HOPEWELL: School district recognizes sustainability efforts of teachers and students

Six students from throughout the Hopewell Valley Regional School District’s schools were honored as “Eco Warriors” during a board of education meeting on Monday night for their sustainability-minded work.

The students — Adam Russell from Bear Tavern Elementary, Katie Genovesi from Central High School, Megan D’Alessandro from Hopewell Elementary, Matthew Nguyen from Stony Brook Elementary, Harriet Strunk from Timberlane Middle School and Zelda Houghton from Toll Gate Grammar School — were recognized through the district’s partnership with Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space (FoHVOS), “a nonprofit land trust that is dedicated to preserving the Valley’s character through open space and farmland preservation, and natural resource protection.”

“The Eco Warrior Program is a new program that we developed as part of our green initiatives throughout the district,” Superintendent Dr. Thomas A. Smith said. “Each of our schools has a ‘green team’ that works to reduce our carbon footprint and improve our eco-friendliness.”

The six students were nominated and selected after an e-mail was sent out by the district. As this year’s “Eco Warriors,” the pupils were presented with a certificate and t-shirt during the meeting.

In addition, a tree will be planted in their honor by FoHVOS.

Lisa Wolff, vice president of the Hopewell Valley Board of Education and executive director of FoHVOS, said the trees will either be planted in Fiddler’s Creek Preserve in Titusville or the Mount Rose Preserve in Princeton, where fencing will protect the trees from deer.

Genovesi, who will be majoring in environmental science at Eckerd College in Florida, said she had been interested in sustainability growing up, but her passion blossomed in the past year. She said she “jokingly” asked her friends to nominate her, but soon found out a number of them already did.

“It was really just who I am and what I do in the community that my friends knew about so they nominated me for it,” she said.

The teen said she regularly drives to Belmar in Monmouth County, Washington Crossing Park or Goat Hill to pick up trash “just for fun.”

During the summer of her sophomore year, Genovesi studied climate change in Mongolia, and in Costa Rica during spring break of her junior year. She described both experiences as “awesome opportunities” that she was able to participate in through her mother, who works for The Academy of Natural Sciences Museum at Drexel University.

“It was really eye-opening and another moment that spurred my passion, just seeing climate change first-hand, especially in a country like Mongolia where the people are really suffering,” she said.

Smith said Genovesi, as well as the other five “Eco Warriors,” embody what the district believes it is doing to promote sustainability in the area.

In addition to the six aforementioned students, the school district also recognized a number of teachers and Green Team members by awarding them with Green Stars for their efforts to implement activities centered around helping the environment.

Whether it be recycling or turning the lights off when leaving the room, the classrooms and activities were evaluated by students in Central High’s Academic Essentials class. Teachers who accumulated 10 green stars won the contest, according to a press release.

“We were looking for fun ways to involve teachers and students in our greening initiatives,” Central High School Green Team member Carolyn McGrath said.

Smith said the district had been focusing on bringing “greening” efforts into classrooms that not only benefited the environment, but helped with the schools’ bottom line, as well.

“We have developed more environmental curricula and last year, we saved over $65,000 simply by reducing classroom printing,” Smith said. “I applaud the teachers for building on our environmental success.”