Local Teacher Wins 2023 Environmental Stewardship Award

By Riviera Ridge

Riviera Ridge 8th grader, Sophie Ralston recently submitted an entry to nominate our Director of Academic Innovation, Melissa Wilson Wilder, for the Teacher Award for the 2023 Explore Ecology Environmental Stewardship Awards.  

Explore Ecology’s Annual Environmental Stewardship Awards recognize teachers, students, and schools who promote environmental stewardship through education and action, who initiate positive change, and inspire their peers and colleagues in Santa Barbara County. The Teacher Award honors the achievements of teachers or support staff who have made significant contributions to educating and impacting youth about the environment and who have inspired their class and school through teaching and action.

After submitting the nomination, Sophie heard back from Explore Ecology and they have selected Mrs. Wilder as the recipient for this year. Sophie attributes her love for preserving the environment to Wilder’s teaching. Her nomination entry stated, “My life and love for the environment have changed forever because of Mrs. Wilder. She has taught me to think critically and creatively. She is my hero and role model for teaching me to take an active role in how I may have an impact on the world.”

Faculty and students can join the Awards Ceremony on Sunday, April 30th at 1:00 pm on the Kids Zone stage at the SB Earth Day Festival at Alameda Park. To read more about the awards click here: https://exploreecology.org/environmental-stewardship-awards/

Comments from the judges: “Thank you for your nomination. 🙂 We were very impressed with what you wrote about your teacher. She sounds amazing. We’re so happy to hear that she has changed your worldview, has inspired you to take action yourself, and has introduced you and your classmates to biodiversity, ecology and land stewardship.

Wilder is passionate about teaching and the world we live in. Wilder says, “The world needs changemakers. Biodiversity faces the sixth mass extinction and the climate is teetering on disaster. We made these problems and we can fix them. Rewilding the next generation of Homo sapiens remains our grandest hope. By connecting students to nature and teaching them STEM skills, their ideas can change our world.”


Melissa B. Wilder (Wilson) is an ecologist and educator with over 20 years of teaching experience in higher education and K-12 education. Her research focuses on saving wildlands and rewilding Homo sapiens to build a sustainable future. In 2017, she moved to Virgin Islands National Park to rebuild schools after two category-five hurricanes. She partnered with the Clinton Global Initiative and the national park service to create green infrastructure and bolster STEM programming in underserved populations. 

She holds a master of liberal arts from Harvard Univeristy’s Extension School, a master’s of science in environmental education, a North Carolina teaching certificate in middle grades science, and a master’s certificate in natural resource management. Her thesis, “Reimagining the American West to Reach Half-Earth,” with The Wilderness Society, won the Outstanding Thesis Prize in 2019 at Harvard’s Extension School. Since then, she has published two scientific papers on half-earth and created a mini-documentary, “Stay Wild.” In 2021,  “Stay Wild” was admitted into 12 film festivals and won seven environmental awards including Best Documentary Short at the Colorado Environmental Film Festival and the Rocky Mountain Film Festival. 

She is researching bold strategies to reach Wilson’s half-earth (2016) and creating innovative STEM methodology for children ages 3 to 14. She is the Director of Innovation at the Riviera Ridge School in Santa Barbara, CA, and an online teaching assistant for Dr. Mark Leighton at Harvard Extension. Her work on the Board of Harvard Extension School’s Student Environmental Club continues to promote environmental education worldwide.


Written by Riviera Ridge

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  1. “How much does it cost to go to the Riviera Ridge School?
    “The Riviera Ridge School is a private school located in SANTA BARBARA, CA. It has 226 students in grades PK, K-8 with a student-teacher ratio of 11 to 1. Tuition is $29,950 for the highest grade offered.”
    What public service!

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