COLUMBIA, MD — A local man has been named a recipient of the 2020 Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. Bill Tong, 18, of Columbia, is one of 25 young leaders who have made a significant positive difference to help people and the environment. Fifteen top winners each receive $10,000 to support their service work or higher education.
Tong is part of the 20th anniversary class of Barron Prize winners. He founded the Bioma Project, an environmental education nonprofit that brings native fish aquariums into classrooms. In four years, he has expanded his program to 38 schools in Maryland, D.C. and California, educating upwards of 2,300 students. His aquariums are stocked with 10 species of native fish and plants. Students care for the miniature ecosystems and learn about native wildlife while developing a sense of environmental stewardship.
Tong was inspired in seventh grade to create the native fish aquariums after becoming frustrated by trash discarded across his neighborhood. He launched a school fishing club for classmates and convinced Trout Unlimited to donate a large trout tank brimming with 200 fish to his school.
He then spent much of his sophomore year creating a 40-page curriculum and obtaining permits for collecting wild fish. To fund start-up costs of $1,600, Tong and his friends sold their Pokemon card collections. Bioma Project students demonstrate a 60 percent increase in environmental literacy over the course of the year-long program. Trout Unlimited has adopted his curriculum and the United Nations’ Biodiversity Project has promoted it. Tong continues to fund his free program through a small fish farm he created in his basement.
“I now understand Gandhi’s wise words. Change is hard, and I learned I needed to blaze a path for others,” he said. “Through persistence, the students of the Bioma Project have become the change I wanted to see in the world.”