Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Ritter receives National Science Teachers Association award

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the largest professional organization in the world promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning, announced the winners of the 2011 NSTA Teacher Awards Program, which honors K-12 teachers, principals, professors and other science education professionals for their outstanding work and achievement in science education. The awards were presented at a special banquet and ceremony on March 11 at NSTA’s 59th National Conference on Science Education in San Francisco.

Recipient of the SeaWorld/Busch Gardens and National Science Teachers Association Outstanding Environmental Educator of the Year Award was former Mendota resident Paul Ritter, currently a science teacher at Pontiac Township High School in Pontiac. A 1988 graduate of Mendota High School, Ritter is also director of the National Prescription Pill and Drug Disposal Program (P2D2), which he started three years ago, and is president-elect of the Illinois Science Teachers Association.

During the presentation, Ritter was described as a teacher who always puts his students first and for whom “teaching is his life, not just a job. His passion for education and the environment goes well beyond the classroom, touching every aspect of his life, as well as his students.”

Following high school, Ritter earned a B.S. in zoology and later an M.S. in secondary science education from Eastern Illinois University. After undergraduate college, he worked briefly as a wildlife interpreter for the Illinois Department of Conservation. But he felt a strong desire to make a difference in people’s lives and decided to enter the field of education. Eleanor Ritter, Paul’s grandmother, who taught for over 50 years as a regular and a substitute educator, was one of his major sources of inspiration.

With the help of many friends and family, Ritter returned to school to obtain additional course work that would allow him to follow his dream. In the fall of 1994, he was hired as a biology and earth science teacher at East Lake High School in Clearwater, Fla. Although Florida was a wonderful steppingstone for Ritter and his wife, Jodee, they decided to move back to Illinois.

After a long search, he was hired at Effingham High School, however, the move back to Illinois required Ritter to go back to school again to meet the science requirements of the Illinois State Board of Education. After two years at Effingham, the Ritters and their daughters, Baylee and Taylor, moved to Pontiac, where Paul became a valued instructor at Pontiac Township High School.

Ritter has received many awards and honors for his interdisciplinary projects including 11 major awards from three different governors of the State of Illinois. In addition to the P2D2 program (www.p2d2program.org), some of his other noteworthy projects include the Pontiac Township High School Crayon Recycling Program, the PTHS Cell Phone Recycling Program, the Pontiac Billboard Project, the PTHS Ecology Class “Adopt A Highway” Project, and the PTHS Ecology Student Weather Radio Program and the Storm Sewer Stenciling Program, a community project between Pontiac Township High School students and Pontiac Grade School students, and the PTHS Bio-diesel Program.

Some of Ritter’s other honors include 2007-08 Illinois State Board of Education Teacher of the Year - runner-up; 2009–10 NSDAR Illinois Conservation Award – winner; 2009-10 NSDAR

National Conservation Award - runner-up; and the 2009-10 Illinois Conservation Teacher of the Year.

Ritter, who attended the award ceremony in San Francisco with his wife and children, said it was an extraordinary event but he pointed out that the award itself was a reflection of so many people and groups who have helped him with his achievements. “It’s a great honor and I’m humbled,” he said. “I’m so thankful I get to do what I do every day. I love my job.”

Ritter also credited his hometown for much of his success. “It goes back to my roots, where hard work and effort is the norm,” he said. “The lessons I learned growing up in Mendota – none of this would have been possible if not for my upbringing and the community that surrounded me.”

About NSTA The Arlington, Va.-based National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), www.nsta.org, is the largest professional organization in the world promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. NSTA's current membership includes approximately 60,000 science teachers, science supervisors, administrators, scientists, business and industry representatives, and others involved in science education.

Graham: City, water company start drug disposal program

I am pleased to announce that the city of O'Fallon and Illinois American Water have partnered to implement a pharmaceutical disposal program in O'Fallon. The unveiling of the new program will be held on Wednesday, April 6, at 2 p.m., at the public safety facility, 285 N. Seven Hills Road.

Residents are encouraged to drop off their unwanted medications so they can be incinerated, which is the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency's recommended approach for pharmaceutical disposal. Flushing medications down the toilet or the drain as well as throwing them in the trash are discouraged.

This program is a great opportunity for O'Fallon residents to stop at the police department and securely drop off any unused or expired medications. It's important for us to keep these items out of our landfills and water supplies.

The IEPA has done sampling of several public water supplies across the state for a variety of pharmaceuticals. While there currently is no evidence of any imminent human health threat concern, there is a growing concern about the impact on aquatic life and habitat. In addition, with the aging of the large baby boom generation and overall increase in the use of medications, it is important to keep these medications out of our water supplies.

The secure drop box, donated by Illinois American Water, is located inside the main door of the police department and is easy to access. Simply drop your medications in the box, and then law enforcement personnel will safely dispose of them by incineration. There is no charge to participate in the program.

The O'Fallon pharmaceutical disposal program is the 19th program supported through Illinois American Water's initiatives.

"Our goal is to establish a greatly expanded network of secure pharmaceutical collection centers throughout the state," said Grant Evitts, operations manager for Illinois American Water's Interurban District.

The pharmaceutical disposal programs were created through a model developed by Pontiac High School Township students and their teacher, Paul Ritter. The program, P2D2, has been recognized by Gov. Pat Quinn, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Natural Resources as a model for all pharmaceutical disposal programs.

In addition, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency supported efforts nationally with the first-ever National Take Back Day in September 2010. Through all of these efforts, thousands of pounds of unwanted medications have been properly disposed. To learn more, please visit epa.state.il.us/medication-disposal.

Accepted items include prescription pills and liquids (liquids must be in leak-proof containers); over-the-counter medications; and illegal substances.

Items that will not be accepted include mercury thermometers; needles/sharps; and biomedical waste (items containing blood, tissue or body fluid).

For more information about the program, call the O'Fallon Police Department at 618-624-4545.

The health and safety of our residents and their loved ones is very important to me, and by working together we can help to keep our water supplies free of hazardous and unnecessary chemicals. The strong working relationship between City Hall and the residents we serve is yet another example of why O'Fallon is such a great community in which to live.

Gary L. Graham is mayor of O'Fallon.Â