The name of Perry Cohen, the 14-year-old boy who left the Jupiter Inlet with Austin Stephanos last year and never returned, will soon be a part of Jupiter High School.
The Palm Beach County School Board voted Wednesday to accept a $10,000 gift from the Perry J. Cohen Foundation. The foundation will lead the fundraising efforts to transform an existing storm water retention pond at the front of the school into a wetlands habitat and outdoor classroom.
The Perry J. Cohen Wetlands Laboratory will include native plants, educational information and a boardwalk to provide hands-on training for Jupiter Community High School Environmental Research & Field Studies Academy students. Other students will also have access to the area.
Perry had been accepted to attend the school academy before he and Stephanos were was lost at sea, said Cohen’s mother Pamela.
“Perry was passionate about outdoor habitats ever since he was a little boy. I told him that he was going to change the world. Now it is up to us to do it for him,” Pamela said.
“This will continue the memory of a young man who enjoyed and waterways and the outdoors,” said Ernie Cox, a 1981 graduate of Jupiter High School who is one of the participants in the effort to raise between $300,000 to $445,000 for the wetlands laboratory.
The goal is to complete the fund-raising effort by February 2018. Construction would begin the following June and be completed in advance of the graduation of the class of 2019.
The 200 students in the academy and the Partnership for Environmental Education have been working for several years to transform the existing storm water retention pond into an outdoor classroom.
The academy, a magnet program, has about 200 students between ninth and 12th grades. Students study wetlands ecology, renewable energy and work with local environmental agencies such as the Jupiter Inlet District. They must complete 50 hours community service with a local environmental agency to graduate, said Cox.
Patrick Iler, who graduated from the academy in 2011 and is now an environmental consultant, said the outdoor classroom would give students a better understanding of their native environment.
“It will give them more exposure to everything from snails to native plants to nutrient runoff. It will give them more hands-on experience,” said Iler.
Pamela Cohen said her son would love the idea that a place named after him will educate people about wildlife and the environment.
“Thousands of students will learn about what he loved and walk through the grounds named after him. He would be very proud,” said Pamela.
To make a contribution or for information, go to pjcf.org
Staff Writer Sonja Isger contributed to this story.