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Omaha High School Teacher Wins EPA Award, as EPA Celebrates Earth Day and Environmental Education

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Emily Albano (

Environmental News


EPA seal(Lenexa, Kan., April 23, 2020) - Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 7, in partnership with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), is pleased to announce that Rachael Arens, a teacher at Omaha Northwest High Magnet School in Omaha, Nebraska, has been awarded the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE).

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we are also celebrating nearly 50 years of environmental education that fosters awareness about conservation issues and helps communities make informed, responsible decisions about their environment,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “We are also honoring dedicated educators who spark enthusiasm in our youth to develop a love and respect for the environment and find solutions for issues that impact our air, water and land.”

“Ms. Arens’ dynamic approach to environmental education encourages students to engage in leadership roles regarding the environment,” said EPA Region 7 Administrator Jim Gulliford. “She is an exceptional educator and her students are fortunate to have her as a teacher.”

Arens is a science teacher whose cross-functional instruction goes beyond the typical environmental science curriculum, frequently incorporating other subjects. This year, her students engaged in the civic process by reaching out to their state senator to co-write a “plastic fee” legislative bill for the state of Nebraska. In past years, Arens and her students built aquaponics systems to learn about sustainable urban agriculture; built Native American and community gardens to address the lack of fresh produce in Northern Omaha; and made Omaha Northwest High Magnet School the first high school in the Omaha-Metro area to implement a school-wide composting program.

Through her efforts, Arens’ students and their school have received several prominent recognitions, including the Green Ribbon School Award, Samsung Solve for Tomorrow award, and National Geographic’s Next Generation Environmental Leaders designation.

From across the country, 10 educators and 35 students are being recognized for their leadership and commitment to environmental education and environmental stewardship. This year, seven educators will receive the 2020 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators, and three educators will be recognized with an Honorable Mention distinction. Winning educators demonstrated leadership by integrating environmental education into multiple subjects and using topics such as healthy school environments, environmentally friendly agricultural practices, reducing ocean litter, gardening, recycling, or STEM to teach sustainability to K-12 students.

Additionally, 35 students who worked as a team or individually on 13 projects will receive the President’s Environmental Youth Award. Their stewardship projects, conducted in 2019, display a commitment to learning, protecting natural resources, and engaging their communities in environmental protection.


The Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators: Established by the 1990 National Environmental Education Act, the award seeks to recognize, support, and bring public attention to the outstanding environmental projects performed by innovative teachers who go beyond textbook instruction to incorporate methods and materials that utilize creative experiences and enrich student learning. CEQ, in partnership with EPA, administers this award to encourage and nationally honor outstanding elementary and secondary (K-12) education teachers who integrate environmental and place-based, experiential learning into school curricula. The program provides funding to help support educator awardee schools in their environmental education work and also provides funding for the teacher’s professional development.

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