Student EAST Project Earns National Award

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in partnership with the White House Council on Environmental Quality, selected a project by former John Tyson Elementary School students as the regional winner of the Presidential Environmental Youth Award.

“I feel accomplished and grateful to receive this award,” said Izzy George, who is now a sixth-grader at Helen Tyson Middle School.

Henry Moody, currently a Don Tyson School of Innovation sixth-grader, said he’s proud of the hard work the Green Tigers team did to receive the award for the K-5 level.

The President’s Environmental Youth Award recognizes outstanding environmental stewardship projects developed by K-12 youth, according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency website. The PEYA program promotes awareness of the nation's natural resources and encourages positive community involvement.

“We all have a role to play in tackling our planet's most pressing environmental challenges, and education is the foundation for environmental stewardship and innovation,” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory in a press release. “Congratulations to these outstanding students and educators – your determination and creativity show us that a more sustainable and equitable future is on the horizon.”

The Green Tigers’ project was in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like schools throughout the nation, John Tyson Elementary School responded to the pandemic by serving breakfast and lunch in plastic bags. While the precaution helped prevent the spread of the virus, it also spiked the school’s plastic consumption.

The Education Accelerated by Service and Technology students addressed the concern by working with the plastic recycling company NexTrex to create a program to place recycling bins in every hallway to collect the plastic bags and to prevent contamination of the environment.

Team members encouraged the student body to participate in the recycling program through a successful marketing campaign. To date, the school has prevented 500 pounds of plastic from polluting the ecosystem through the project.

“The fourth-grade EAST students noticed a problem, learned about the issues surrounding plastic waste, created a plan to address the problem, persevered through adversity and started a grassroots movement to address the world's plastic problem,” said Jennifer Boogart, John Tyson Elementary School EAST facilitator. “Their determined leadership influenced the students at John Tyson Elementary School to become passionate about recycling, which we hope will impact future environmental stewardship.”

John Tyson Elementary School is just one of many Arkansas schools that consumes plastic, but there are only seven schools in the state with initiatives to address the environmental impacts of plastic consumption, according to the award website.

Izzy and Henry are also writing an e-book about their project to share with students across the state.

“I appreciate that we had the opportunity to do this project, because lots of kids do not get the same opportunity,” Henry said. “We got to make a difference in our community now and in the future.”

The students have also been invited to Washington, D.C., to receive the award, will have an opportunity to speak to the EAST Initiative Board and will present the project to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“As an EAST Facilitator, I am in awe of the students' passion and perseverance and what they accomplished as a result of their desire to be agents of change,” Boogart said. “It is so fun to watch them own their learning and take me along for the ride!”

John Tyson Elementary School was also the regional winner of the Trex Plastic Film Recycling Challenge for the 2022-2023 school year. Some 780 schools participated in the challenge and were able to keep 421,623 pounds of plastic out of the landfills.

“We are grateful to Mrs. [Shelly] Poage, principal of John Tyson Elementary School, for supporting the JTE EAST students as they pursue their passions,” Boogart said. “They know that they always have her as a champion in their corner!”