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Students at schools in Yale, St. Joseph win Environmental Service Awards

Schools in Yale and St. Joseph, Michigan were honored this week with Environmental Service Awards (ESA). The annual ESA competition in sponsored by the Michigan State University's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Yale High School students with teacher in front of fish wastewater-aquaponics project that won the Environmental Service Award in 2024.

Yale High School students and teacher in front of Environmental Service Award project. 


Every year, schools and teachers are invited to nominate a student or group of students, to be recognized for completion of a school sanctioned, environment-based project that had tangible results. The project must benefit plants, wildlife, or ecosystems native to Michigan. Schools confirm the validity of each project and outcome.

Students at Yale High School rolled up their sleeves to tackle a big project: find ways to recycle wastewater and produce great food. They accomplished their goal by using the wastewater generated from running a “Salmon in the Classroom” program, sponsored by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. They used the wastewater from the salmon tanks in an aquaponics project that grows lettuce that, in turn, is used in the school’s cafeteria. The result? Over 100 pounds of lettuce was aqua farmed.

During the process, the students learned about the nitrogen cycle in the fish tanks to understand how fertilizer for the plants is produced. And they used their knowledge from hydroponics for starting seeds.

As a result of the project, the students learned how to be great stewards of the environment, and the school benefitted from reduced lunch costs.

Students in Upton Middle School’s Environmental Club in St. Joseph were recognized with the ESA award for starting a composting program at the school, planting a native garden with a monarch butterfly waystation, and promoting recycling and sustainability throughout the school.

Upton Middle School students prepare materials for composting in St. Joseph, Mich.

Upton Middle School students prepare materials for composting. 


The club’s sponsoring teacher secured grants to fund the composting supplies and tools needed for the project. Most of the seeds were purchased with those funds but students and their instructor also collected native plant seeds.

Students at the school were eager to compost in the cafeteria. They quickly, however, ran out of room outside because of the high volume of compostable collected. Students researched solutions and discovered a company (Turtle Ridge Composting) that would pick up the compostable lunch waste weekly. The company, in turn, would deliver the resulting soil back to the school for use in raised beds.