District’s Blue School Grant Program garners environmental excellence award

Jennifer Mitchel teaching a student about water quality

Dr. Jennifer Mitchell works with students from Crooms Academy of Information Technology (Sanford) during a field trip to learn about water quality and macroinvertebrates as part of the District’s Blue School Grant Program in 2017.

When the Blue School Grant Program began in 2016, staff at the St. Johns River Water Management District were armed with a few survey findings on the lack of students’ knowledge of water resources that they hoped to change. Now, entering the sixth year, efforts through the program have garnered an environmental excellence award from the Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board (JEPB).

Jennifer Mitchell receiving an award

David Wood, left, chair of the Jacksonville Environmental Protection Board, presents the environmental excellence award to the District’s Dr. Jennifer Mitchell.

At its Nov. 17, 2021, awards luncheon held on the campus of the University of North Florida, JEPB recognized the District in the government/institutional category. Dr. Jennifer Mitchell, who managed the Blue School Grant Program for its first five years, accepted the award on the District’s behalf.

The District launched the program in 2016 to answer the need for greater opportunities for middle and high school students to raise public awareness about local water resources and gain experiences in how to protect Florida’s water resources. In addition, in the case of students in Duval County, the District wanted to help raise awareness of the St. Johns River, which flows through the city center and create a connection of the students to the river.

Mitchell says, “We felt the Blue School Grant Program could be important by allowing students an opportunity to connect with our water resources on an unprecedented level. Without an understanding of how our water moves, how we are connected to water and how we can protect it, students are powerless to instill change in their communities. This program aims to get students outside and experience those connections for themselves.”

The Blue School Grant Program has helped increase community awareness and understanding of Florida’s water resources by providing funds to facilitate innovative educational projects. Since the program began, 75 projects have been funded, supporting 65 different schools across the District’s 18-county region. An estimated 9,400 students will be reached through the program by the end of the 2021–2022 school year.

In Jacksonville alone, 765 students at seven schools have benefitted from program funding: A. Philip Randolph Career Academies, Darnell-Cookman Middle/ High School, Frank H. Peterson Academies, Kernan Middle School, Seaside Community Charter School, Oak Hill Academy and Edward H. White High School.

“This grant opportunity has provided a spark to student’s learning because it is focused on getting students out of the classroom and working with their hands on various challenges,” Mitchell says. “It’s been rewarding working with the teachers and their students to foster an interest in protecting water and the environment, and maybe even lead to a future career for participants.”

The program provides up to $2,000 per teacher, per school to augment teacher resources for hands-on, science-based educational experiences.

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