Support for Education

SEDI Announces 2019 Teacher Awards to Northern Arizona Teachers

Celebrating Excellence in Education at SEDI's 10th Annual Event

SEDI, the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative, recognizes those teachers who help their students excel. On May 23, 2019, a select group of outstanding teachers received a total of $17,000 in cash awards, the largest cash award for excellence in education in Arizona.

In schools across northern Arizona, teachers are becoming more creative in their determination to help children learn. They are incorporating the principles of education for sustainability to prepare the leaders of tomorrow to deal with the world they will soon take over. SEDI, the Sustainable Economic Development Initiative, recognizes those teachers who help their students excel. This year, a select group of outstanding teachers received a total of $17,000 in cash awards, the largest cash award for excellence in education in Arizona.

Thanks to Our Generous 2019 TASC Sponsors:

$15,000 was sponsored by SEDI and $2,000 by private contributors.

The Teacher Awards for Sustainable Curriculum began as the brain-child of Lynn and Wayne Fox. Lynn retired from teaching middle school in Flagstaff and Wayne retired as Assistant Dean at The W.A. Franke School of Business at Northern Arizona University. As Lynn recalled, “The idea for the awards came while we were out walking and trying to think of ways to recognize teachers for their special efforts in the classroom. I know how difficult it is to provide today’s students with a great education when schools are so terribly underfunded. When we decided to step up and finance the fledgling program, we never dreamed it would become so successful so quickly.”

The awards are open to teachers in Apache, Coconino, Mohave, Navajo and Yavapai Counties and include kindergarten through twelfth grade. The purpose of the awards is to recognize development and implementation of innovative educational approaches that instill in students the importance, value and practicality of local environmental, social and economic aspects of sustainability. As such, they mirror the economic development mission of SEDI in Arizona. These lessons, units or projects must reflect and reinforce the principles of sustainability for the 21st century.

The programs judged to be the best for 2019 were:

  • Lyndsay Ludden, Oak Creek School, Living Green: project description
  • James Jones, Puente de Hozho Elementary School, The Elements of the Navajo Basket: project description
  • Kristine Penca, Sinagua Middle School, Sustainability of Equitable Food for All: project description
  • Eric Miller & Brad Neal, Joseph City High School High School, Agriculture Class Greenhouse Project: project description

The projects were judged for their innovative approaches, the actions taken, real-world applications, and sustainable outcomes. The projects had to demonstrate practical application that empowers action at the local level while aligning with the Arizona Department of Education Standards. Each winning teacher received their award as a thank you for their leadership. While these award winners were outstanding, there were many others that also deserved recognition.

These exceptional educators included:

Honorable Mention Winners

  • James “Chris” Rennaker, Mt. Elden Middle School, Human Impact Challenge
  • Elizabeth Tavasci, West Sedona School, Green Team Club

2019 Giving is Living Fund Special Award

The Sedona-based Giving is Living Fund has collaborated with SEDI to offer two $1,000 awards. The 2018 Giving is Living Fund award winners are:

  • Stephanie Marrero, Cottonwood Community School – Kindergarten, Salsa Garden and More!
  • Leah Sussman & Robert Zinni, Northpoint Expeditionary Learning Academy – 9th Grade, Climate Change: Fact or Fiction?

Runner-Up Winners

  • Yvonne Berry, Coyote Springs Elementary School– 2nd Grade, Preservation for a Better Tomorrow
  • Heather Horner, Kinsey Inquiry & Discovery School – 3rd - 5th Grade, Design and Create a Space
  • Amy Dries, Sinagua Middle School - 7-8th Grades, Reclaimed Wood Bulletin Board
  • Emily Musta & David Krassner, Coconino High School & Flagstaff High School, Community-Based Riparian Habitat Restoration Along the Little Colorado
  • Brian Kriesel (institution not listed)

To learn more about SEDI, the teachers’ awards, and the other economic programs, contact Cory Runge, SEDI Director at for more information.

Note: This is not a grant. It is an award, a recognition with no strings attached.

Lyndsay Ludden, Oak Creek School
Living Green

To begin the project, Lyndsay’s 1st grade students watched videos on pollution around the world and discussed how it made them feel. They learned songs about reducing, reusing, and recycling. Students studied how they can reduce the amount of trash that goes into our landfills, what it means to recycle, and how they can reuse items.

They took a field trip to the Gray Wolf Landfill where they learned about landfill waste. They took another field trip to the Sedona Recycling Center where they learned what they can recycle, how it is recycled, and how important it is to recycle. They walked from the school down to Oak Creek and collected roadside litter, brought it back to school, weighed it, sorted it into items that could be recycled, and then took the recyclable items to recycling bins. With some of the recyclable items, the students formed teams to create an “upcycled robot.” These robots were displayed at Oak Creek School’s STEM Fair.

Finally, the children developed a school-wide initiative where every classroom recycles not only paper, but cardboard and plastic as well. The students created a video to launch the initiative that was shown in every classroom.

James Jones, Puente de Hozho Elementary School
The Elements of the Navajo Basket

James’ 4th and 5th grade students learned about sustainability through the perspective of Navajo traditional basket teachings. Starting at a young age, Navajos are taught to share with people and the environment. The lesson of the Navajo basket made the students aware of what it means to conserve.

In one of the lessons, students looked at the sumac bush and the ways it serves multiple purposes: for food and for materials to make baskets. If people don’t share or take more than they should, then the bush may die or take longer to regenerate. Both would have negative impacts on the environment and society. Not caring for the sumac bush could also lead to conflicts between basket makers and others.

The students’ basket designs have representations of climate, weather, landforms, the sky, and astronomy. Each aspect offers the students lessons about individual responsibility to nature and the preparation of seasonal changes. Students studied earth formation, the atmosphere, climate, weather, and space. They wrote papers in both the English and Navajo languages and completed an art project illustrating their understanding of the meaning and traditions associated with the Navajo basket.

Kristine Penca, Sinagua Middle School
Sustainability of Equitable Food for All

Kristine’s seventh-grade students were immersed in the idea of food production. They began by discussing how a french fry gets from a field to McDonalds. The students then compared different ways of cultivating potatoes by creating comparative potato life cycles focusing on inputs (resources) and outputs (waste) created by both an Incan culture and a sustainable, Michigan system.

The students compared the specific life cycles for the aspects of sustainability: environmental, economic, and social. The students then designed a model of a sustainable farm. They chose to include many important concepts such as energy source, water source, food source, home size, location, storage, fertilizer source (natural), tools used, transportation, and technology use. Students were then asked to address the challenge of providing access to fresh foods on the Navajo Nation.

The solutions to the problem were varied and resulted in building an aquaponics growing system and giving one to Leupp Elementary on the Navajo Nation.

Eric Miller & Brad Neal, Joseph City High School High School
Agriculture Class Greenhouse Project

Eric and Brad’s high school students set up an aquaponics system in their school greenhouse. Fish are raised in large tanks where bacteria in the water convert fish waste into a useable fertilizer, which is then used to water plants (lettuce, tomatoes, etc.). The vegetables use the nutrients to grow, thus cleaning the water, which is then pumped back into the fish tanks. This cycle is repeated constantly providing a highly sustainable source of produce.

The greenhouse is 24 feet by 60 feet and provides an excellent space for this project. Aquaponics uses up to 90% less water than traditional farming, which is highly beneficial in a dry climate such as northern Arizona. The students have installed four 250-gallon tanks that currently house Tilapia, Channel Catfish, Crayfish, and Water Dogs. The tanks feed ten 4’x 4’ media beds and a 4’x 40’ float bed. They also have 144 heads of lettuce growing on floats in their float bed.

So far, the students have harvested two rounds of lettuce, all of which were donated to their cafeteria. They plan to participate in their community farmer’s market selling fresh produce and live fish.