The U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan (USGBC-WM) Leadership Awards promote outstanding green building initiatives by recognizing projects, organizations, and people who have made extraordinary contributions to achieving healthy, energy-efficient green buildings in the state of Michigan. The Green School Champion Award recognizes exemplary projects and individuals that meet these qualifications and are advantageous to the development of their surrounding communities. The USGBC-WM was excited to announce Avril Wiers as the Green Schools Champion Award Winner for her environmental and sustainable studies work at Ottawa Area ISD.
After earning her Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Hope College, Avril moved to Fairbanks, Alaska to pursue her Masters of Science in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University. In 2019, after moving back to the West Michigan area Avril earned her certificate in Workforce Development and Training from Western Michigan University. Today, she works as the Environmental Field Studies CTE Instructor at Ottawa Area Careerline Tech. When asked where she found her passion for environmental education she said:
“I fell in love with environmental education while spending two summers at the University of Michigan Biological Station up north. Doing hands-on research with professors outdoors was an amazing experience, and it made me wonder why we don’t teach all of our science classes like that. I decided to attend Alaska Pacific University to earn my Master’s in Outdoor and Environmental Education so that I could get more students experiencing science outdoors.”
The following content is an interview with Avril Wiers in regards to the Green Schools Champion Award:
What are you most passionate about in environmental education?
I am most passionate about teaching students how they can be more sustainable in their daily lives. I love teaching simple swaps like starting a vermicomposting bin, mending clothing, and reducing the use of single-use plastics. I also love spending time outside with students–taking hikes and appreciating the nature we have, even in our own backyard.
How do you engage your students in environmental education? What kind of projects do you see them get most involved/passionate about?
I engage students in environmental education using an interdisciplinary approach–we read articles, we collect and analyze data, and we keep nature journals. We get most excited about project-based learning modules. They allow us to connect with industry partners and solve real-world problems. It’s amazing to see students practice professional communication and be innovative. I can’t tell you how inspiring it is when an industry partner implements the students’ solutions!
Have you seen students’ knowledge and passion for environmental justice and sustainability change over time?
The students who are interested in environmental topics are more knowledgeable–following the latest news and asking really great questions. But I’m also finding that there are more students who have no background in environmental issues, including the basics like how to recycle and energy conservation. I would love to see more science classes talk about human impacts on the environment and how we can make simple changes to our lives to be more sustainable.
If your students could only take one lesson away from your class what would you like it to be?
I would like my students to leave my class empowered with the knowledge that they can change the world by engaging in grassroots organizing. I teach students that every seemingly small action adds up, that they vote every time they choose where to spend their money, and that working together achieves goals we never dreamed would be possible.
Please describe one project, experience, or lesson that you believe is most notable or was most impactful to you and your students. *If the project/experience/lesson that stands out to you is different from the one you believe stood out/impacted your students the most then please explain both!
The Sustainable Cities Project was an opportunity for students to explore all sorts of human impacts on the environment by creating a community for the future. In the process of creating their city, students had to wrestle with issues of environmental justice and equity. They also got to research innovative solutions to environmental problems. They then came together to build a virtual model of their city to share with our industry partners. I look forward to expanding this project this year, and eventually hope to host a competition for high schoolers across Ottawa County to participate.
What are some of the challenges to environmental education and connecting with your students on sustainability? What are some of the rewards/outcomes you see?
The political divide is a real challenge when it comes to connecting with students on issues of sustainability. It helps to rely on the facts and figures–when we look at most sustainability policies, they make sense no matter what side of the aisle you fall on. It’s rewarding to see students thinking critically about these big issues: doing research, looking at both sides, and ultimately making their own decisions about where they stand.
What does it mean to you to be awarded this year’s Green Schools Champion Award?
Being awarded this year’s Green Schools Champion is such an honor and I’m excited for the work that we do at Careerline Tech Center to be recognized. I’m so proud of the work that my students have done to increase awareness of environmental issues throughout Ottawa County.
What plans do you have for sustainable projects and environmental education in the future? How would you like to see your program and courses grow?
I will continue seeking out problems for my students to solve problems for our community. Additionally, we’ll continue to shift our school buildings’ practices to be more eco-friendly every year. I would also love to connect with other youth working on environmental projects!
The USGBC-WM Leadership Awards promote outstanding green building initiatives by recognizing projects, organizations, and people who have made extraordinary contributions to achieving healthy, energy-efficient green buildings in the state of Michigan.
“Michigan is one of the top 5 states for clean energy commitments, number two in the country in drawing down federal funding for climate and clean energy, and number one in the Midwest for clean energy jobs, clean energy growing twice as fast as the overall economy,” said Cheri Holman, Executive Director of USGBC-WM. “These investments by the federal government, concrete action from the state, and the collaboration inside our community has energized me like never before.”
Avril Wiers was awarded at our 2023 Annual Party & Leadership Awards Ceremony on December 5, 2023. Hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan, the evening event was held in the Ballroom at the LEED-certified CityFlatsHotel located in downtown Grand Rapids. The program included a keynote address by Dr. Brandy Brown, Chief Innovation Officer of Walker-Miller Energy Services, an Awards Ceremony, and the celebration of this year’s achievements.
To learn more about the event and to read our 2023 Annual Report visit our Annual Party & Leadership Awards Ceremony page.