Celebrating Extraordinary Educators Who Opt Outside

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On Wednesday, November 2, 2016, more than more than 200 community and business leaders gathered in downtown Seattle for Waking the World – an annual benefit breakfast in honor of educators who are getting kids into the outdoor classroom and empowering the next generation of environmental and community stewards. Seattle Foundation President and CEO, Tony Mestres, began the event with the announcement of the 2016 Pasty Collins Award recipients: Mary-Elizabeth Ezenwaka of Roxhill Elementary School, Jessica Levine of Eckstein Middle School, and JoAnn Moore of Gig Harbor High School (read their bios below).

Established in memory of Patsy Collins by an anonymous donor at Seattle Foundation, the annual Patsy Collins Award for Excellence in Education, Environment, and Community honors extraordinary teachers in Washington K-12 schools. These three educators each received a $10,000 cash prize for going the extra mile for their students by incorporating project and inquiry-based learning into their daily curriculums, and by implementing hands-on outdoor learning projects in the school yard and beyond.

Following moving accounts from the teachers, IslandWood’s President and CEO Ben Klasky, spoke about efforts to examine bias in our curriculum and encourage “all students think critically about everything, to value diverse perspectives, and see our interconnectedness with each other and with nature.” This, he concluded, “is what our nation and world need most.”

University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce delivered a compelling keynote address citing the well-researched benefits of connecting children with nature, and the importance of partnerships like the one between Seattle Public Schools and IslandWood to get all kids – especially those from low-income households – learning outside the classroom. “Nature,” she said, “can be a great teacher and is important for youth development.”  Her remarks moved the audience to a standing ovation.

Waking the World raised critical funds and awareness for IslandWood’s educational programs, which every year reach approximately 15,000 students and help classrooms in more than 160 schools learn outdoors. Thanks to all who joined us! If you were unable to attend Waking the World but would like to support our mission, you can make a gift here.

About the 2016 Patsy Collins Award Recipients

Mary-Elizabeth Ezenwaka, Roxhill Elementary School, Seattle, WA.  Mary-Elizabeth is a relatively new educator bringing innovative environmental and inquiry-based approach to Roxhill Elementary, located in the White Center area in southwest Seattle. She has taken initiative in getting her second grade classroom engaged with community and environment. Mary-Elizabeth pioneered the use of the nearby Roxhill bog into not only her own teaching (the first to do so at the school!), but into the teaching of other educators too, covering every grade in the school. And, she created a partnership with Camp Long, now manifesting in weekly naturalist sessions at the school as well as activities at Camp Long itself (a first for many students and families, despite being only three miles from the school).

Jessica Levine, Eckstein Middle School, Seattle, WA. Jessica weaves current events, project-based learning, field trips, and partnerships into her curriculum every day. In her words, "I'm not simply educating good scientists, but rather raising sustainable savvy citizens. The future of our planet depends on it." Jessica helps her students see the impact they can make in both their daily lives (recycling programs, alternative transportation) as well as on a grander scale (proposing pollution solutions complete with models and prototypes). Another fascinating project educates whole communities through her students by having them translate student-created posters about hazardous materials into the languages they speak at home: Amharic, Tagalog, and Korean to name a few.           

JoAnn Moore, Gig Harbor High School, Gig Harbor, WA. JoAnn has over 35 years of experience in getting her classrooms outside and engaged in project-based learning. She has created and nurtured partnerships with groups such as the National Park Service, the Department of Natural Resources, Pierce County, Pen Met Parks, and the Nature Conservancy. Her citizen-scientist students have now aggregated over 25 years of stream data in a local watershed. Joann's students find their own passions and curiosity in the outside world, step outside of their comfort zones, and give back to their community - every day, and every year.


Photo credit: TonyTeskePhotography.com