Congratulations to our 2019 MAEE Award Recipients!
Lifetime Achievement Award
My path was set at an early age, collecting butterflies and squashing ants in our suburban back yard. Once I figured out how to stay upright on a bicycle the Minnesota River Valley supplied me with secret springs, Indian mounds, forts and poison ivy. Our mother was on the City of Bloomington Natural Resources Board, our dad was a Boy Scout leader; so I became an environmentalist like her and a camp-craft wizard like him. We went to the Lake every weekend that I wasn’t camping with the Eagle patrol. Earth Day came in 1970 and I found my “thing”. Summer canoe guiding in the BWCA kept me sane and solvent during college years at the U of M earning a biology degree. A fateful internship at the The Environmental Learning Center (ELC) in Isabella set my course for the next 40 years There was a slight detour to The Catskills for three years teaching EE and leading more canoe trips into Canada. Then 1981 Jack Pichotta took a chance hiring BJ, my wife, and me as naturalists at The ELC. We moved with the Center in 1988 to Finland, MN as it morphed into Wolf Ridge. I worked for years, building trails, study sites, a climbing wall, and a ropes course, I also wrote scads of curricula and taught/tortured visiting students week after week, year after year. I earned a Masters of Education, mentored college interns, was in turn mentored, and worked with a tight, dedicated, fun-loving staff of amazing educators. It was the best job in the whole world.
Student Environmental Stewardship Award
Jahir Aquino is currently a senior at Edison High School in Northeast Minneapolis. Jahir began his journey with Spark-Y as a student in the Edible Agricultural School Yard Professional (Easy-Pro) course at Edison. Spark-Y is a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit that empowers youth through hands-on education rooted in sustainability and entrepreneurship. Spark-Y partners with schools, like Edison, to bring innovative, hands-on STEM programming to the classroom. Jahir joined the Easy Pro class as an underclassman and soon started to show great potential and passion. In the summer of 2018, Jahir was accepted to the Spark-Y Summer Internship Program. That summer he worked with other youth to care for and maintain an aquaponics system, school garden, and greenhouse at Edison High School. Jahir may not be outspoken but he always led his team by example, being the first to volunteer for challenging tasks. He was our resident “aquaponics expert” that summer. The following summer Jahir again applied for the internship program after showing so much enthusiasm for aquaponics, growing food, and caring for the environment. During his high school career, Jahir has now participated in two summer internships and three in-school programs with Spark-Y. This semester Jahir is again taking the Easy Pro course, this time as a senior and a leader. He has unlocked his potential and shown so much promise for his future. His passion is outmatched only by his kindness and positive outlook. He is truly a special young man with a bright future ahead. Jahir hopes to go to college and study environmental science after graduation. It is youth, like Jahir, who gives us so much hope for the future of our planet.
Non-formal Educator of the Year
Formal Environmental Educator of the Year
Jen Heyer has been an Eden Prairie educator since 2001.
In 2015, she created a program called Wilderness Wednesday, teaching her kindergarten students outside for the majority of the day. They spend all morning and afternoon outside in the school forest and creek area learning state standards through environmental education.
In 2019, her Wilderness Wednesday program extended to first and second grade students with a Nature Explorer Club that meets after school once a week.
She has partnered with Riley Purgatory Bluff Creek Watershed District, Safari Club, MN DNR: Project WILD and Project WET, MN DNR: Forestry Department, Minnesota Trappers Association, the Keystone Elk Country Alliance, the Minnesota Tracking Club, and Fishing in the Neighborhood (FiN).
In 2018, she attended the American Wilderness Leadership School in Jackson Hole, WY and has also written two articles for the Minnesota Adventuring magazine.
Jen presented at the 2019 Minnesota Association for Environmental Education’s Midwest Environmental Education Conference in Minnesota in October. In May 2020, she will be speaking at the Minnesota Kindergarten Association Spring Conference.
Jen received the 2019 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators and accepted the award in Washington, DC from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Formal Environmental Educator of the Year
I've been working for the Pine River-Backus School District for 12 years as a middle school science teacher. One of my favorite parts of teaching is designing tasks where the kids get real-world, outdoor experience in the topics we cover. Being blessed with a school forest right on site, I take my students to the woods as often as possible - including in the winter! (We have a class set of snowshoes.) Some of my favorite units are a weather project where kids engineer their own weather station to prove a weather pattern they've identified, and the ecology project where kids collect data on various organisms in our forest and create a large presentation on local ecosystem preservation. With our town planning to take out the old dam and replace it with a ripple system, we've been having fun researching the difference between the two types of dams and predicting how it will affect our local watershed. In addition to our normal curriculum, we've been working at cleaning up our forest site, and are working our way through a multi-year buckthorn removal project. I also love taking my students to the Deep Portage Environmental Learning Center every spring for outdoor survival training.