Our Educator of the Year

Friends' Mark Hauser (left) presented the Educator of the Year award George Kovach at the Chicago River Student Congress.

Friends of the Chicago River presented the 2023 Educator of the Year award to Decatur Classical School science teacher George Kovach for his outstanding participation in the Chicago River Schools Network (CRSN), Friends’ flagship education program. The award was presented at the 27th annual Chicago River Student Congress held February 24 on the campus of Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) –the first university to host the Student Congress.

“As a transplant to Chicago over 20 years ago, I have witnessed first-hand the transformative work done by citizen scientists thanks to the work of Friends of Chicago River,” said Kovach. “Over the past two decades, the Chicago River Schools Network has done important work for my students and their families as part of Friends’ water quality field trips and the annual Chicago River Day cleanup. These experiences help to inspire the next generation of community leaders and will continue to educate others to take action to preserve our river and our region’s natural resources.”

More than 260 students from nearly 40 schools participated in the Student Congress this year. The Student Congress is a distinct forum for students to interact in a professional conference-like setting, where they teach each other about science, nature, and climate resiliency using data from their studies of the Chicago-Calumet River system. The Student Congress offered unprecedented access to environmental professionals which this year included NEIU professors as well as students enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences who shared their college experiences and river-related course work with participants. The students learned from and connected with over a dozen organizations and government agencies including the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Forest Preserves of Cook County, and the Illinois Environmental Council. 

“The Student Congress is a unique forum for the next generation of leaders from across the watershed to explore environmental issues together and learn from each other,” said Margaret Frisbie, executive director of Friends of the Chicago River. “By bringing the Congress to the NEIU campus, this year not only were our middle and high school students able to interact with environmental professionals to find out what they do and how they got there, this time they also met NEIU students who helped them imagine these kinds of careers and deepen their understanding of environmental studies.”

Since its founding in 1996, the CRSN has engaged more than 475,000 students and teachers in science, language, and history activities at river locations, north and south. During the past school year, the CRSN’s student impact totaled 20,592 including hands on experimentation and research on field trips to the river with Friends’ staff and through the hundreds of teachers who have been trained to use our river curricula, which is designed to meet state learning standards.

The CRSN is one of Friends’ most diverse and inclusive programs.