2019-’20 fifth graders honored for their campaign educating people about sharks

Students at Mount Madonna School received a Presidents Environmental Youth Award. (Photo courtesy Mount Madonna School.)

By Staff Reports

The United States Environmental Protection Agency has recognized the 2019-20 fifth grade class at Mount Madonna School with the President’s Environmental Youth Award for working to resolve threats faced by great white sharks. These annual awards are presented to exceptional students and teachers who demonstrate creativity, innovation, and leadership in addressing difficult environmental challenges.

“It is humbling and inspiring to see the impact these educators and students are having on their communities and our planet,” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory.

The EPA honored the students, now seventh graders, in August, for their yearlong education campaign, “SOS: Save Our Sharks — A Fintastic Tale.”

“With as many as 71 percent of all sharks and rays fished out in the past 50 years, sharks are in deep trouble,” said David McGuire, executive director of Shark Stewards. “We applaud the youth of Mount Madonna School for their efforts to educate and stop overfishing of sharks. It is an incredible honor for Shark Stewards to be associated with this class. Their S.O.S: Save Our Sharks movie and this award will help the kids and other nonprofit associations, such as Plastic Pollution Coalition and Shark Allies, to spread the word and save our sharks.”

Students collaborated with several conservation groups to build support for a Florida law banning the sale and trade of shark fins; create educational materials to share with other students; and to encourage local restaurants to reduce single-use plastic by offering compostable alternatives.

They worked with researchers from the NOAA Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to conduct water testing, a litter survey and beach cleanup in Santa Cruz, and discovered microplastic fiber in every drop of ocean water they sampled. This was an eye-opening experience, as students saw firsthand how prevalent plastic is in the marine ecosystem.

“One thing I have come to realize is that we use way too much plastic at home, in our communities and everywhere,” reflected a student. “I was shocked to find plastic fibers in the water samples, but at the same time I know we can work together and find an alternative to the current plastic material.”

This is the fourth time Mount Madonna School fifth grade students have received this national recognition. In 2019, students received a PEYA for their 2017-18 work to protect humpback whales; in 2017, students were awarded a PEYA for their 2015-16 work protect Western Snowy Plovers; and in 2015, students learned they were awarded the PEYA for their 2013-14 work to protect endangered sea turtles.

“I cannot tell you how special it is to me that these students’ hard work is being honored at a national level,” said teacher Jessica Cambell. “They are passionate about great white sharks and making a difference. My students continually inspire me as they find their voice to create positive change within the world.”

“Our project will stay with us for the rest of our lives,” said a student. “We do understand now that sharks are in danger and that plastic pollution is a big problem for them, the oceans, our environment, and threatens not just wildlife, but ourselves too. We all need to take action, and do it now.”

This story was provided as a press release by Mount Madonna School.

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