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Toms River Schools Awarded Sustainable Grant Funding from NJEA

Sustainable Jersey for Schools and the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) announced that Toms River High School South and Intermediate East have been awarded $10,000 and $2,000 Sustainable Jersey for Schools grants, respectively. Eleven $10,000 grants and thirty-five $2,000 grants were distributed across the state to fund a variety of projects including vertical aeroponic tower gardens, agricultural and sustainability curriculum, student green team capacity building, an outdoor classroom, a healthy habits program, enhanced recycling efforts and more.

With this contribution NJEA has provided $750,000 to support a sustainable future for children across the state through the Sustainable Jersey for Schools program. “This is an important program that directs resources into our schools and NJEA is proud to continue to work with Sustainable Jersey,” said NJEA Vice President Sean Spiller. “It is our job to help create a new generation of engaged citizens and leaders. We help ensure that we leave a better world for our students when we emphasize the value of sustainability.” In addition to the grant funding, NJEA supports Sustainable Jersey for Schools as a program underwriter.

“Congratulations to the grant recipients. Sustainable Jersey for Schools aims to empower schools with the funding needed to implement important sustainability actions,” said Randall Solomon, executive director for Sustainable Jersey. “We look forward to the completion of these projects and the ongoing efforts of these schools and school districts. The NJEA-funded grants allow communities to come together to improve outcomes for students, staff and the environment.”

The High School South project proposal was led by science teacher Christine Girtain. HSS will partner with the Bordenstein Lab at Vanderbilt University to provide a cadre of rising 11th and 12th grade Authentic Science Research (ASR) students the opportunity to participate in the Wolbachia Summer Research Project, a local and international initiative to contribute to the national Wolbachia database and to teach high school students about managing mosquito populations using techniques that use molecular/microbiology. The Lab will provide online technical assistance and research materials to the school. This research could provide a sustainable means of managing mosquito population through biological pest control that could eventually contribute to a decline in New Jersey mosquito populations and the spread of Dengue and Zika viruses.

“The Toms River Regional School Authentic Science Research (ASR) program encourages the spirit of discovery through hands-on learning using the scientific method, and the Sustainable Jersey for Schools and NJEA grant will provide teacher training, equipment purchasing and allow the underclassmen in ASR to collect and analyze data from the Wolbachia Summer Research Project,” said Toms River High School South Principal James Ricotta Jr. “The Wolbachia Summer Research Project will help students begin to establish the local frequency of the parasitic bacteria Wolbachia in our insect population, and increase career readiness in a lab setting.”

The project at Intermediate East will be led by teacher Kelly Natke, who will utilize grant funding to update the school’s greenhouse with a heater, more planter boxes and irrigation supplies to ensure that more students can participate in educational opportunities year-round. The fruits and vegetables harvested will be used in the school’s cafeteria and cooking classes.

“We here at Intermediate East are very excited that the Sustainable Jersey for Schools grant will provide us with everything we need to get our school garden started in the greenhouse of the outdoor learning center early this spring,” said Intermediate East Principal Bryan Madigan. “This grant will give us the opportunity to involve a wide variety of classes addressing different subject matter to be involved in the process of setting up, planting, monitoring, and harvesting the food crop that will then be used in our schools cafeteria, cooking classes as well as donated to the local food pantry. We look forward to utilizing the greenhouse and garden both during class time to enhance curriculum, as well as for an after school gardening club that will include members of our community.”

Proposals were judged by an independent Blue-Ribbon Selection Committee. The Sustainable Jersey for Schools grants are intended to help school districts and schools make progress toward a sustainable future in general, and specifically toward Sustainable Jersey for Schools certification.

“To have two of our schools earn Sustainable Jersey for Schools grants during this cycle is a testament to our district’s commitment to student-centered education and a sustainable future,” said Toms River Regional Schools Superintendent David Healy. “The greenhouse and garden project at Intermediate East and the Wolbachia Summer Research Project at High School South represent two diverse, innovative, and engaging initiatives that will have a lasting impact on our students. We are grateful to Sustainable Jersey, NJEA, and the regional partners that make outstanding opportunities like this possible.”

Toms River Regional Schools currently has five of its schools registered with Sustainable Jersey. In combination with its participation in Toms River Township’s Green Team, the district has earned $36k in Sustainable Jersey grants in the past year alone. The district’s Green Team, comprised of school staff, admin, facilities and food services personnel, meets monthly, collaborating to apply for available grants and attain Sustainable Jersey certification for schools.

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