The Patsy Collins Award for Excellence in Education, Environment, and Community

The Patsy Collins Award is made possible through a designated fund set up by an anonymous donor at the Seattle Foundation, and was created to reward teachers who embody the spirit of Patsy Collins: educators who create learning experiences that make a difference for kids, their communities, and the earth. Three recipients will be selected annually, with each receiving a $10,000 award.

As specified by the donor, a selection committee will be formed by representatives from the Seattle Foundation, IslandWood, and the community. IslandWood is delighted to partner with the Seattle Foundation on the Patsy Collins Award to celebrate teachers who put into daily practice the core values of IslandWood.



Presented by: 







Candidates should exhibit these qualities:

  • Demonstrate commitment to engage students in learning experiences using the classroom, schoolyard and surrounding community
  • Engage students in project-based experiences that motivate and inspire students toward environmental awareness and/or stewardship behaviors
  • Serve as a respected resource to colleagues and community leaders
  • Be committed to professional development
  • Be a Washington State, K-12, classroom teacher in a public or private school
  • Individual teachers and teams are both eligible

Please contact Courtney Harris, 206.855.4352 or




Laura Tyler, South Shore PK-8 School, Seattle, WA

Middle school science teacher, Laura Tyler has been advocating for environmental education, in her words, “long before it was trendy.” Thirty years ago, she helped start Seattle Public School District’s recycling program. In the years since, she has continued in a leadership role, serving on the board of Washington Science Teachers Association, the Seattle Schools Next Generation Science Standards adoption committee, and elsewhere. Today, she takes her students on weekly walking field trips to observe the seasonal changes and to use the natural environment as a lab to study biology, geology, chemistry, and physics. Multiple generations of her students have worked on local restoration projects. She has partnered with Seattle Parks and Recreation in the East Duwamish Beltway and Seattle Tilth in Rainier Beach Farm and Urban Wetland. She also secured funding for her students to decorate a chain-link fence in a local park with native flowers they created from plastic bottles. “I want [my students] to be keen observers of different environments, tenacious problem solvers, and critical thinkers,” says Laura.

Jennie Warmouth, Spruce Elementary School (Edmonds School District), Lynwood, WA

“I am deeply committed to nurturing my students’ sense of resiliency and agency through animal-focused stewardship.” Since 2004, Jennie Warmouth has been teaching her students to write online adoption advertisements for homeless dogs and cats awaiting adoption at the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in Lynnwood, WA. Her students have helped over 500 “difficult to place” dogs and cats find forever homes. Jennie inspires her students to use their emerging communication and critical thinking skills to tackle human-animal and environmental dilemmas that they witness in their own lives. Most recently, her second and third grade students advocated for the humane treatment of live butterflies used in their school district’s life sciences curricula. “They are motivated toward compassionate action and stewardship that extends beyond the four walls of our classroom,” she says.

Elizabeth Wing, Carnation Elementary School, Carnation, WA

“A thriving educational environment is one that fosters relationships beyond the classroom walls and empowers students as members of their communities.” Elizabeth Wing has cultivated this community engagement through numerous partnerships. In a study of Pacific Northwest Native Americans and the vital role of salmon, her students worked alongside Snoqualmie tribal members in habitat restoration along salmon spawning water routes.  Her students helped their school become a King County Level Four Sustainable School by educating the community on reducing and recycling waste and on energy and water conservation. Most recently, Carnation Elementary became a 2018 National US Green School award winner. With Oxbow Farm, a local organic farm and education center, Elizabeth has designed lessons on sustainability and the environment. She also connected the district’s food service director to local organic farmers to supply produce for lunches. The school is now a USDA Bronze Level Farm to School Site.



Denise Schuyler Peters, Meridian Park Elementary School, Shoreline, WA

As a 4th grade teacher, Denise strives to create a classroom environment that fosters, in her students, a genuine curiosity about the world. Through self-directed, project based learning she encourages her students to wonder/question, to propose solutions, to explore ethical issues, and to be citizen scientists. She uses current and historical real-world examples to facilitate learning through peer conversations, books, technology, and presentations from local experts. The school’s location near Ronald Bog, provides an ideal venue for Denise to work with students as they examine the complexities of wetland habitats and the impact of human actions on the environment.

Mike Town, Tesla STEM High School, Redmond, WA

In his 33 years as a teacher, Mike has coordinated environmental internships for his students, connecting them to government agencies, local organizations, and businesses. He also developed a project-based mentorship program where students design solutions to environmental problems. Six years ago, Mike helped open the Tesla STEM High School where he teaches AP Environmental Science andEnvironmental Engineering and Sustainable Design. His commitment to hands-on, community-connected environmental learning is involving students in local and global community issues and inspiring them to pursue careers as environmental leaders.

Kim Schulze, Highline High School, Burien, WA

As a teacher at Highline High School, Kim focused on using real-world, problem-based learning to motivate and inspire her students. She designed a chemistry unit for her students on protein structures focused on E. coli in waste water treatment. When a real E. coli outbreak occurred in the region, her students developed an information brochure on E. coli. She brought experts into the classroom to spark discussion, initiated partnerships with local government and organizations, and gave students autonomy to research and develop solutions to real community problems related to sustainability and the environment. She adds, “students armed with a cause, facts, and ideas can advocate for change amongst their peers and in our city…and are our best chance for a sustainable future.”



Joann MooreGig 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.

Mary-Elizabeth EzenwakaRoxhill 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 LevineEckstein 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.


We are pleased to announce Christine Benita, Maureen McNulty, and Marcia Ventura as the recipients of the 2015 Patsy Collins Award for Excellence in Education, Environment, and Community.

The field of applicants for this year was exceptional. The selection committee was deeply impressed by the level of innovative work being done by so many amazing educators throughout the state.

Christine Benita, Hazel Wolf K-8 E-STEM School, Seattle, WA

Christine has been an educator and program coordinator at Hazel Wolf since the school's inception six years ago. The focus of her work is designing integrated Project Based Learning units for grades K-8 that teach environmental awareness and sustainability. Currently, she serves as the school-wide E-STEM (Environment - Science, Technology, Engineering Math) Program Coordinator, provides professional development for other staff, and develops and teaches an Environmental Studies elective for middle school students. Christine brings community partners and parents to Hazel Wolf for various events, including E-STEM Career Day; connects kids to parks both inside the classroom and through a variety of field trips - including to zoos, nature centers, wastewater treatment plants, and national parks; and serves as THE source of best-practices for incorporating E–STEM for the rest of the staff and the community.

Maureen McNulty, Klahowya Secondary School, Silverdale, WA

As a science teacher at Klahowya Secondary School, Maureen teaches students in grades 7-12 in a variety of sciences: Life Science, Earth Science, Biology, and Anatomy and Physiology. She uses environmental studies to excite kids about learning science, the importance of their community, and that each one of them can make a tangible and positive impact. Over the last three years, she has implemented the creation of an outdoor classroom, a rain garden, and a community vegetable garden. Her students, along with local companies and individuals, have helped to design, build, and maintain these teaching tools. Along the way, students learn about the water cycle, use their hands, and donate back to the community food bank through the vegetable garden.

Marcia Ventura, Maple Elementary School, Seattle, WA

At Maple Elementary School, Marcia strives to connect her fifth-grade students to their community and environment. Since the Duwamish River runs right through the neighborhood in which her students live and play, she developed a comprehensive teaching plan around the interaction between humans and the environment. Marcia connected her students to representatives from the EPA, the Duwamish River CleanUp Coalition, and Boeing. Her students wrote letters and drew pictures to present to Mayor Ed Murray, urging signage to be posted about the Duwamish. Her students were able to take a boat trip on the Duwamish to see the river first-hand. They did all of this while learning lessons in science and math. She created a classroom full of students who felt a sense of pride and ownership in their community and in their lands and waters.





Kathleen Ferguson, Okanogan High School

When it comes to extending learning outside of the classroom, Kathleen Ferguson goes WAY beyond the walls of Okanogan High School. Over a decade ago, she observed that students were more engaged and successful in the classroom during hands-on, out of the classroom environmental units. Kathleen took this success and ran with it, developing four different lab-based, outdoor heavy classes, including both Advanced Biology and Ecology of the Okanogan. 

Hands-on, real world projects include: fire ecology, entomology, and watershed monitoring. This spring will mark the fifth year that students in Kathleen’s Advanced Biology Class contribute to a 10-year longitudinal study (in partnership with University of Washington and Wenatchee Valley College, among others) monitoring environmental changes in a nearby burn-zone. Kathleen has used the rich landscape of north-central Washington to connect her students with over 20 scientists per year, ensuring that they are engaged, outside, and making a difference. Many of her students display a continued interest in environmental fields after graduation.


Ben Lawton, Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School

While Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary is located within Seattle, Ben Lawton makes sure that his students get outside, where he believes the environment gives context to the classroom. Over the course of each school year, his students prepare in the classroom as they look forward to six environmental field trips – rain or shine. The importance of water is highlighted from day one, and capped by trips to the Cedar River, Tiger Mountain, and West Point Wastewater Treatment plant. Through these, the children can see how fish, forests, and people are all affected by the water cycle – and how their actions matter. Ben also coaches the school’s LEGO Robotics Team.


Leslie Addington-Ferris, Schmitz Park Elementary

Leslie Addington-Ferris also teaches in an urban environment, at Schmitz Park Elementary in West Seattle. Through a use of classroom time, on-site composting and gardening, after school activities, and field trips, she takes a daily approach to instilling an ethic of responsibility to community and the environment in her fourth-grade students. Every year, her students choose and design a unique environmental project to implement, including the school garden – and then present their work to the grade below them. Last year, as leader of the school’s Science Professional Learning Community, Leslie hosted the first annual “Science Celebration Night”, where kids, parents, scientists, teachers, and 15 external organizations enjoyed activities and experiments.



Carol Patrick, Peter S. Ogden Elementary School

Every month Carol’s students visit their local creek to perform water quality tests and a macroinvertebrate sampling—an activity that mirrored what they were learning in science class. When water quality tests indicated high levels of fecal coliform, her students went beyond recording the data to building a project to change it. They designed a “Please Don’t Feed the Ducks” sign to install at the walking bridge (also translated in Russian and Spanish), and saw the fecal coliform levels go down. Simple, but powerful.


Cheryl Milton, First Place School

First Place School was founded to serve families in crisis, and the children who attend First Place are often facing life’s most difficult lessons at the earliest ages. Thanks to Cheryl, they are also learning about community, responsibility, and the true potential of the human spirit. Her students are taking the hands-on lessons of composting, recycling, and reducing beyond the classroom to their families and their communities. The result is a message full of hope and heart: regardless of background, everyone has something to give.


Darcy Borg, Camelot Elementary School

Darcy’s innovative teaching has allowed her students at Camelot to embrace issues of conservation, sustainability, and stewardship within their classroom, school, family, and community. In 2012, Camelot Elementary received one of the first ever Department of Education’s National Green Award. Shortly after, 5th graders took their first trip to IslandWood which inspired their next big project: an outdoor “school in the wood” on Camelot school grounds. With a school theme for this year of “Let your Life Speak,” we know this isn’t the last we’ll hear of Darcy Borg and her students.