2020 Ocean Stewardship Awards

Each year, the Aquarium Education Department’s Ocean Stewardship Awards recognizes teachers and schools who are working to promote ocean conservation and who are taking concrete steps to help protect our blue planet.

By New England Aquarium on Tuesday, June 09, 2020

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This year we received many fantastic nominations, and we loved reading about all the amazing work taking place across New England.

Congratulations to all of our winners!

Teacher Category

Julie Kilpfel
Howe-Manning Elementary School, Middleton, MA

Julie is a 4th grade teacher from Howe-Manning Elementary School, an adjunct professor at Salem State University, and a National Geographic Certified Educator. She recognizes that her students’ everyday choices will have a lasting global impact on the ocean, which is why she is inspired to educate others about ocean conservation and living blue. By fostering global thinking, her students understand their responsibility for the ocean, generate healthier solutions, and take action for a more sustainable future.

One interdisciplinary unit this year focused on inspiring students to protect our ocean from the massive plastic pollution crisis. Students researched a multitude of resources to deepen their understanding of the interconnectedness of the human and natural world, and the impact it has on our ocean. Afterward, students used the power of their words by writing Poetry FOR the Planet to inspire others to make a change and live blue. The inspiring poetry project led to a social media campaign, which ultimately empowered the students to host a plastic Poetry FOR the Planet Café event. But they did not stop there, her class began a petition to get plastic and foam trays banned from the cafeteria. Students started using reusable water bottles and lunch containers, and they even started cleaning up trash and plastic at recess, as they truly knew how their acts within their school community can help save our ocean.

These problem solvers were able to learn the key skills it takes to make change within the community and beyond, thanks to Julie’s guidance.

Check out Julie’s blog: http://missklipfel.blogspot.com/2020/02/poetry-for-planet.html

Honorable Mentions

School and Teacher Category

Emily Stefanich
Acera School, Winchester, MA

All of our nominations are amazing, but it is always meaningful to receive multiple nominations for the same person, both in the Teacher category and School group category! Emily saw the importance of teaching her second and third graders the interconnectedness of humans and oceans in order to build the next generation of ocean problem solvers. By teaching them a baseline understanding of the ocean and its ecosystems, to identifying problems that impact their local coastal communities, cumulating in her students evaluating solutions and creating models to make positive change This really allowed them to see how they can solve problems impacting the oceans today, and it is why she is receiving two Honorable Mention Awards – both in the school group and teacher categories.


Ave Gaffney
Cape Cod Regional High School, Harwich, MA

Ave has been a science educator for over 25 years, and in that time, she has made a huge difference in the lives of her students. As an ocean advocate herself, from being a ranger with the National Seashore of Cape Cod, to being involved in the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, she has shared that passion with her students. She regularly brings in guest speakers to her classroom and involves herself in additional educational experiences to bring back new knowledge to her students . She is always looking for ways to engage her students in ways to care and understand the importance of the ocean and its inhabitants. Students at Cape Cod Regional are lucky to have a dedicated and passionate teacher like Ave!

School Group Category

Mount Alvernia Academy – Greenteam
Chestnut Hill, MA

When it comes to protecting our blue planet, the Mount Alvernia Academy really goes the distance to take action to better their community and make positive change. This is evident in every grade level across the school.

1. The students plant flowers and trees around the school campus, creating natural conservation areas, which are cared for by the students. This supports both native wildlife and erosion prevention and water run-off.

2. The school installed water stations throughout the school, eliminating the need for single use water bottles. To help tell the positive change this makes, the Student Commissioners of the Environment keep count of the bottles not used.

3. Each year the fourth-grade students research and create presentations about different endangered species. This is then shown to the entire school on Endangered Species Day to raise awareness. To help take action, the school then votes on an endangered species to sponsor through National Wildlife Federation.

4. For the fourth and fifth grade STEM fair, the students study topics such as global climate change and energy solutions, and they are tasked to create activities and share them with the younger students and parents at the STEM Fair.

All these projects and more are also shared with the larger community through social media. Mount Alvernia Academy truly demonstrates how to make community level actions to solve problems that are impacting our oceans.

Congratulations again to all our award winners!

We hope everyone can find inspiration from these wonderful teachers and students, and continue to protect our blue planet!


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