NJ Audubon Kane Awards

Kelly Simonetti and James Falletti

Richard Kane Conservation Award and Patricia F. Kane Environmental Education Award 

Richard Kane Conservation Award:

Named for NJ Audubon’s retired vice president for Conservation this award is bestowed annually upon those whose achievements exemplify the profound positive impact local citizens can have in working together to safeguard our natural heritage for future generations.

Patricia F. Kane Environmental Education Award

Named for NJ Audubon’s retired vice president for Education, this award is given annually to recognize the achievements of an outstanding individual or team dedicated to connecting people with nature and conservation through education.

Congratulations James Falletti recipient of the 2021 Patricia F. Kane Excellence in Education Award

James Falletti - Winner of the 2021 Patricia F. Kane Excellence in Education Award Pictured: Left to Right - Dale Rosselet, James Falletti, Allison Mulch

James Falletti is a middle school science and technology teacher at Corpus Christi School in Hasbrouck Heights.  James has been known to the New Jersey Audubon education team since 2018 when he attended our Honeywell Institute for Ecosystems Education.  From the start, we knew that James was someone special.  He came to the 5-day training with unprecedented energy and amazing spirit, and he quickly stood out as an outstanding educator and leader.  The entire group benefitted from his creativity, collaboration, and teaching experience.

By September, James had already implemented everything he learned about teaching for sustainability and ecology into his lessons while including making connections to Space.  His students’ first Eco-Schools project was to compare the growth of “New Jersey” tomato seeds with those that had previously traveled to the moon by using an indoor hydroponic garden. Eco-Schools USA is an international program, managed by National Wildlife Federation in the US and by New Jersey Audubon in New Jersey.  This gave our team firsthand experience working side-by-side with James and his students.  As a result of this project Corpus Christi was the first school to do something like this in the nation.  Under his leadership, the Corpus Christi School went on to earn the Eco-Schools USA Green Flag in May of 2019. This student driven sustainability award had only been achieved by twenty schools in NJ and 117 Nationwide since 2011. In addition, the school was recognized as a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat.

James promotes a highly effective learning environment as evidenced by his successful implementation of the Eco-Schools USA program. Most schools can only complete one award per year; however, through James’ leadership and teaching, his students worked to earn two more awards for their work increasing the biodiversity on the school grounds and creating a wildlife habitat.

Further, James continues to collaborate, engage and inspire teachers to support student learning and development as an active member of OASIS (Organizing Action on Sustainability In Schools). James meets with teachers from more than 25 schools helping them to bring environmental and sustainability education into their classrooms.

This past year was a difficult one for everyone – especially teachers.  Despite the challenges around remote learning, the pandemic also presented an opportunity for teachers to reinvent themselves and challenge what they thought was ideal, and what could be done better. James’s goal was to engage his students in as many Project Based Learning activities (PBL) as possible which were themed around Environmental & Sustainability as well as Space themed topics. His 6th grade class used the entire year to study as Astrobotanists; which allowed them to truly understand how and why plants grow and thrive, how growing plants in space differs from growing plants on Earth, and how we can use our knowledge of Astrobotany to help build a greener, cleaner, more sustainable tomorrow here on our own planet. Some of the projects include “Walking in Mendel’s Footsteps”, “Design your sustainable hydroponic Garden”, The “Space Chili Pepper Challenge”, and of course “Grow Beyond Earth”.  In May, both of his 5th and 6th grade students participated in New Jersey Audubon’s 2021 Bio Blitz and World Series of Birding.

His students love this new way of learning. It’s something they’re not used to, but they’re embracing it. Each day they ask, “Can I go measure?” These are 11- & 12-year-olds collecting data, entering it into a spreadsheet, sharing data with scientists, participating in community science and having a blast!

James epitomizes “excellence in education”.  He makes it his mission to integrate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) into everything he does.  Environmental education is all about providing individuals with opportunities to become aware of the natural world around them, gain skills and knowledge to further understand the world and be activated to do something positive for the environment and community.  James’ focus on making sure that his students have ample opportunity to raise questions, offer solutions, make mistakes, collaborate and celebrate together as they learn is exemplary environmental education.

Congratulations Kelly Simonetti recipient of the 2021 Rich Kane Conservation Award

Kelly Simonetti - Winner of the 2021 Rich Kane Conservation Award - Pictured: (Left ro Right) Brett Ewald, Kelly Simonetti, Eric Stiles Photo: Tina Giaimo

With over 20 years of wildlife rehabilitation and conservation experience, Kelly Simonetti of Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary actively educates her community about their local ecosystems, fostering an appreciation for the wildlife they share it with. Not only does she mentor aspiring wildlife rehabilitators, veterinary interns and wildlife conservation and biology students, inspiring a pursuit of excellence in their fledgling career journeys but she incorporates many of the New Jersey Audubon mission goals into her tutelage. Through her guidance, the students, volunteers and other receive hands-on training for administering care to distressed wildlife patients as well as learning how to educate others on the importance of wildlife conservation. 

In 1999, Simonetti, a retired oncology nurse volunteering at St. Hubert’s Animal Shelter, recognized the severe need for wildlife rehabilitation services in New Jersey. In 2003 she became a licensed New Jersey wildlife rehabilitator and began treating afflicted wildlife patients in her garage. As the need grew to help wildlife in her area, her dream of helping wildlife evolved to establishing Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary (ARWS), a 501(c)3 wildlife rehabilitation center. ARWS is now a 100% volunteer-run nonprofit receiving no state or federal funding, relying solely on support from volunteers and donations from her community. With her team of 75 inspired and dedicated volunteers, all funds go directly towards the care of thousands of wildlife patients each year.

In 2020 Simonetti rehabilitated 16 injured bobcats, which are on New Jersey’s threatened and endangered species list. This is a remarkable milestone, as on average only 2-3 bobcats survive rehabilitation each year. Under her meticulous care, all 16 bobcats were stabilized and released back into the New Jersey wilderness.

An advocate of New Jersey environmental conservation efforts, Simonetti works in tandem with the New Jersey Audubon Society, Tree Farm Stewardship and Ridge & Valley Conservancy. In 2011, Simonetti partnered with the US Fish and Wildlife Service through their Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program to establish 10 acres of native grasslands on the property to benefit grassland dependent wildlife, as well as pollinators.  In 2013, she enrolled 10 additional acres of her property in the USDA- Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) Environmental Quality Incentive Program to improve soil health and water quality on the property (thus helping to improve ecological services for the region). Additionally, in 2019 she entered into the Working Lands for Wildlife Program sponsored by the USDA-NRCS by developing a Forest Stewardship Plan for her entire property (112 acres) and then began implementation by restoring critical forest habitat on her property for the rare Golden-winged Warbler and other young forest species. She is currently working with NJA, NRCS, NJDFW and Dr. Jeff Larkin on monitoring the cutts for avian response both diversity and abundance.  Having undergone significant population declines in the Appalachian region, this conservation effort assists the Golden-winged Warbler and other threatened, endangered and at-risk wildlife species with migration and habitat, and the goal of recovery for thriving populations.

In addition, the ecological forest management performed by Simonetti on her property addresses non-native invasive plant controls, increases native biodiversity and maintains a more balance age-class and diverse forest. By doing this, the diversity of trees in her forest provides resiliency and a carbon defense strategy to help mitigate climate change issues.  Through working closely with NJ Audubon staff over the past 11 years Antler Ridge Wildlife Sanctuary has become a model for conservation that considers entire ecosystem functionality and species concerns.