The national center for River of Words (at St. Mary’s College of California) hosts an annual contest for K-12 students’ written and visual arts. In addition, ROW selects a Teacher of the Year from nominations across the globe. We are thrilled to announce that Diana Ajjan of Northampton’s JFK Middle School was chosen to be the 2021 Teacher of the Year. With recognition and gratitude to all the teachers in our communities who creatively integrate nature into curricular activities.

~ Margaret Babbott & Carol Berner, Regional Co-Coordinators, River of Words along the Connecticut River
teacher of the year

River of Words / Kalmanovitz School of Education 2021 Teacher of the Year

Meet Diana Ajjan, of John F. Kennedy Middle School; Northampton, Massachusetts


Through River of Words she has developed interdisciplinary projects that have had a lasting impact on her students, on the school community and the larger school district. Diana has used the ROW Watershed Explorer Curriculum to connect students’ innate imaginations with the natural world. Her passionate exploration within the literary arts and her objective to develop agile and curious minds has inspired her to connect the learning community at JFK with broader learning communities in Northampton such as the art museum and botanical gardens at Smith College, and the Connecticut River nonprofit.


“Too often in a large public school, students are confined to learning within its cinder walls. The River of Words projects allowed them to utilize an alternative learning environment–the natural world–to heighten their senses and awareness, to just be in a place at a moment in time, too rare a thing in most everyone’s busy and tech-driven lives.”

Outdoor excursions prompted students to work on both poetry and team projects where they practiced collaboration and leadership skills. Their creations were then shared with parents, the wider school community, and future middle schoolers through art installations and performances. Diana has truly done a phenomenal job in creating experiences that reach far beyond the classroom.

Click to see a photo gallery and an award-winning poem by Diana’s former student Trey Rivera:

Click to view Diana’s acceptance speech and watch students read their award-winning poems at the 2021 virtual River of Words Youth Art & Poetry Watershed Festival.

Promoting Environmental Literacy through the Arts and Cultural Exchange

River of Words® (ROW) is a program of The Center for Environmental Literacy and a part of the Kalmanovitz School of Education. Acknowledged pioneers in the field of place-based education, River of Words has been inspiring educators and their students for over twenty five years with an innovative blend of science and the arts.

paintingRiver of Words is its own watershed: a linked network of people throughout the United States and the world who are committed to teaching the art and poetry of place to young people. Since 1995, River of Words has encouraged young people to explore and savor the watersheds where they live and trained educators to guide them with inspiration and passion. Through professional development and other educational services, traveling exhibits, publications and community programs, ROW reaches thousands of educators and young people around the world.

ROW was co-founded in 1995 by writer and activist Pamela Michael and then-US Poet Laureate (and SMC alumnus) Robert Hass. One of the program’s most noteworthy events, conducted in affiliation with The Library of Congress Center for the Book, is a free, annual international poetry and art contest for children in kindergarten through twelfth grade. ROW, as a program of Saint Mary’s College of California, has made its collection of children’s art – the largest in the world – available through the Saint Mary’s Museum of Art for exhibit and scholarly research.