On August 17, 2016, an Eastern Oregon environmental sciences teacher won a presidential award from the White House for her pioneering classes in which high school students turn brownfields into Oregon Department of Environmental Quality-approved property.
Megan Alameda, a Portland native who moved with her family to Baker City in 2011, teaches hands-on courses for Baker Technical Institute, in which students discover the science behind cleaning up contaminated former commercial land.
She won the award for teaching in new ways and improving the health of her entire community. Alameda was one of just 18 winners nationwide.
Brownfields aren’t just eyesores. They are contaminated properties such old gas stations, auto shops, dry cleaners or orchards that cannot be sold, bought or remodeled until the contamination is cleaned up.
Baker City, home to fewer than 10,000 people, has 80 brownfields.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, high brownfield-per-capita rates are directly linked to poor community health.
As Alameda observed, “When you are surrounded by dilapidated places that no one cares for and that devalues neighborhoods and properties, it has a very negative effect on community self-esteem and how a community perceives itself.”