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Education nonprofit honors three outstanding teacher leaders and corporate partner Southwest Airlines

EcoRise, the school-based nonprofit that develops curricula, training programs, and grants for teachers who educate K–12 students on sustainability topics, has announced the recipients of the following awards for the 2018–2019 school year: Elementary Teacher of the Year, Secondary Teacher of the Year, Partner of the Year, and a special Legacy Award. The selected honorees have demonstrated exceptional dedication to sustainability and have worked throughout the year to either utilize or support EcoRise’s resources, increasing the impact of the organization’s educational programs. In the 2017–2018 school year, the organization served 1,101 teachers in 36 states and 28 countries. This school year, EcoRise doubled its capacity to serving 2,000 teachers and impacting nearly 120,000 students in 46 states and 30 countries.

“EcoRise is thrilled to present awards to the educators and partners who have helped double the organization’s impact and scale our programs during the 2018–2019 school year,” said EcoRise Executive Director Jon Stott. “To show our gratitude, it is important to recognize those who have gone above and beyond to empower the next generation of sustainability champions. Congratulations to our partners at Southwest Airlines® and each of our teacher leaders on this accomplishment!”

Sabina Malkani Elementary Teacher of the Year DC

Sabina Malkani with her students after winning the 2018–19 Elementary Teacher of the Year in Washington, DC. (Photo courtesy of Ana Ka’ahanui, USGBC)

EcoRise names Teachers of the Year annually to celebrate educators who work hard to make the world a better place by creating authentic learning experiences for students, leveraging EcoRise support services, and sharing knowledge of and passion for sustainability education with their school campus communities. This year, Sabina Malkani, a third-grade science and literary intervention teacher at Bruce-Monroe Elementary School @ Park View, was named the Elementary Teacher of the Year for her commitment to student innovation and sustainability throughout the school year. Ms. Malkani is a DC Public Schools teacher with over 20 years of educator experience. This is her first year as an EcoRise teacher. Ms. Malkani’s students conducted an Indoor Air Quality audit and developed data-driven solutions to create a tangible impact on the school’s indoor air quality. In November, the students received the first Eco-Audit Grant of the school year, for $825, which the students used to create nontoxic classroom cleaning supplies. The students’ project has had a ripple effect, prompting parents and community members to forgo toxic cleaners as well. In the spring, to further improve their school’s air quality, students applied for (and received) a second grant, of $628, which was used to create aquaponic terrariums for every classroom in the school.

Jennifer Humphrey Secondary Teacher of the Year

Jennifer Humphrey accepting the 2018–19 Secondary Teacher of the Year Award with Abby Randall and Kristi Hibler-Lutton in San Antonio, Texas.

EcoRise presented the Secondary Teacher of the Year Award to Jennifer Humphrey, a sixth- and seventh-grade STEM Academy teacher at Nimitz Middle School in North East ISD, San Antonio, Texas. Ms. Humphrey has taught science, environmental science, and outdoor learning over the past 17 years. Ms. Humphrey has been an engaged EcoRise teacher for two years, during which her students’ projects have been grounded in real-world experiences and analysis of genuine campus needs. Last year Ms. Humphrey’s students observed dead plants, infertile soil, and wasted water associated with their school garden. So, they used $1,885 in EcoRise micro-grants to revamp the gardens by adding pollinator plants, vegetables, rain barrels, an irrigation system, and composting. This year, her students built on the previous projects by utilizing another five micro-grants, totaling $1,223, to create a sustainable outdoor classroom that collects rainwater for campus gardens and provides solar electricity that can be used to power small electronics.

Kendra Heffelbower legacy award winner DC

Kendra Heffelbower accepting the EcoRise Legacy Award with Kizzy Hannibal Xolani (left) in Washington, DC.

The EcoRise Legacy Award has been presented to DC Public Schools teacher Kendra Heffelbower. This distinguished honor, not awarded every year, is given to outstanding EcoRise educators who have demonstrated continued commitment to student innovation and sustainability on a K–12 campus for 10 or more years. Ms. Heffelbower has been teaching in DC Public Schools for 15 years, and she is currently a fourth-grade teacher and the STEAM Coordinator at C.W. Harris Elementary School in Washington, DC. She is passionate about creating opportunities for students to develop leadership skills and use their knowledge to find solutions that benefit their communities. Ms. Heffelbower has worked tirelessly over the last four years as an EcoRise Teacher to integrate innovation and sustainability education with classroom instruction by mobilizing students, teachers, and administrators and by leveraging community partnerships, grant funds, curricula, and professional development. This year C.W. Harris students were awarded five Eco-Audit Grants, totaling $2,544, for projects that: address food security through creation of an herb garden; enhance public spaces and school well-being through installation of a peace garden; create a composting system and educational campaign to divert 1,440 lbs. of waste next year; integrate system interdependence learning and wildlife conservation via Bird Observation Areas; and install a hydroponic system.

EcoRise announced its final recognition, Partner of the Year, at the organization’s annual Leadership Circle event on May 3, 2019. EcoRise partners with companies and organizations that integrate leading-edge sustainability practices into their work and believe in the potential of youth as leaders in their communities. Each year the organization identifies one partner that has had a transformative impact on EcoRise’s work, and this year that honor goes to Southwest Airlines. Southwest’s support, in the form of in-kind donations of travel, has allowed EcoRise to scale its programs nationally from serving 600 schools when the partnership began in 2017, to serving over 1,000 schools today. Thanks to Southwest, EcoRise program managers were able to provide over 3,000 hours of professional development and support to teachers across the nation this year, and EcoRise was also able to bring a national cohort of Teacher Ambassadors to Austin for its Summer Leadership Institute. Southwest’s support also allowed teacher leaders to present nationally, on behalf of EcoRise, at events such as the Green Schools Conference & Expo in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Southwest Airlines Partner of the Year Award

Laura Hoagland pictured with EcoRise Staff and Board Members, and EcoRise Teacher David Ward after accepting the Partner of the Year Award on behalf of Southwest Airlines in Austin, Texas.

“At Southwest, our Heart is to do what’s right by championing our communities and respecting our resources,” said Laura Nieto, Director of Community Outreach at Southwest. “We are proud to support EcoRise in their efforts to put students on a sustainable path early on by connecting staff and Teacher Ambassadors to important opportunities that aid in the scale and impact of the organization’s work. We are honored to receive the wonderful recognition of 2019 Partner of the Year.”

EcoRise, its teachers, and its community partners are grateful to all who have contributed to the mission and vision during the past school year by championing transformative K–12 sustainability education. The organization is more than halfway to its Vision 2020 goal: to engage over 4,000 educators and impact more than 250,000 K–12 students by the 2020–2021 school year.


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