BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — Helping students understand the importance of protecting the environment through education and hands-on activities has earned Gateway science teacher Mike Dick the 2017 Eco-Educator Award. The Science Alliance for Valuing the Environment, or SAVE, a Lourdes University educational consortium, named him winner of the award. Dick’s work with butterflies earned him the award, according to Sr. Rosine Sobczak, Lourdes University associate professor of biology and health sciences. Dick initiated the urban prairie program, a plot of land the Toledo Zoo is installing on the school’s grounds that will prominently feature milkweed, a plant necessary for the survival of monarch butterflies as they make their 3,000-mile winter migration from Canada to Mexico. The prairie will also be home to wildflowers, dotted horsemint and New Jersey tea – all hardy plants that are native to this area. Last year, Dick also had students work with Toledo Zoo conservationists to tag and release 30 monarchs. “I feel honored to have been chosen for the Eco-Educator award,” said Dick. “There are many outstanding educators in Northwest Ohio working on conservation and the environment with their students, and I am very proud that my work on our butterfly project is worthy of SAVE’s recognition.” Sr. Rosine co-founded the organization 30 years ago to focus on environmental issues by providing educational opportunities and recognition for those working to protect the environment. In addition to the educator award, the organization recognizes schools and individuals in the community working for the betterment of the environment. “We want to honor people and make those important connections that we believe will provide an incentive for others do something,” she said. Dick credits his fellow teachers with supporting the initiative. “They have worked with our students every step of the way – helping with the literature review, the webquests, the brochure creation and even with the separating of milkweed seeds from the pods,” he said. The team connected various subject areas with expertise, which makes problem-based learning much more meaningful and impactful, he said. In addition, the Lucas County Soil and Water Conservation supplied the milkweed pods and the Maumee Garden Club helped separate them. In addition to the Urban Prairie, there are many other environmental initiatives taking place at Gateway, he said. “Conservation is a theme that goes through all grade levels at the middle school. On a smaller scale, we try to embed conservation into many of our daily lessons, such as recycling paper and being less wasteful of our resources,” said Dick. Students also study biomes, habitat loss and how essential clean water is to the survival of all living things on the planet. “Hopefully, as teachers we can plant a seed in the minds of our students, encouraging them to be responsible stewards of the environment,” said Dick. Sr. Rosine feels deeply committed to environmental issues, and while she is troubled by the problems that she believes younger generations will face if more isn’t done, she is hopeful that through education, solutions can be implemented. “I’m an educator and the most I can do is educate others,” she said. “What got me started with this issue is something I can only explain by saying that I have been moved from within.” The awards will be presented at the Franciscan Theater and Conference Center on May 2. In addition to receiving a certificate, Dick will also be able to select two students to attend summer science camp at Lourdes for free. The camp costs $110, and Dick says he will likely host some sort of contest to determine the winning students.