2023 CEEF Environmental Education Award Winners
Thank you to all who nominated a student, teacher, or administrator for the 2023 CEEF Excellence in Environmental Education Award! We are pleased to announce the winners for this year’s recognition.
Administrator Awardee: Jeffrey Embleton, ASCEND School, Oakland CA
Jeffrey Embleton shows outstanding commitment to whole child learning and goes above and beyond his role as an administrator at the innovative ASCEND charter school to connect the diverse urban youth from Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood to environmental learning and outdoor experiences. He believes in getting out of the traditional classroom, but as an administrator, understands the costs can be prohibitive. He has had to learn how to design cost-effective learning and enable equitable access to outdoor education.
To make these trips possible, he not only takes on all logistical planning and administration, but also plans meals, activities, and chaperone support, and borrows outdoor gear for students to be adequately equipped for their trip, in addition to engaging in fundraising to help support these trips. During programs, he ensures there are hands-on science activities as well as recreational and community building time.
In recent years he has championed the securing of an Outdoor Equity Grant to fund camping trips for the 490 kids served by the ASCEND School. Each year he leads week-long grade-level trips for middle schoolers to the Point Reyes National Seashore, and during the 2022-23 school year will be taking all 6th, 7th, and 8th graders to the seashore to ensure those who missed this iconic trip due to pandemic disruptions will be able to have this experience as well. For many students, their trip to Point Reyes will be their first time visiting a beach or staying in a nature setting.
On top of these efforts he has also started his own independent non-profit organization called Forest and Tree which creates opportunities for whole families from the Fruitvale community to engage in outdoor experiences as a family through trips to local parks, beaches, and nature areas, and has a bicycle program for families to learn how to engage in safe and healthy cycling. By completing the program, they also have the opportunity to earn their own bicycles at the end of the year.
Many of the youth from the school are also family participants in the Forest and Tree program. He shows outstanding EE leadership, vision, and commitment to whole child, whole family, and whole community learning and environmental connection.
Jeffrey has been an educator since 2006, teaching special education, was the assistant principal at the ASCEND School from 2015-2020 and is now the Director of Uncommon Learning.
Educator Awardee: Laura Arnow, Calabasas Elementary School, Watsonsville, CA
Laura pursued Environmental Studies in college and knew from the beginning that she cared about the environment and that she wanted a career that related to the environment. She worked as a wildlife biologist, worked for the National Park Service and as a Peace Corps Volunteer, both in Thailand and in the US. After these experiences, she moved on to teaching. It was a great opportunity to combine teaching with her love of the environment. She realized that kids fall in love with the environment early on and have great ideas. Over the years Laura’s students have led presentations to the school board and succeeded in convincing the district to implement a balloon ban and change purchasing for school lunch programs to reduce plastic waste. They were, honored by the County Commissioners when they received a Green School certification.Laura works tirelessly on behalf of students and the planet. Her work is always student-centered and empowering, bringing together young students with practicing environmental scientists and helping students to see themselves as changemakers in the community and effective stewards for the future of the planet.
Laura has led the Green Team student team at Calabasas Elementary for years as these young students have identified environmental problems such as micro-trash on campus, disposable plastics associated with school meals (the “spork effort”), and ocean plastics pollution tied to balloon decorations.
On top of her teaching, Laura also serves on the Pajaro Valley Unified School District’s Green Team and led the effort to complete the auditing required for Calabasas Elementary to become the first school in the district with green certification from the Monterey Bay Green Business Network. At the County Board of Supervisors meeting where her school was recognized as the district’s first “green certified” school, Laura attended the ceremony with students alongside her and made sure the students were the ones front and center getting the recognition. They are now working to become the first net zero campus in the district.
In addition to the environmental actions listed above, Laura served as a Teacher Leader for Science and Environmental Literacy in Santa Cruz County Office of Education’s County Science Initiative and is currently a Teacher Leader for Sustainability in the county’s “Every Classroom a Green Classroom” Program which integrates environmental literacy and sustainability frameworks into core classroom instruction.
In addition to the EE Award winners, CEEF recognizes Michelle Stephens, a teacher at Bolinas-Stinson School, for her efforts in transforming outdoor learning across all grades. This included the purchase of journals for each student in the school for grade-appropriate science and nature journaling, as well as curriculum guides for each teacher. She has made a public commitment to philosophically and financially supporting this transformation at the school, ensuring that teachers have a voice through the process.
CEEF also recognizes Tracey Runeare, principal of Harbor High School, who created flexible support for special education students and staff to explore climate resilience by working with State Park Rangers on a series of collaborations, and in the process, facilitating inclusive and justice-oriented learning environments. Lastly, we would like to give special recognition to Janine Jacinto for going above and beyond, engaging her students in the City of Lodi’s watershed education programs since 2003, and exemplifying environmental benefit.
Congratulations to the educators and administrators who have gone the extra mile to develop their students’ understanding of climate change and empower them to think critically about the socio-political issues related to climate justice.