American Samoa teacher honored with President’s environmental education award
HONOLULU — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency this week announced that Sabrina Suluai-Mahuka, a teacher at Samoana High School in Utulei, American Samoa, is one of ten winners nationwide to receive the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators (PIAEE). The PIAEE recognizes innovative educators who bring environmental education into their classrooms through hands-on, experiential approaches.
“As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, we are also celebrating nearly 50 years of environmental education that fosters awareness about conservation issues, and helps communities make informed, responsible decisions about their environment,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “We are also honoring dedicated educators who spark enthusiasm in our youth to develop a love and respect for the environment and find solutions for issues that impact our air, water and land.”
“Sabrina’s creative approach to her students’ learning has set an exemplary model throughout the community as her students experience learning through the environment,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator John Busterud. “She has effectively used the environment to catapult her students’ understanding of basic subjects.”
Sabrina works to provide an avenue for her students to build their reading, writing, listening and speaking skills by employing assignments focused on environmental conservation and preservation. This teaching approach has helped her students understand the importance of caring for our environment, preserving our natural resources, and making more informed decisions for sustainable living.
“I am extremely honored to be selected nationally as a representative of the territory of American Samoa. As Pacific islanders, we are extremely vulnerable to pollution and changes in our climate,” said PIAEE award winner Sabrina Suluai-Mahuka. “Overall, I am grateful that my efforts are nationally recognized, and I hope to see more educators employ innovative strategies to teach our future generations about taking care of our environment.”
Sabrina has exposed students to activities beyond the classroom through leading class trips to scholarship presentations, marine wildlife summits, and career fairs. Her efforts have also helped students understand fully grasp the importance of green living choices, like using reusable items instead of single-use plastics. Sabrina’s work in this area has included facilitating opportunities for her students to educate middle school classes about these issues.
Building on her work in the schools, Sabrina also founded a youth community service program, Finafinau (Samoan for “resilience and steadfastness”), to promote awareness of the importance of ocean health and encourage island communities to reduce waste and litter. By sharing her work at teachers’ conferences, Sabrina hopes to inspire similar programs across the Pacific.
A 2019 photo of members of Finafinau after acceptance into two highly competitive environmental programs that provide a platform for young people to inspire a change within their community. Suluai-Mahuka founded the program to promote awareness of the importance of ocean health and encourage island communities to reduce waste and litter. [SN file photo]
Sabrina is the first teacher from American Samoa to win this award. From across the country, ten educators and 35 students were recognized for their remarkable efforts that promote environmental education and stewardship.
Sabrina is one of seven educators to receive the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators: three were recognized with an honorable mention distinction. Additionally, 35 student award recipients – who worked as a team or individually on 13 projects – received the President’s Environmental Youth Award. Altogether, EPA received 76 project applications from 26 states.