Teacher Leah Williams has watched in awe as Daphne Joyce Wu has ramped up her school’s environmental initiatives and encouraged other students to follow her lead.
“Daphne is a force to be reckoned with,” said Williams, Middleton High School science teacher and adviser for the school’s Green Team.
“As a teacher, it is pretty amazing to see a club to go from 10 to 15 students to well over 40 in two years. ... I think that has to do with the diversity of projects that Daphne had in mind when she thought of the Green Team’s missions and goals as a club at the school.”
Williams said the school already had an ecology club when Daphne, now a junior, built a website and set a goal of encouraging her school district to rely 100% on renewable energy. So instead of forming an entirely new group, she led the effort to rebrand the club into what is now the Green Team.
It’s no surprise then that Wu was selected as a top high school youth volunteer as part of the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards. Wu is one of 102 honorees across the United States. The other state honoree is Ava Pinnow, 10, of Racine.
“She really kind of overhauled and spiced up our sustainability mission with the Green Team,” Williams said of Wu. “She is the one that got all the people, has coordinated all the events and continues to include all of her classmates in all these amazing experiences. ... She is really good at rallying the troops to get everyone involved in what they are interested in and she definitely knows how to identify her classmates’ strengths.”
Wu will receive a $2,500 scholarship and will be recognized in an online celebration April 30 to May 2. Created in 1995 by Prudential and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the program honors middle and high school students for outstanding service to others at the local, state and national level. The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards are America’s largest youth recognition program based exclusively on volunteer service.
Wu also received a President’s Volunteer Service Award for doing more than 250 hours of volunteer service and will receive a letter signed by President Joe Biden.
“I’m just trying to do my part and make the school district more sustainable,” Wu said.
Wu has been the president of the Green Team for the last two years. Among its activities, the organization has collected hundreds of plastic bags to donate to a local food pantry, coordinated a drive to collect and recycle items such as used markers, razors and lip balm, and visited elementary schools to conduct interactive sustainability activities.
Team members give sustainability tips as part of the school’s daily announcements, and on Earth Day 2020, Wu delivered a 30-minute presentation on climate change to more than 1,000 students and staff members at Middleton High School.
The team also is pushing for the district to shift to 100% renewable electricity by 2030 within practical and economic reach, to reduce landfill waste by 35 percent by 2025 and to meet 100% of all district operations energy needs with renewable energy by 2035.
Daphne said that before the Green Team was established the environmental culture at Middleton High school was “very weak” and there wasn’t a concerted effort at sustainability.
“I joined last year because I’ve always been interested in the environment and climate change and working towards that,” said junior Abigail White, vice president of the Green Team.
“She’s definitely a strong leader and is very passionate about what she does,” White said of Wu. “She is determined. When she wants something she will work very hard towards it.”
White said she particularly likes coordinating with the elementary schools to expose younger kids to sustainability.
“The Green Team believes that sustainability education begins at a very young age,” Wu said.
The organization has a goal of establishing Green Teams in all district schools.
Wu gives credit to her parents for her values.
“I’ve always known our planet needed more protecting,” she said. “We have to start shifting our mindset and living more sustainably.”
Wu also is a member of the Dane County Youth Environmental Committee and the City of Middleton’s Sustainability Committee, and works at the city’s Recycling Center.
Deb Weitzel, a retired Middleton High School science teacher who serves on the Sustainability Committee with Wu, said, “She is a rock star and what she does is amazing.”
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