Students Receive President’s Environmental Youth Award for Shark Conservation Project

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recognized the 2019-20 fifth grade class at Mount Madonna School (MMS) with the President’s Environmental Youth Award for working to resolve threats faced by great white sharks. These annual awards are presented to exceptional students and teachers who demonstrate creativity, innovation, and leadership in addressing difficult environmental challenges.

“It is humbling and inspiring to see the impact these educators and students are having on their communities and our planet,” commented White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory.

The EPA honored the students, now seventh graders, in August, for their yearlong education campaign, “SOS: Save Our Sharks – A Fintastic Tale.” This is the fourth time MMS fifth grade students have received this national honor.

“With as many as 71% of all sharks and rays fished out in the last 50 years, sharks are in deep trouble,” commented David McGuire, executive director of Shark Stewards. “We applaud the youth of Mount Madonna School for their efforts to educate and stop overfishing of sharks. It is an incredible honor for Shark Stewards to be associated with this class. Their S.O.S: Save Our Sharks movie and this award will help the kids and other nonprofit associations, such as Plastic Pollution Coalition and Shark Allies, to spread the word and save our sharks!”

Rising seventh grade students received the President’s Environmental Youth Award for their shark conservation project.

Students collaborated with several conservation groups to build support for a Florida law banning the sale and trade of shark fins; create educational materials to share with other students; and to encourage local restaurants to reduce single-use plastic by offering compostable alternatives.

They worked with researchers from the NOAA Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to conduct water testing, a litter survey and beach cleanup in Santa Cruz, and discovered microplastic fiber in every drop of ocean water they sampled! This was an eye-opening experience, as students saw firsthand how prevalent plastic is in the marine ecosystem.

“One thing I have come to realize is that we use way too much plastic at home, in our communities and everywhere,” reflected a student. “I was shocked to find plastic fibers in the water samples, but at the same time I know we can work together and find an alternative to the current plastic material.”

This is the fourth time Mount Madonna School fifth grade students have received this national recognition. In 2019, students received a PEYA for their 2017-18 work to protect humpback whales; In 2017, students were awarded a PEYA for their 2015-16 work protect Western Snowy Plovers; and in 2015, students learned they were awarded the PEYA for their 2013-14 work to protect endangered sea turtles.

Students were honored by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on August 12.

“I cannot tell you how special it is to me that these students’ hard work is being honored at a national level,” commented teacher Jessica Cambell. “They are passionate about great white sharks and making a difference. My students continually inspire me as they find their voice to create positive change within the world.”

“Our project will stay with us for the rest of our lives,” commented a student. “We do understand now that sharks are in danger and that plastic pollution is a big problem for them, the oceans, our environment, and threatens not just wildlife, but ourselves too. We all need to take action, and do it now.”

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NOTE on photos below: In December 2019 [prior to the pandemic], Mount Madonna School students worked with researchers from the NOAA Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to conduct water testing, a litter survey and beach cleanup in Santa Cruz as part of their white shark conservation project.

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Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing and communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believe a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.