Summit High School teacher wins EPA award for environmental education
August 25, 2014
Few people know Christopher Jami Lambrecht by his real name.
The Summit High School science teacher made a good impression on a group students while substitute teaching a few years ago, and since then, students and parents have been calling him "Happy."
"I've never introduced myself as that," he said. "It just keeps popping up. Kids and parents pass it on."
Lambrecht's positive effects on his students were recognized last week when he was honored in Washington, D.C., by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA selected him as one of 17 national winners of its annual Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators for his intellectually stimulating curriculum that includes community perspectives and partnerships, real-world investigations, and data collection.
Originally from Connecticut, Lambrecht moved to Colorado in 1993 to attend the University of Colorado in Boulder. He later worked with nonprofits in California, in wildland firefighting in Ohio and as a fisheries biologist in Connecticut.
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In 2000, while working the graveyard shift as a snowmaker at Breckenridge Ski Resort, he started substitute teaching in the Summit School District and loved it.
Now Lambrecht has three degrees, two bachelor's degrees in environmental science and biology and a master's in secondary science instruction.
This year will be his 10th teaching full time at the high school, and his students are diving into his biology, advanced biology, anatomy and physiology, stream ecology and fire ecology courses.
The last two classes are especially popular.
Every week, he takes students in the stream ecology course to a nearby river to collect bugs and other samples. He teaches them that stone flies are an indicator of healthy stream ecology with the right temperature, nutrients, oxygenation and minimal pollution.
"It seems like with all the paperwork and standardized testing," he said, "kids need hands-on skills."
The class focuses on geological, hydrological, physical and chemical stream characteristics as well as drainage basin characterization, stream movement, and aquatic community drift and migration, and Lambrecht teaches students about how human activities, like overfishing and pollution, alter ecosystems.
Lambrecht has partnered with Sarah Barclay, president of the Gore Range chapter of Trout Unlimited, to offer students classroom visits and field work with local professionals from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Division of Natural Resources.
His students wear waders and boots thanks to a $3,000 donation from Parks and Wildlife. Fisheries biologist Jon Ewert was able to direct some money to the class from a fine the agency received after someone messed up a section of a river.
Lambrecht, who works two nights a week at Mountain Angler in Breckenridge, uses his knowledge of fly-fishing and access to the industry in class.
His class received 22 fly rods this year from Doug Dragoo, with the Colorado-based outdoor company Mayfly Group, which Lambrecht said he'll use to foster more of an appreciation for the environment and responsible use of natural resources from the recreation side.
Dragoo met Lambrecht on a fly-fishing trip and his son, David, said the donation was a no brainer.
"Learning about conservation and the outdoors is a big deal in Colorado," he said.
The EPA award also recognized Lambrecht's fire ecology course, which focuses on how fire interacts with the rest of the local ecosystem and the effects different fires would have on Summit's forests and communities.
The class covers the science of fire, the history of the Forest Service, and fire mitigation and community planning. Lambrecht and his students use the county's Community Wildfire Protection Plan and work with local fire districts, engineering firms and the Summit County Information Systems.
They develop maps using real community data and build fire behavior models under certain topographic and weather conditions.
Students in Lambrecht's biology class also learn what professionals do when they survey the forest by counting and identifying trees and noting their current characteristics.
Lambrecht said he tries to spend as much time outside as possible.
"I feel like it's the only way to do science now," he said. "We need to develop real skills for our kids."
Those kids then ask Lambrecht for letters of recommendation, to the tune of 40 to 50 a year, and some come back later to thank him for helping them achieve education and career goals.
Lambrecht was quick to acknowledge the work of his colleagues at Summit High and the support of local agencies and nonprofits.
"This school is full of teachers just like me," Lambrecht said. "I'm in the right place at the right time surrounded by the right people is really what it comes down to."