, and cardboard on a weekly basis. In addition, the SAFE club led a successful boycott this year of the lunch program's disposable trays.

Student interest and membership in the SAFE club has grown since its inception, reflecting increased awareness of the students, teachers, and administrators about the positive benefits of recycling. The club began with 8 charter members and has grown to include more than 50 students from a total population of 180 students. Teachers at the high school are active partners in the project and have helped to facilitate the collection of paper, bottles, ink cartridges and used battery drives. Each week, members of the club collect recycling bins from each classroom. In the past year alone, more than 7 tons of paper, cardboard, plastic, and aluminum collected from Solomon Schechter High School were recycled.

Josh's work with the SAFE club has shown that the school's efforts to recycle really does make a difference. Students, teachers, and administrators are more aware of how their actions can improve the environment. Working together, Josh and club members have taken measurable steps to increase recycling at the school and are actively promoting how to make their school as eco-friendly as possible.

EPA Region 3:

Illick's Mill Project 
Illick's Mill Partnership for Environmental Education


The Illick's Mill Partnership for Environmental Education is an innovative consortium that has transformed Illick's Mill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania into a thriving community environmental center. Illick's Mill was a grist mill built in 1856 that was later abandoned. Junior and high school students and one dedicated teacher from Liberty High School launched the Illick's Mill Project (IMP) to finish the restoration of Illick's Mill into an environmental education center. With funding raised by IMP, the mill reopened in 2009 as a Stream Science and Environmental Education Center due to the hard work and dedication of many students. The mission of the center is to serve as a home for environmental action to preserve and protect the Monocacy Creek watershed and its abundant wildlife, and to provide a model of environmental sustainability and technology.

IMP students participate in a non-traditional classroom course at the local high school that emphasizes inquiry-based learning, with learning objectives based on community needs. During the yearlong course, the students organize events and membership drives, write grants, create presentations, engage in environmental work, and learn how to run a nonprofit organization and an environmental education center. This year's students have been recognized as the "new pioneers" of the center. In recent months, they have designed, built, and planted four native gardens, wrote a mission statement for the center, and are currently developing curriculum for courses taught at the center. Under their inspiring leadership and enthusiasm, the Illick's Mill Partnership for Environmental Education has evolved from a restoration effort to a site now focused on full-time environmental education and action.

Under the supervision of IMP students, along with members of the supporting consortium, the education center is now open to the public and hosts habitat preservation, bird watching, fly fishing, water quality monitoring, green technology efforts, and stream bank restoration. Through the committed efforts of students and others, Illick's Mill serves environmental groups across the Lehigh Valley, and in turn, has become an exciting center for environmental learning throughout the community.

EPA Region 4:

Oak Hall School Biodiesel Project 
Oak Hall School


The Oak Hall School Biodiesel Project began as a science fair project to collect and process used vegetable oil (UVO) into biodiesel fuel for the school's diesel-powered lawn equipment and eventually, school buses. With the dedication of several high school students, the project evolved into a plan to build a student-operated biodiesel facility on the school campus as an effort to pursue alternative energy sources and to encourage school-wide environmental stewardship.

Members of the Oak Hall School Biodiesel Project team obtained all necessary local and state regulatory approvals for biodiesel production; raised funds for the reactor, a facility to house the reactor and supplies to manufacture biodiesel; collected more than 250 gallons of UVO; and produced over 25 gallons of biodiesel. The students also wrote an instruction manual to encourage other schools to replicate the biodiesel project.

While identifying and satisfying governmental regulations regarding biodiesel manufacture, one of the team members discovered Florida Statute 206. This statute imposes a burdensome reporting requirement and tax that may inhibit other school administrators from launching school-based biodiesel activities. The students also learned that a school may petition to have this tax refunded based on its tax exempt status. The Oak Hall School Biodiesel Project team has sought legislative relief from Statute 206. The team has obtained commitments from a Florida State senator and several members of the Florida House of Representatives to sponsor an amendment to reduce this reporting and tax hurdle. The project team is preparing a presentation for the Florida House and Senate Committees in the 2010 legislative session in support of this initiative.

Based on the demonstrated success of the project at Oak Hall School, the students continue to promote the project's duplication in other schools and by youth organizations in Florida.

EPA Region 5:

Recycle Because You Care 
Dana G., Angel L., and Maggie O.


The Recycle Because You Care (RBYC) Team was founded by three middle school students at St. Philip the Apostle School. When these three students in the Chicago suburb of Addison, Illinois, discovered that less than one fourth of the households in their neighborhood recycle, they decided to take action. Historically, the recycling rate in Addison was one of the worst in the Chicago area, primarily because of a lack of information about recycling. The teens learned that failing to recycle negatively affects the environment by increasing air and water pollutants, the greenhouse gas effect, and the amount of garbage that sits in landfills for decades. Dana , Angel , and Maggie  believed that if they did not find a way to address the recycling challenge, some of the beautiful nature that people enjoy today may cease to exist for future generations. To focus their efforts, they decided to test the effectiveness of six different approaches to increase recycling among their neighbors. They tested these different approaches on seven neighborhood blocks. To improve recycling in their whole community, RBYC employed the two most effective methods from their pilot tests: (1) distributing recycling bins and (2) disseminating information about recycling.

The RBYC Team began working with Addison's Public Works staff and Allied Waste, the local waste hauler, and they continue to do so today. They also met with the Mayor of Addison to report their findings and to get his support. Working with St. Philip the Apostle School, the students implemented a new recycling program, and shared their successes with the public school administration. Allied Waste used the results of their pilot tests in a grant proposal to obtain recycling bins for everyone in the Village of Addison. The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) awarded the grant, and the RBYC, together with Allied Waste, invested $90,000 in the project. The RBYC team created a public service announcement and arranged to have it played on a local cable television station. At the request of the local library, Dana, Angel, and Maggie also developed and conducted a class on recycling. This motivated group of teens helped prevent 85 tons of garbage from entering landfills in October 2009, which equates to more than 2 million pounds per year in Addison alone. They hope to spread the message beyond the Village of Addison to Chicago-area mayors and get recycling legislation passed in the State of Illinois.

EPA Region 6:

The Vision is Green 
Sarah Jo L.


Sarah Jo developed "The Vision is Green" project to fulfill her Girl Scout Gold Award requirements and help educate children about living green. Her goal was to help young children realize that living in a "green" friendly world is possible.

One aspect of Sarah's project involved designing and building an environmental education center made entirely out of green earth-friendly materials. Her goal was to develop a center where environmental education could occur and would continue for many years. The building used the Compressed Earth Block (CEB) method of construction, incorporating MegablockTM. The blocks were 10 feet long, 18 inches wide and weighed about 1 ton each. To accomplish the building project, Sarah recruited help from students at Texas Tech University, the owners of EarthCo Building Systems, two structural engineers, a landscape architect, and others in the community. To raise funding for the project, Sarah also solicited sponsorship from American Clay, Inc., Home Depot, Lowes, Stanley Tools, Grainger Company, as well as numerous individuals and volunteers.

Lorax Lodge, the new environmental education center, is located in a beautiful part of West Texas called the Caprock, overlooking a Girl Scout camp. To allow visitors to experience the beautiful site and learn about native plants and wildlife, Sarah identified the local vegetation and planned a new nature trail. The "Rattler Trail" includes a map and a curriculum guide. The second aspect of the project involved developing a curriculum guide for the center with hands-on activities to teach visitors about the environment. Sarah identified activities that would help the kids visiting the center to think about things they could do to start living with greener attitudes.

To date, approximately 1,300 people have visited Lorax Lodge, including visitors from 14 different states. The environmental education center has had a profound learning impact on various education groups. For example, 14 undergraduate and graduate students majoring in sustainable construction and engineering at Texas Tech University have adopted Lorax Lodge to use as their pilot program for an energy audit. Additionally, representatives of the Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) program at Texas Tech University have arranged to use Lorax Lodge as a model for sustainable construction. It is anticipated that 400 STEM students per year will visit and conduct research at Lorax Lodge.

The final component of Sarah's project involved issuing a "Green Challenge" for other Girl Scouts around the world. In issuing the challenge, Sarah asked girls to learn about the environment and instill similar green ideas about environmental awareness and education in their communities.

EPA Region 7:

Warning about Warming 
Pavane G.


The goal was simple: inspire others to protect the environment. With that goal in mind, Pavane Gorrepati developed a campaign to increase environmental awareness locally and nationally, to inspire conservation efforts by young people, to promote sustainability, and to advance environmental education.

During the first part of the project, Pavane looked at new ways to conserve energy. Fuel cells were once considered to be a new and innovative method of energy production. By current standards, however, fuel cells may soon become a primary energy source for the future. To learn more, and share information about fuel cells with others in her community, Pavane researched the benefits and disadvantages of fuel cells. She analyzed the capabilities of different fuel cell systems and identified ways to increase efficiency of the fuel cells by balancing the costs and benefits. At local, national, and international science fairs, Pavane presented her research and shared her ideas and knowledge with many scientists and experts.

Pavane's project helped to identify alternative energy sources best suited for the cars of tomorrow and may contribute to the development of fuel cells that can be mass-produced. Pavane hopes that affordable fuel cells will serve as a major generator of energy in the future.

After concluding her research, Pavane expanded the "Warning about Warming" theme from the science project into an outreach effort that focused on community involvement to inspire youth to conserve, encourage sustainability, and promote environmental education. Applying her knowledge and research, Pavane started her school's first Environmental Club, which included a core group of middle and high school students who were focused on educating the school community about environmental issues. As president of the Environmental Club, Pavane initiated a recycling drive and launched a campaign called "Green Bags" that involved students, teachers, parents, and administrators from her school. Under her leadership, the Environmental Club collected and recycled aluminum cans to raise funds and purchase "green" grocery bags. The "green" bags were distributed to families in the community to highlight the positive effects that using reusable grocery bags can have on the environment by reducing the amount of non-biodegradable waste. The bags were custom-made and many families placed orders for additional bags. As a part of this effort, Pavane promoted environmental awareness and education within her local community.

EPA Region 8:

Conserving the Hollowed Ground
Bigfork High School Cave Club


Student members of the Bigfork High School Cave Club have been committed to conserving cave resources since the club began in 2007. Through study and exploration of caves, they realized that cave environments are unlike anything above ground. Caves can be totally dark and isolated from surface weather, and they can contain items of incredible scientific value such as archeological artifacts or the bones of extinct animals. Through direct observation, the students also learned that caves can support the growth of unusual mineral formations and provide a home for bats and other interesting animals. Sadly, the students also realized that many caves, especially those on nearby public lands, are being damaged by human visitors.

In 2009, the Cave Club members initiated the "Conserving the Hollowed Ground" Project to help public land managers restore heavily vandalized caves and conserve other caves that are still in good shape. The group focused on four types of conservation: (1) graffiti and trash removal; (2) cave resource monitoring; (3) Global Information Systems (GIS) computer modeling of monitoring data; and (4) a noncollective study of aquatic cave invertebrates.

Students removed graffiti and trash from four caves on nearby public lands, and coordinated graffiti removal work with land management agencies so they would not accidentally remove anything that was historic or prehistoric. Graffiti was removed from over 1,500 square feet of cave walls and ceilings. Next, they established resource monitoring in two caves in Glacier National Park. Both caves, discovered in 2007, contained very fragile features. The students conducted visitor impact point (VIP) mapping, photo monitoring, and temperature monitoring. After completing fieldwork, students prepared maps, cataloged photos, and wrote reports, including recommendations to help managers protect the caves. The club members also computerized their monitoring data using GIS to organize and locate field data onto maps. The fourth aspect of the project involved a noncollective survey of aquatic cave invertebrates in Glacier National Park. Before this study, surveys for these animals involved collecting and killing specimens. The students set out to develop methods to identify cave invertebrates by photographing them in the cave, and are gathering data to show how seasonal variations in water flow, water chemistry, and other factors affect invertebrate populations. The Cave Club's studies will provide park managers with valuable information to help conserve cave invertebrates, and other fragile cave resources, in park caves.

Bigfork High School Cave Club's "Conserving the Hollowed Ground" Project and related conservation efforts have been well received and supported at the local and national level. Sponsors include: Charlotte Mountain Foundation, Glacier Park Fund, Environmental Sciences Research Institute, Best Buy for Business, and Gonzo Guano Gear. The student project also would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and collaboration of National Park and Forest Service personnel.

EPA Region 9:

Project Jatropha
Adarsha S., Apoorva R., and Callie R.


The Project Jatropha Team promotes the cultivation of Jatropha curcas, a perennial shrub with oil-rich seeds, as an ecologically friendly and economically sustainable source of alternative fuel production. To date, the work of Project Jatropha has supported the planting of 13,000 seedlings by more than 50 farm families in Southern India.

Adarsha and Apoorva got the idea for this project while visiting their grandfather's farm in Karnataka's Hunsur County, India. There, they became aware that poor farmers need an alternative to cultivating tobacco for income because tobacco production in rural India requires ongoing wood fires to cure the leaves which contributes to greenhouse gases and deforestation. To address the problem, they conducted research and learned that the biofuel produced from the Jatropha seeds provides an alternative source of energy. The biofuel can power diesel engines, vehicles and equipment like irrigation pumps, and produces cleaner exhaust emissions than traditional fuels. Mature Jatropha curcas shrubs efficiently absorb carbon dioxide, which provides an additional environmental benefit. The shrub can grow with fewer agronomic inputs than other crops and it is recognized for its abilities to rejuvenate infertile soil and to prevent erosion. In turn, farmers benefit from the income generated by the new crop, without sacrificing land used to produce food crops.

In 2008, Adarsha and Apoorva, along with Callie, founded Project Jatropha to supply Jatropha seedlings to farmers in India. They manage the project by visiting India during summer and winter breaks from school and by telephone from the U.S. during the year. Participants in the project are provided training in agronomics for the new crop and financial relief while the plants mature. Upon harvest, the project purchases the seeds back from farmers at market price.

With the aid of a non-governmental organization and a plant biotechnology company in India, the team conducted outreach activities for individual farmers and women's self-help groups in Hunsur County. Local residents in Hunsur County were educated about Project Jatropha through town-hall meetings, a presentation at Rotary International, and a press conference in the City of Mysore. In the U.S., Project Jatropha team members collaborated with high school and middle school student leaders, teachers, environmentalists, nonprofit organizations, and city council members. To spread awareness of climate change and sustainable fuel, Adarsha, Apoorva, and Callie gave numerous presentations in the San Francisco Bay Area, wrote articles for magazines, blogs and newspapers, and conducted interviews with local television and other media. Project Jatropha also established a partnership in the U.S. with Sirona Cares Foundation, a sustainable fuel and living project.

The goals of the project are to decrease the dependence of developing countries on fossil fuels, to mitigate global climate change, and to alleviate poverty for rural farmers around the world. The project was implemented successfully because the three members of Project Jatropha believed one simple thing: "Have an idea? Just go do it," says Adarsha.

EPA Region 10:

No More Trash Talk: Let's Clean Up Our Act 


A group of junior high students in Homer, Alaska, formed EcoLogical to reduce local waste when they learned that their local landfill would be full by 2013. The group partnered with the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and the Homer Middle School Site Council to reduce the weekly waste volume generated at the Homer Middle School.

Within 30 days, the girls convinced Kenai Peninsula Borough Waste Management to recycle tin cans, and they proposed eliminating the use of Styrofoam trays at their school cafeteria. The group has helped reduce the use of the non-recyclable Styrofoam trays; the school is now using reusable plastic trays and has set up a recycling area in the lunchroom. After the first week, the school reduced the amount of trash disposed in the landfill from eight bags of trash per week to only four, cutting waste by 50 percent. In 3 weeks, the average recycling went from 36 pounds per week to 120 pounds per week. After a year, EcoLogical estimated that it prevented 2,000 Styrofoam trays from being tossed in the local landfill.

The EcoLogical group also wanted to create awareness in the community about reducing, reusing, and recycling. The youth distributed information through local newspaper and radio interviews, YouTube, Facebook, and a fashion show. Their "Trash into Fashion" show was attended by more than 120 local recycling designers, models, and audience members. This approach made recycling fun for all ages. Local artists designed dresses made out of bread bags, newspapers, magazines, plastic sacks, and even juice pouches. The students worked with local governmental organizations to provide space for the fashion show, with the school board to encourage district-wide recycling, and with local environmental organizations to promote reducing, reusing, and recycling.

Recently, the Kenai Peninsula Borough dedicated $20,000 to increase recycling in the town of Homer. The team continues to work with the school district warehouse to encourage the availability of recyclable products for all district schools.

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