March 15, 2017

Adventist Teacher Named “Environmental Educator of the Year”

Samantha Young

A Seventh-day Adventist science teacher and educational administrator was recently named “Environmental Educator of the Year” by an organization supporting restoration and environmental education efforts in the State of Maryland, United States.

Ophelia Barizo, a science teacher and current Vice-president for Advancement and STEM at Highland View Academy (HVA), a Seventh-day Adventist secondary school based in Hagerstown, Maryland, United States, received the honor awarded by the Chesapeake Bay Trust, a non-profit organization that has funded environmental education at HVA since 1999.

“Being nominated was a total surprise,” said Barizo in a statement posted by several church regional news outlets some weeks ago. Barizo is also the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Education Coordinator for the Chesapeake Conference, the church region that operates HVA.

Ophelia Barizo (fourth from the left) celebrates with colleagues after being named "Environmental Educator of the Year" by an important conservation organization. [Photo by Daniel Barizo]

The award includes $2,500 for environmental projects at HVA, which adds to a long list of environmental projects undertaken on the campus of that coeducational Christian school. “The students and I have been involved in several conservation projects along the years,” said Barizo in an interview with Adventist Review. “The Chesapeake Bay Trust has provided funds for increasing the number of native trees and plants on campus, among other restoration and conservation projects, as well as outdoor fieldtrips on the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed.”

The “Environmental Educator of the Year” Award adds to Barizo’s long list of professional accomplishments. In her over two decades at HVA, she’s been responsible for bringing in over $800,000 in grant funds from public and private donors. Important companies have funded various projects aimed at protecting the flora of the Chesapeake Watershed, an area including part of six eastern US states and Washington D.C., and other innovative classroom projects. The Toyota USA Foundation, for example, funded a student project led by Barizo for creating a database of wild mushrooms and macro-fungi in the forests of Washington County, Maryland. The “Toyota Tapestry” project was featured in the 2011 Pearson Environmental Science textbook, Your World, Your Turn.

“I try to make connections as opportunities arise, and there are many.”

Barizo has also been an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the Engineering Directorate of the National Science Foundation (NSF) in Washington D.C. The program offers selected STEM teachers an opportunity to serve in the national education public policy arenas, and included working in close connection with distinguished science teachers and professionals across the United States and around the world.

“[Barizo] is a tremendous asset to HVA and to all our schools in the Chesapeake Conference,” said Mark Walker, interim conference superintendent of schools. “We appreciate her many contributions, especially in the area of promoting STEM.”

Former HVA Registrar and Vice Principal Kim Brown, a colleague of Barizo for 12 years, concurs. “Ophelia has always had a sincere love for Adventist education, and has continued to provide her students with amazing opportunities to integrate hands-on STEM learning experiences into their daily curriculum.”

The whole corpus of Barizo’s research projects and awards, however, do not obscure the fact that she is, first and foremost, a teacher and a Christian. Along the years, she has taken her students to many field trips by canoe, scientific work boats, and sail boats for water testing and wild life identification. Throughout these and similar learning experiences, she acknowledges, she has found many opportunities for the integration of faith and learning.

“I try to make connections as opportunities arise, and there are many,” said Barizo, who explained that studying the environment helps her teach students about stewardship and conservation. “I try to impress on my students that academics are important, but nothing is more important than a relationship with God,” she said. “I hope that as I teach my students, I will encourage them to strengthen that relationship with the Master Teacher, the Creator of the Universe.”

Samantha Young contributed to this story.