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At the March 2018 HRPDC meeting, recognized two local schools and educators for their commitment to environmental stewardship and leadership. Michelle Effatt, former science teacher at Cradock Middle School in Portsmouth, and Gabrielle Toni, art teacher at Western Branch Middle School in Chesapeake, each received the Environmental Action Award. is the region-wide public awareness and education campaign administered through the HRPDC as the go-to resource for all things green in Hampton Roads – from recycling tips and pointers for keeping local waterways clean to water-saving ideas and simple steps to make local living easy on the environment.

The Environmental Action Award was developed to recognize individuals who inspire youth (K-12) to have a positive impact on the environment by taking action in their schools or communities. The winning projects had previously received funding through the mini-grant program and were selected as outstanding by a panel of local representatives from the HRPDC’s 17 member jurisdictions and HRSD. The Cradock Middle School and Western Branch Middle School projects were among 13 projects under consideration for the award, all of which were funded by in 2017.

Cradock Middle School was recognized for Effatt’s leadership of a community clean-up project.

Teacher Michelle Effatt (left) with HRPDC represenatives from the City of Portsmouth. From left to
right, Effatt, Portsmouth Mayor, John Rowe, three former Cradock Middle School students, and
Vincent Jones, Deputy City Manager of Portsmouth

 “Not only did this project provide some homes with a little needed TLC, it encouraged students to become stakeholders in their environment,” said Katie Cullipher, team leader. “They partnered with the local Civic League and began to lift up the people around them with every piece of litter they removed.”

At Western Branch Middle School, Toni brought her art students together with a handful of technology students for an upcycling project to bring new life to some tired, old park benches.

Art Teacher Gabrielle Toni with HRPDC represenatives from the City of Chesapeake (left-right)
Chesapeake Deputy City Manager Robert Geis, Chesapeake City Manager James Baker,
Gabrielle Toni,HRPDC Chair & Chesapeake City Council Member Ella Ward, and
Chesapeake City Council Member Roland Davis

“This project was a unique fusion of art and technology,” said Cullipher. “After they refurbished the benches, the art students created unique designs to bring each one to life in a whole new way. It was a beautiful reminder that with a little vision and some elbow grease, we can reduce our impact on the environment.”

In addition to the award, each school received a check for $100.00 to be spent to further their project or to launch a new environmental initiative. offers environmental education mini-grants of up to $500 to provide funding for environmentally-themed projects for students. All Hampton Roads teachers (K-12), youth leaders or organizations working with youth are eligible to apply. For details visit

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September 8, 2020 - Katie Cullipher, Principal Environmental Eduction Planner