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Howard County school system environmental educator wins national award from EPA

Ann Strozyk, back row, third from right, poses with Oakland Mills High School students during a field trip in 2016. Strozyk, a Howard County school system environmental educator at the Howard County Conservancy, was recently recognized as a Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators winner from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Ann Strozyk, back row, third from right, poses with Oakland Mills High School students during a field trip in 2016. Strozyk, a Howard County school system environmental educator at the Howard County Conservancy, was recently recognized as a Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators winner from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.(Photo courtesy of Ann Strozyk)

Ann Strozyk is a unique educator in the Howard County Public School System.

The environmental educator isn’t in a classroom every day, but she says the work she does with students is both required for graduation and vital for their future as adults.

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Strozyk, 49, works for the school system from the Howard County Conservancy, guiding middle and high school students on environmental projects and field trips. In total, she works with more than 8,000 students annually.

“It’s really important in this day and age when students hear about all of these environmental issues that they can go back and make their own decisions based on the data,” the Ellicott City said. “Being scientifically and environmentally literate will help them be more informed citizens and voters.”

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In late April, Strozyk was recognized with a national award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. She received the Region 3 Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators from the EPA in partnership with the White House Council on Environmental Quality. The annual awards went out to 10 educators in the United States for their leadership and dedication to environmental education and stewardship.

“I was absolutely shocked, of course,” she said. “There are so many amazing environmental educators in our region, so I was blown away to have won. It’s an honor. It means a lot to me because I feel like I’m this connection between a wonderful nonprofit — the Howard County Conservancy — and the school system.”

Strozyk has been a Howard County school system educator for the past 20 years. After teaching Earth science, biology and chemistry at Wilde Lake, Long Reach and Hammond high schools for 10 years, Strozyk moved to the conservancy as the school system’s environmental educator.

Ann Strozyk, left, and her daughter Mackenzie, a Mt. Hebron High School student, during a field trip at Patapsco Valley State Park.
Ann Strozyk, left, and her daughter Mackenzie, a Mt. Hebron High School student, during a field trip at Patapsco Valley State Park.(Photo courtesy of Howard County Public School System)

“We were thrilled, but of course we’ve known for years what a phenomenal educator she is,” said Meg Schumacher Boyd, executive director of the Howard County Conservancy. “She is contagious with her enthusiasm and her positivity. She has an ability to connect with people regardless of their age or background, which is such a special thing as an educator.”

Strozyk was acknowledged for her work with the Watershed Report Card program, which is incorporated in every Howard County ninth-grade Earth science and biology class.

The project starts with field experiences for students to collect data on water quality and ends with the annual Howard County Watershed Summit, at which the students present environmental recommendations to county officials. As a result of the data and recommendations from the students in the program, nearly 100 storm drains were developed and native plant gardens and trees have been planted at all 12 county high schools. Strozyk started the Watershed Report Card program in 2014.

“I love that program,” she said. “We are constantly evolving and changing it to meet the needs of the students and the science. It’s so much fun.”

She also works with middle school students through the BioBlitz biodiversity program, Chesapeake Bay field experience and a Weather to the Extreme conference.

The award from the EPA isn’t Strozyk’s first honor. Previous recognition includes 2013 STEM Educator of the Year from the Maryland Tech Council, the 2015 Howard County school system Crystal Flame Award and the 2016 Above and Beyond Award from the Maryland Water Monitoring Council.

“I get to see the wheels in motion when she’s developing her programs, and I also get to see her interact with students and the connections she makes,” Boyd said. “It’s not just the science to her but it’s also the stewardship piece. She is doing environmental education, but she’s inspiring these kids to be future stewards. That’s the beautiful thing to see when you’re watching her in action.”

Strozyk said her award is a representation of the “outstanding” work of the whole conservancy and the school system. Mostly, though, she credits the students in Howard County for their hard work.

“I feel blessed to have this position. I truly do,” she said.

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“It’s awesome to be able to engage with middle and high school teachers and the students. The students are the best part of my job.”

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