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Bronx Science Teacher Who Constructed a Green Roof and Tarrytown Teen Who Used Wasted Apples as a Fuel Source Win Presidential Recognition

Release Date: 08/12/2014
Contact Information: Elias Rodriguez, (212) 637-3664,

      (New York, N.Y.) Nathaniel Wight, a science teacher at Bronx Design & Construction Academy in the South Bronx, New York, and Luke Colley, a high school senior from Tarrytown, New York both won top presidential honors for their dedication to environmental protection. Nathaniel and Luke were honored at a White House ceremony as winners of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Education and the President’s Environmental Youth Awards, respectively.

      “Exceptional educators like Mr. Wight are educating the next generation on key environmental issues,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “Thanks to his efforts, our young people will be better caretakers of the environment – which benefits us all.”

      “Mr. Colley’s innovative problem solving is an inspiration to all of us,” said Ms. Enck. “Protecting our environment and creating sustainable solutions is a job worth doing for every generation.”

      Mr. Wight was honored with a Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators for his work to build a green roof vegetable garden—the first of its kind in a New York City public school— with the help of a grant from the City Gardens Club of New York and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Students who study construction at the academy built all the devices and structures used on the green roof, including its solar panel canopy. Students in the science club set up sensors to collect data such as air temperature, relative humidity and solar insolation. They then analyzed the data to learn about the roof’s environmental effects as well as its impact on the garden’s vegetation. Located in a community that does not have easy access to healthy food options, the students’ green roof project has also transformed their understanding of food and their community’s access to it.

      Luke Colley, a senior at Sleepy Hollow High School, was awarded the President’s Environmental Youth Award for his project, Using Apples as a Locally Sustainable Fuel Source in New York State, which examined the economic and scientific feasibility of apple-based ethanol production. One of the inspirations for his project was Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol fuel, which was designated by the US EPA as an advanced biofuel in 2010. By surveying New York apple orchards, Mr. Colley determined that apples, one of the most abundant crops in the state, are an economically viable raw material for developing ethanol. He collected waste apples from a local apple orchard, and then fermented and distilled them into ethanol, subsequently finding that apples can be a scientifically feasible source of ethanol as an alternative to traditional petroleum. Mr. Colley not only found that production costs for apple-based ethanol could be lower than the current cost of petroleum, but that such a solution would be more environmentally sustainable relying on local apple crops.

      The Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators is awarded to teachers who use innovative approaches in environmental education and use the environment as a context for learning. Up to two teachers from each of EPA's 10 regions, from different states, are selected each year. This year’s honorable mentions included Maggie Favretti of Scarsdale High School in Scarsdale, New York, and Ellyce Cavanaugh of Springhurst Elementary School in Dobbs Ferry, New York.

      The PEYA program promotes awareness of our nation's natural resources and encourages positive community involvement. Since 1971, the President of the United States has joined with EPA to recognize young people across the U.S. for protecting our nation's air, water, land, and ecology. It is one of the most important ways EPA and the Administration demonstrate commitment to environmental stewardship efforts created and conducted by students.

      For more information about these award programs, please visit:

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