Sixth-grade teacher John Jones' classroom at Alder Avenue Middle School in Egg Harbor Township isn't bounded by its four physical walls - it's everywhere.
Jones took the reins of The Catawba Project, an award-winning hands-on environmental education program in township schools, after founder Dave Crawford retired in 2008. In the years since, he has involved his students and others from throughout the district in extra-curricular projects that help build an eco-conscious culture throughout the district.
Alder was recently named one of 10 New Jersey Governor's Environmental Excellence Award winners for 2012, largely due to the ongoing success of the Catawba project.
Jones traveled to the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton with district Superintendent Scott McCartney, Alder Principal Joseph Marinelli and Alder seventh-graders and student project leaders Patty Miraglio and Rachel Roesch on Jan. 28 to accept the award.
Accepting the award on behalf of the school was a big honor, Rachel said.
"It wasn't just us," Rachel said. "We were a part of it, but, I mean, everyone in Mr. Jones' class, the whole school got involved with the project. It meant a lot to represent Alder knowing that everyone was a part of it."
The Catawba Project also won the award in 2006.
Students at Alder and other district schools participate in several projects under the Catawba umbrella each year, such as cleanups at area beaches and parks and beautification projects at the schools.
Last year, they built a Community Teaching Garden on the Greate Egg Harbour Township Historical Society's grounds on West Jersey Avenue. The garden, which was funded by a $62,000 grant from State Farm, will be used to educate students and township residents about various aspects of organic gardening.
Jones said projects like the Community Garden are valuable to students not just because they teach them the importance and means of caring for their environment, but because they serve as a tangible application of lessons from across the school curriculum.
"They're not just sitting in the class to do it from a book," Jones said. "They're getting out to experience it. It's not just a math lesson about volume or area. It's actually applying what you've learned in class to the real world, and it makes kids connected with all that."
While Jones is the de facto head of Catawba, teachers Gavin MacNeill and Jeff Warner, also of Alder, Jim Thoms, of Fernwood Avenue Middle School, Colin McClain, of Joyanne D. Miller School and district Director of Development Ellen Gregory have been instrumental in the program's success.
The project, which Crawford started in 2000, has become a big draw in the district and boasts a membership of about 80. Additionally, Catawba veterans who have since moved on from Alder, as well as students from other schools in the district, regularly pitch in on projects.
Patty and Rachel have been Jones' right-hand girls since joining his class last year, writing articles and making videos that are posted on the project's website in addition to donating their labor.
Not only have they learned valuable skills from their participation in the project, they've become vigilant stewards of their environment, Patty said.
"We see someone doing something, like they could be recycling something, we say, 'Hey, what are you doing there?'" Patty said. "It's just funny."
Although Rachel and Patty have been the project's most dedicated student leaders since the beginning of last school year, Rachel said the projects would not have been possible without the help of the whole school.
"I'd just like to recognize everyone else who was a part of this, all Mr. Jones' classes for the past few years, the high school kids, everyone in our Catawba Club," Rachel said. "This whole school has gone green. It wasn't just us - this award is for everyone here at Alder."
For more information about the Catawba Project, visit
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