BGSU project among 44 winners of U.S. EPA awards

Project EXCITE, an environmental health education program based at BGSU, is one of 44 recipients of this year’s Children’s Environmental Health Awards from the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

EXCITE, short for Environmental health science eXplorations through Cross-disciplinary and Investigative Team Experiences, is Ohio’s only representative among 30 recognition award winners. Recognition awards go to groups or individuals who, the EPA says, “demonstrate commitment to protecting children from environmental health risks.” Six of the 30 recipients are overseas, in Brussels, Belgium; Dieren, Netherlands; Leningrad, Russia; Geneva, Switzerland; Rome, and Montevideo, Uruguay.

The EPA also presented 14 excellence awards to groups or individuals “who exemplify invaluable leadership” in protection of children from environmental health dangers.

Reviewers of the award applications thought Project EXCITE “was an excellent example of a strong environmental education program,” noted Carolyn Hubbard, awards coordinator in the U.S. EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection.

Over the last six years, the project has created interdisciplinary, problem-based learning modules (units) and provided training for northwest Ohio teachers in grades 4-9. Funded by a seven-year, roughly $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, it aims “to advance the awareness of environmental health science issues; increase the range and use of inquiry-based teaching techniques, and generate a sense of social responsibility in middle-grade teachers and their students,” according to EXCITE manager Jennifer Zoffel.

The federal funding is scheduled to end next year, but the project recently received a 27-month grant from the Ohio EPA’s Environmental Education Fund to expand statewide. After receiving training at regional workshops, 120 teachers across Ohio will be able to use any of six of the modules, called Odysseys, in their classrooms.

Those that will be going statewide deal with the issues of family versus “factory” farming; use of household chemicals; indoor air quality, and food safety. In a simulation Odyssey, students try to solve a mystery illness stemming from a field trip to a community zoo, and another covers germs and disease transmission.

The state grant, worth nearly $50,000, will also allow the project to publish and disseminate new Odysseys.

Seeing student participants in EXCITE “light up” and even talk like environmental scientists, using words such as “dose” and “risk,” is rewarding, said project Co-director Dr. Jodi Haney, environmental programs and teaching and learning.

“Every day, our kids remind us of the effect of our work, but it’s nice to have EPA put a stamp on it,” added Haney, who also directs the Center of Excellence in Science and Mathematics Education at Bowling Green.

Other members of the project team are the other co-director, Dr. Charles “Chris” Keil, environmental health; educational consultant Bethany Ash, a BGSU graduate and former science teacher in Findlay City Schools, and six EXCITE “mentor teachers” who have used the materials in their classrooms and are involved in professional development of other teachers. The mentor teachers are Rhonda Simons and Mike Wilson, both from Central Middle School in Findlay; Paula Ritter from Arcadia High School; Katie Smith from North Baltimore High School, and Marcia Reed and Cathie Ujvagi, both from St. Pius X School in Toledo.
April 17, 2006