EPA) Pacific Southwest Region recognized winners from California and Hawaii as 2022 recipients of the President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) and the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE).

  • Kaelah Kimura, Joey Misailidis, and Katie Rudolf of Punahou School on Oahu received the PEYA Grade 6-12 award for their work on Operation Leadership Hawaii.
  • Nithin Parthasarathy of Irvine, Calif. received a PEYA Grade 6-12 Honorable Mention for his work addressing food waste.
  • Dana Swisher of Corte Madera, Calif. received the PIAEE for her work integrating sustainability into lesson plans at Neil Cummins Elementary School.

“This year’s award winners demonstrate how environmental education fosters our future stewards and innovators by connecting them to the soil, water and air around us,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Martha Guzman. “There is no better way to build future environmental leaders than by bringing children closer to their land and food. Congratulations to Dana for her leadership in the classroom and beyond, and to Kaelah, Joey, and Katie for their impressive efforts to raise awareness of local issues and how those also relate to global issues.”

“Recognizing the dire need for free and impactful environmental education in Hawaii, we built the program from the ground up; this included identifying our target audience, researching environmental issues in Hawaii, working with educational and environmental experts and, eventually, establishing a foundation for Operation Leadership’s program,” said Kaelah Kimura, Joey Misailidis, and Katie Rudolf, who received the President’s Environmental Youth Award (Grade 6-12 category) for Operation Leadership Hawaii. “Educating Hawaii youth about environmental issues through our curriculum has helped to inspire future leaders and make a direct impact on our communities through the program.”

The Operation Leadership Hawaii team created a youth-run initiative to provide accessible, cost-free environmental leadership programming for Oahu 4th through 6th graders, particularly those from under-resourced communities. Last year, the team educated over 140 Hawaii youth by engaging volunteers and developing environmental curriculum, particularly about climate change.

“By repurposing 25,000 pounds of food waste, we have lowered the equivalent of over 194,100 kg of carbon emissions,” said Nithin Parthasarathy, President’s Environmental Youth Award Grade 6-12 Honorable Mention from Irvine, California. “Equally important, the repurposed food served the needy ensuring entire families did not go to bed hungry.”

Parthasarathy’s Zero Waste Initiative sought to eliminate food waste and provide food equity and security. The initiative identified excess food and shared it with the under-privileged community members. Preventing food waste helps fight climate change, conserve natural resources, and build resilient and sustainable communities.

“As students matriculate at Neil Cummins Elementary, we see a growing awareness of and appreciation for environmental sustainability,” said Dana Swisher, 2nd grade teacher at Neil Cummins Elementary School in Corte Madera, California and Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators Award Winner. “The garden offers a place for students to be outside and develop an appreciation for the natural world.”

Swisher is recognized for integrating sustainability topics into education for students from Kindergarten through 5th grade with the school’s “Hawks Garden” project. She championed the garden to demonstrate to students how to sustainably grow food and protect native species through habitat restoration. Swisher engaged students and community members through teaching materials, lesson plans, coordinating garden workdays, exposing children and adults to pest management practices, and donating food to community organizations. Her efforts gave hands-on opportunities to over 600 students, including those living in apartments without gardens, to learn about growing their own food.

PEYA was established by the Environmental Education Act of 1970 and recognizes outstanding community-level environmental projects by K-12 youth that promote awareness of natural resources and encourage positive community involvement. Each year, PEYA honors a variety of local projects developed by students, school classes, summer camp attendees and youth organizations to promote engagement in environmental stewardship and protection.

For more information, visit https://www.epa.gov/education/presidents-environmental-youth-award-peya-winners.