Director Dan Kunkle opened the presentation of awards to students who are involved with the environment by asking, "How many of you ever heard about the Lehigh Gap Nature Center?" The students and parents had all heard of it but some knew little about it.
The program was held March 10 in the new building that was completed two years ago. The Center opened to the public in 2003. Kunkle said a new program is to get all the environmental clubs in the schools working together.
The student ecology awards are 10 years old and started when Kunkle, a Freedom High School teacher, saw students who were doing amazing things. He thought they deserved recognition.
He said it is the adults that work with the students that offer the names for recognition.
"We want people who are doing what you do because it is the right thing to do," said Kunkle.
Brittney Jackson, a senior at Emmaus High School, was nominated by her AP environmental science teacher, Steven Baier.
She is president of the Envirothon team and competes with the school's Biology Olympics team. Jackson planned and hosted an environmental fashion show in which elementary students from the East Penn schools dressed in outfits made with recycled materials. For three years, outside of school, she has been working on a project at Cedar Crest College studying the effects of natural antioxidants on yeast cells. She cares for the animals at the Wildlife Conservancy and is an intern on the Emmaus-Upper Milford Environmental Advisory Council.
Jackson said at the fashion show there were kids dressed as Harry Potter and the Jedi - anything you could think of. On Earth Day she said she broke into tears of joy because so many organizations came to clean up.
She plans to attend Rutgers for bio-environmental engineering. Her parents are Lisa and Douglas Jackson of Macungie.
Mary Bucha, who attends Central Catholic High School, was accompanied by her Environmental Club advisor, Tom Shive.
Shive said in 2002 he took a class to Jordan Meadows along the creek near Sacred Heart Hospital. There was garbage and shopping carts all over. One of the students said, "If we don't clean it up, nobody will." It is an ongoing project. The first day they removed 40 carts from the creek and now the total is 170.
They received an environmental grant from PPL for $1,500. With it they bought plants, planted them, and overnight they were torn out. Wells Fargo helped through its inner city project. They work on the area from the Jordan Street Bridge to the railroad. Since the creek is cleaned up, it has been stocked
Bucha is a leader in a project that involves fifth graders from Sacred Heart Elementary. It has the older students mentoring the younger ones that will make them more apt to carry the interest over into adulthood. She wrote a grant proposal in 2010 and attended a workshop on the Jordan Creek Greenway and Trail project. Bucha began a recycling program at the school cafeteria.
She said they want to get the birds to come back to the Jordan. In addition to Shive, she was accompanied by parents Jennifer and Anthony Bucha of Center Valley.
She plans to attend Marywood University but does not plan to study within the environmental field. Kunkle said that was okay - no one has to do it as a job.
Chad Schwartz from Whitehall High School was nominated by Jason Fox, his Outing Club advisor. He is president of the Biology Club, treasurer of the Outing Club and a member of the Envirothon team. He is familiar with the Nature Center because he came to a meeting held to get clubs working together.
He worked to get part of the school grounds designated as a private wild plant sanctuary by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. He found a state- threatened umbrella magnolia growing on the school grounds and petitioned the school to protect it by designating the area as a Whitehall-Coplay Plant Sanctuary.
Schwartz said there is a DCNR program to protect species of concern on private land. He went to the school board that supported him. The native plant garden will be dedicated April 10.
He plans to major in Environmental Science at Muhlenberg College next year. His parents are Marvin and Susan Schwartz of Whtehall.
Each student received "a fantastic homemade certificate, a $50 gift card for Amazon.com, a one-year membership to the Nature Center and the most important book about the environment, Aldo Leopold's "Sand County Almanac," Awards were sponsored by KNBT bank.
Kunkle invited them to a service project on clean-up day April 7 at 10 a.m. and a learning and hiking program on April 28, 10 a.m. He said they should "invite others from your schools."