GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado - Installing solar panels on the school roof, prepping students to present a climate change project to scientists, designing a straw bale classroom and involving colleagues and numerous subject areas in environmental lessons - these are just a few of the reasons Susy Ellison has been recognized for her outstanding contributions to environmental education.
Ellison, who teaches at Yampah Mountain High School, recently received the Richard C. Bartlett Environmental Education Award, given by the National Environmental Education Foundation, which recognizes teachers who inspire their students and their peers.
The award is presented each year during National Teacher Appreciation Week, from May 3-7.
Ellison has a background in wildlife biology and 23 years of teaching experience. She is the science teacher for Yampah's alternative high school and the school's teen parent program.
Ellison is known for finding new ways to engage her students and colleagues, while improving the environment at the school and in the larger community.
She led student projects to do energy audits at the school, install a weather station and geodesic dome greenhouse, and took students to Washington, D.C. for the Solar Decathlon.
When she taught classes on alternative fuels, her students not only met with producers and users of biodiesel, they made their own.
Ellison said the Bartlett prize reflects as much on her students and colleagues as her.
"When I review the path that has brought me to this point I see a long and winding route of meandering trails and diverse branches leading to that magical, elusive and sometimes mysterious place known as 'environmental literacy,'" she said. "I am proud that I have been able to be a guide for both colleagues and students by providing them with the knowledge and tools required to travel a similar path.
"This award is as much about them as it is about me," Ellison said. "It is a celebration of the creation of citizens who understand and take responsibility for their impacts on the planet and feel empowered to become agents of positive environmental change."
Diane Wood, president of the National Environmental Education Foundation, said Ellison exemplifies the spirit of the award with her ingenuity.
"Every year, the Bartlett Award recognizes the teachers who inspire everyone around them with their passion and energy," she said. "Susy is a catalyst at her school, driven by her own curiosity and commitment to her students, her school and to the environment."
Richard Bartlett, for whom the award is named, has been active in conservation for more than 40 years. He has co-authored several textbooks, three books and has received numerous awards for his work in conservation, marketing and as an executive.
Bartlett and his wife, Joanne, are founders of the Thinking Like a Mountain Foundation, a writer-in-residence program with a mission to foster a conservation ethic. Bartlett became a trustee of The Nature Conservancy of Texas in 1989 and was appointed chairman in 1994. He currently serves as an advisor on numerous other boards, including NatureServe, the National Council for Science and the Environment, the Aldo Leopold Foundation and the Center for Big Bend Studies.
He is the former chairman of the National Environmental Education Foundation, where he continues to serve as an honorary board member.
Bartlett said Ellison sets an example for environmental education around the country.
"With her hands-on style and her knack for involving students and the rest of the campus in environmental lessons, Susy encapsulates what's best about environmental education - its ability to connect the lesson to the larger world and the student to the issues that matter in their lives and their communities."
Ellison will travel to Washington, D.C. this summer to meet with environmental leaders and the staff of the National Environmental Education Foundation. More than 80 teachers were nominated for the award.