Alder Middle school receives award

Egg Harbor Township’s Alder Avenue Middle School was presented with the 2012 Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award (GEEA) in the Environmental Education category Jan. 28 at the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton for its innovative environmental and energy conservation classroom efforts.

Established in 2000, the New Jersey Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards Program is the state’s premier awards program that recognizes individuals, businesses, educators, institutions, communities, youth and others who have made significant contributions to environmental protection in New Jersey through outstanding environmental performance, programs and projects.

Taking students out of the traditional classroom setting and introducing them to tangible outdoor learning excursions has been a way of life in Egg Harbor Township for the past 12 years — especially in John Jones’ sixth-grade classroom at Alder Avenue Middle School, which serves half of the district’s 1,800 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.

Reducing their carbon footprint by creating a healthy, energy-efficient school environment reinforced with sound environmental and sustainability education practices has been an ongoing initiative spearheaded by Jones. Successful sister programs, headed up by teachers Jim Thoms and Colin McClain, are also in full swing at Fernwood Avenue Middle School and Dr. Joyanne D. Miller Elementary School.

Jones heads up an environmental program that sees as many as 50 middle-school students staying after school to tend to and expand an outdoor classroom area that students before them created. The outdoor learning lab features a small tree farm, an organic garden, a pond with a solar-powered pump, native plants, bird houses built by students, and rain barrels to collect surface water runoff from the building roof, which is used to water the organic garden and tree farm.

Their other labor-of-love project is the 6-acre Community Teaching Garden located on the grounds of the Greate Egg Harbour Township Historical Society in Egg Harbor Township. Partnering with McClain’s fifth-graders from Dr. Joyanne D. Miller School, students are readying the site to be used by community members to till their own gardens and share gardening techniques, and as a workshop host site to educate the public about the importance of protecting and preserving the Great Egg Harbor River from non-point source pollution, overuse and development degradation. It will also serve as a place for students to teach community members how to till their own organic gardens and grow their own food using sound environmental practices that don’t pollute the Great Egg Harbor River and other local watersheds.

For more information on Alder Avenue Middle School’s environmental education program, call John Jones at 609-338-8809 or via email to jonesjo@eht.k12.nj.us.