Tim Chase’s love of the environment was instilled in him as a young man involved in many outdoor activities. SUBMITTED

Connecting with nature and teaching “environmental literacy” through hands-on learning is what Bluffton High School science teacher Timothy Chase is all about.

Recently, his passion and innovation have earned him the 2018 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators – one of only four in the nation – from the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Chase will receive a Presidential award plaque and a $2,500 award to be used to further his professional development in environmental education. Bluffton High School will also receive an award of up to $2,500 to fund environmental educational activities and programs.

“I am thrilled to see Tim Chase receive this recognition from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for his work,” said Bluffton High Principal Denise Garison. “Mr. Chase makes science real, relevant, and engaging for his students. We are fortunate to have him as a member of our Bobcat family.”

Chase came to Bluffton High School in 2012 from a certified “green school” in Maryland, but his commitment to conservation and the environment was instilled in him long before that. He enjoyed outdoor activities and travel to national parks when he was a boy, and he worked with the Youth Conservation Corps during summers as a teenager.

“Today’s generation is plugged into phones and video games. There’s a real need to introduce them to nature and environmental science,” Chase said. “So many kids just don’t have the opportunity to explore. I’m a huge public lands advocate to make sure that we’ll always have open places for everyone to experience.”

Chase uses a three-pronged approach to make learning about environmental issues exciting and fun. He allows students to explore environmental issues outside whenever possible; empowers them to explore solutions in their own community; and inspires them to engage in community service related to those issues.

The SOIL (Sustainable Outdoor Inquiry Learning) Project created a sustainable organic food garden. Students built raised garden beds from old wooden pallets, added compost produced from the cafeteria’s garbage, and grew sustainable foods watered from rain barrels created by the students.

Students are also turning “trash into cash” by up-cycling and repurposing items. For example, they collect small, glass yogurt containers and convert them into designer candles using beeswax. The candles are sold and the money is used for environmental projects. They also get a chance to use the creative side of their brains by using recycled products for art projects.

Chase recently worked on a project with ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teachers to develop a meaningful learning experience with an environmental theme. Students identified the disappearance of Monarch butterflies as the problem they wanted to address. “They had a meaningful experience that empowered them. It wasn’t just learning out of a textbook,” Chase said.

Edwina Hoyle is a freelance writer in Bluffton.