Illinois Elementary School Educator Receives 2024 National Award for Outstanding Environmental Stewardship

April 25, 2024

Washington, D.C. (April 25, 2024) /OUTDOOR SPORTSWIRE/ – National Park Trust proudly announces that Jim Vail, a 4th-grade teacher at Hammond Elementary in Chicago, Illinois, was honored with the 2024 National Educator Award for Outstanding Environmental Stewardship. Fondly referred to as “The Buddy,” in homage to the Park Trust’s beloved mascot, Buddy Bison, this annual accolade recognizes educators who have demonstrated a deep commitment to fostering their students’ appreciation for the natural world and the importance of safeguarding our nation’s cherished parks, public lands, and waters.

Hammond Elementary is one of 100 elementary and middle schools across the country that the Park Trust supports through their Buddy Bison School Program, which provides students with educational park experiences throughout the year.

Throughout his nine-year tenure as a lead teacher for the Buddy Bison School Program, Vail has exemplified an unparalleled passion for instilling a love for public lands among his students. He has spearheaded numerous outings to local treasures such as Grove National Historic Landmark, Lake Katherine Nature Center, Indiana Dunes State Park, and Indiana Dunes National Park. Embracing various educational initiatives, including virtual excursions and hands-on activities like fossil exploration and owl pellet dissection, he consistently inspires his students to become enthusiastic stewards of the environment.

Grace Lee, executive director of National Park Trust, and school administrator Glorianna Estela, and Jim’s 4th-grade students surprised him with the award presentation during their park trip to Lake Katherine on April 19th. “In recognition of his exemplary long-term commitment to environmental education, we were delighted to present Jim Vail with the National Educator Award for Outstanding Environmental Stewardship,” stated Grace Lee. “Teachers have many responsibilities to tackle each year, so we greatly appreciate it when they commit, as Jim has done over the past nine years, to ensure that his students embrace parks as outdoor classrooms and take advantage of the healthy aspects of outdoor recreation. His influence will undoubtedly leave a lasting legacy as we work together to cultivate the next generation of stewards of our public lands and waters.”

“The Buddy Bison program is a great way for the kids to explore nature and experience science hands-on in the outdoors. This is what kids will remember when they look back on what made school a fun and learning experience,” said Jim Vail, 4th-grade teacher at Hammond Elementary School. “Our school participates in this program because it’s a win-win situation – where school meets nature.”


National Park Trust’s mission is to preserve parks today and create park stewards for tomorrow. Since 1983, the Park Trust has acquired many of the missing pieces of our national parks, benefiting 55 national park sites across the country. Our national youth education and family initiatives, including our Buddy Bison, College Ambassador and Military Family Programs, and National Kids to Parks Day, serve tens of thousands of children annually and cultivate future park stewards. We believe our public parks, lands, and waters should be cared for, enjoyed, and preserved by all for current and future generations. Find out more at parktrust.org.

To learn more about our National Educator Award, please visit https://parktrust.org/the-buddy-national-educator-award/.

Media Contact: Ivan Levin at 540.818.5818 or ivan@parktrust.org.