Introducing the Winners of the 2019 Environmental Stewardship Awards

 In Community Event, Earth Day, Environmental Education, Environmental Stewardship Awards, Explore Ecology, Family Activities in Santa Barbara, Family Friendly

We are excited to announce the winners of the 2019 Explore Ecology Environmental Stewardship Awards. We received a lot of inspiring nominations this year and are excited about the many teachers, students, clubs, and school support staff who are doing important environmental work in Santa Barbara County.  The 2019 winners promote environmental stewardship through education and action and have made a huge difference in their schools, classrooms, and community.

The winners of the 2019 Explore Ecology Environmental Stewardship Awards are:

Sawyer Smythe: Student K to 6th Grade

Brynn Rotbart: Student 7th to 12th Grade

Kellogg School Ocean Guardians Ambassadors: Class or Club Award

Ellen Hunter: Teacher K to 6th Grade

Victoria Ortiz: Teacher 7 to 12th Grade

Steve Vizzolini: School Support Staff

(Sawyer Smythe)

Sawyer Smythe is a new student to Santa Barbara Middle School (SBMS). With the help of an Outdoor Education leader at his school, Sawyer crafts 10 minute environmental tips to present at his school’s weekly Town Meeting, which is an all-school assembly. Each week, Sawyer and his adviser meet to determine a topic. Then Sawyer does research, helps put together a PowerPoint, and plans the questions he will ask of the 160 classmates that attend the assembly. Sawyer has introduced such topics as sunscreen and its effects on ocean ecosystems, homemade gifts – upcycling for the holidays, and basic reminders on water conservation. Sawyer is also a member of the school’s Community Action Club that raised money to send twelve 8th and 9th graders to New York for the Youth Bike Summit. These students will bring back best practices in sustainability and community activism using the bike as a tool. Sawyer is also is a Bike Monkey at SBMS — a young leader trained in bike mechanics and student emotional support.


(Brynn Rotbart)

Brynn Rotbart is passionate about environmental protection and animal justice. Brynn was active in the Proposition 12 Prevent Animal Cruelty campaign and has volunteered with animal and nature focused non-profit organizations, including walking dogs and socializing cats at the Santa Ynez Valley Humane Society, assisting at spay-neuter clinics with Care4Paws, interning at the Santa Barbara Wildlife Network, and volunteering at a primate reserve in Costa Rica which rehabilitates and cares for primates injured after contact with electric lines. Brynn is also part of the Santa Ynez Valley High School Student (SYVH) Senate where she worked to enhance student awareness on proper recycling methods and increased the number of recycling bins available on campus. President of the SYVHS Outdoor Recreation Club for 2 years, Brynn encourages her friends to get outside and enjoy the beauty of nature by organizing hikes, coordinating beach and surfing outings, and climbing to the top of an isolated hill where there is minimal light pollution to appreciate the beauty of the night sky.


(Ellen Hunter)

Ellen Hunter is a Kindergarten teacher at Monroe Elementary. Ellen is a passionate environmental steward who works every day to instill these values in her students. Ellen believes that environmental education begins with an appreciation for all living things- animals, insects, plants, water systems, and an understanding of their interconnectedness. She does this by taking her students on hikes and utilizing the many environmental field trips and programs within the community. This year, Ellen has begun teaching her kindergartners how to lessen their carbon footprint by reducing food waste, water and energy conservation, buying less at the store and buying in bulk, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, riding a bike or walking instead of a car, and bringing reusable bags to the market. Ellen is dedicated to making her school and the entire district more sustainable. She attended Board of Education meetings to recommend that the district pass a climate resolution, which they did- joining dozens of other districts across the country and earning the praise of the community. Ellen attended the Climate Reality training under Al Gore in August 2018 and is very motivated to create awareness around climate change. Ellen is working to bring more sustainable practices to all of Monroe Elementary and is working with the City of Santa Barbara to implement a “Green Team” at her school consisting of staff, students, and parents who are motivated to help reduce waste at school. Ellen is also on the District Sustainability Committee.


(Kellogg School Ocean Guardian Ambassadors)

The Kellogg School Ocean Guardian Ambassadors (OGA’s) work on projects that reduce plastic and other waste at Kellogg School. The OGA’s have cleaned trash from their school campus and local beaches and educated about the harmful effects of plastic, Styrofoam, and other trash on our ocean ecosystems. The club conducted a school lunch Waste Audit and started Kellogg’s first Zero Waste Lunch Day. Their new initiative is Zero Waste Wednesdays- where students strive to have waste-free lunches. The Ocean Guardian Ambassadors have coordinated campus litter clean-ups and educated their school about watersheds and how trash from land can end up in our creeks and oceans. They will visit local restaurants this spring to promote Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program. After several OGA club members spoke at a PTA meeting in November, the PTA committed to stop using plastic water bottles at PTA events, and is now looking into ways to fund reusable “party kits” for all Kellogg classrooms.

(Steve Vizzolini)

The winner in our new category of School Support Staff is Steve Vizzolini, the Director of Facilities and Modernization for the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD). Steve’s dedication and work is impacting the lives of students throughout the district on issues of the environment and energy sustainability. Steve led the way on a 5-year project that was completed in 2018 and included a comprehensive energy benchmarking analysis of all Santa Barbara Unified School District campuses and recommendations to implement and replace lighting and equipment with energy efficient LED technology. This contributed to savings of 2 million kWh, $190,000, and 1,000 tons of Co2 -equivalent to the carbon sequestered by 532 acres of United States forest in one year. Under Steve’s leadership, modernization efforts include coordinating with the SBUSD Board of Education to commit to adding solar to all new facility construction projects and installing its first public electric vehicle charging station in the downtown Santa Barbara district office.


(Victoria Ortiz)

Victoria Ortiz of Santa Barbara Middle School (SBMS) shares her passion for environmental stewardship and protecting natural resources with students. Victoria is a trip leader for her school’s outdoor expeditions, where she educates about ecosystems, resources, and the environment. She inspires students to be vocal in protecting public lands and the species who live there. Victoria developed a weekly tradition at SBMS, termed the “Sustainability Tip of the Week.” Topics have included micro plastics in the ocean, light pollution, and the importance of turning off lights to conserve energy and support species that rely on night skies. This weekly tradition has empowered students to take initiative on issues that impact the environment.

This year, the Explore Ecology Awards were created by students at Franklin Elementary and their teacher Brendan Carroll. Using a laser cutter and their artistic talent, the students turned found beach rocks into one of a kind, upcycled awards.

The public is invited to meet the Environmental Stewardship Award winners at a ceremony at the Santa Barbara Earth Day Festival on April 27th at 1:00 pm at on the stage in the Kids Corner. Winners will be honored and give acceptance speeches on the Kids Stage and at 2:30 will join CEC’s Environmental Heroes on the Main Stage for further recognition. Please join us to cheer on these dedicated eco-stewards!

Special thanks to Edison for their generous support for the awards.

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