Monday, April 22, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Jessica Janc


Congratulations to Jessica Janc for completing the North Carolina Environmental Educator Certification! Jessica is the High Country Watershed Coordinator for Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development, a non-profit organization that works with local communities to improve the quality of life and standard of living in western North Carolina. Jessica works in Watauga, Ashe, and Alleghany Counties developing environmental education and outreach programs and assisting area partners with current projects in the New River and Watauga River watersheds. She also serves on the board of Two Rivers Community School, a K-8 school in Boone founded on the design principles of expeditionary learning.

Jessica said the certification program had a strong impact on the way she views her role as an educator. "I think this program helped show me how important it is to listen and connect with those you're teaching. Understanding their background and presenting information in a way that makes them comfortable is almost as important as the content itself."

For her community partnership project, Jessica partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and several schools in Alleghany, Ashe, and Watauga Counties to create watershed education materials for fifth and eighth grade teachers. Jessica compiled a variety of educational materials for the Watauga River and New River watersheds, including watershed maps provided by the USFWS, map usage guides, and lesson plans relevant to each grade level. Jessica is also developing a website for the watershed resources that can be used by teachers to support their curriculum. When asked about her goals for the project, Jessica replied, "I hope the information presented will motivate students to be more invested in their watershed and inspire them to participate in local conservation efforts."

While completing her certification, Jessica spent a summer assisting a teacher with a summer class for high school students in Boone. One day she accompanied the students and their teacher on a trip searching for macroinvertebrates and salamanders in a local stream. Jessica remembers one moment from the trip very clearly: "There was one student who was unable to find and catch a salamander. I spotted one and encouraged him to pick it up. I could tell it took every amount of courage he had and he did it. He looked at me and said, 'This is the proudest moment of my life.' He was genuinely happy and that moment reaffirmed my love of environmental education."

To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification, visit the Office of Environmental Education website.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

DEQ Secretary Recognizes North Carolina’s Certified Environmental Educators


On March 30, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan joined several partnering agencies and organizations to recognize more than 220 educators who have completed the state’s Environmental Education Certification Program.

The certified environmental educators included nature center and museum educators, naturalists, teachers, park rangers, academics, and many other professionals in the private and public sectors. Educators completed 200 hours of professional development in environmental education, including teaching and a community-based partnership project, to earn the designation.

Several of the attendees had already met Regan at their work places. Secretary Regan often visits educators in their classrooms or education centers while traveling the state. His remarks at the recognition event ended with a quote from Thomas Berry, a famous eco-theologian from North Carolina: “Without the soaring birds, the great forests, the free-flowing streams…the sight of the clouds by day and the stars by night, we become impoverished in all that makes us human.” Regan told the crowd, “As educators you are there to provide that experience so that one day we’ll become faithful stewards of North Carolina’s shared environment. And for that we thank you.”

The event, held in Cary, included dinner for honorees and their guests, a slideshow featuring photographs and quotes from certified educators, and the premier of a new environmental education certification film which spotlighted several educators who had completed the program. The film includes footage of educators from around the state and explores the experiences of four recently certified individuals:  a teacher at Central Park School for Children, a teacher outreach specialist with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, a NCSU PhD student and ORISE Fellow at EPA, and an operations and administrative coordinator with SEEDS in Durham.

Dale Threatt-Taylor, district director for the Wake County Soil and Water Conservation District, delivered the keynote and encouraged participants to keeping reaching forward to serve and backwards to help mentor. Threatt-Taylor, also known as the “conservation evangelist,” is recognized for her passion for the environment and she did not disappoint. One participant said it was the most inspiring keynote she had ever heard and was especially inspired by Threatt-Taylor’s advice to have courage, focus, to be able to “bounce” when challenged or criticized, and most importantly, to serve others and the community.


Keynote speaker Dale Threatt-Taylor and DEQ Secretary Michael Regan
The certification program is administered by the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in DEQ and is a partnership between DEQ, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Environmental Educators of North Carolina, the N.C. Association of Environmental Education Centers, the Wildlife Resources Commission, the Division of Soil and Water Conservation, and the N.C. Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.

The slide presentation featuring quotes from more than 60 honorees that was  shown during the ceremony and can be viewed on the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs website.

Other special guests included Division of Parks and Recreation Director Dwayne Patterson, N.C. Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts Executive Director Bryan Evans, N.C. Department of Public Instruction Section Chief of K-12 Mathematics and Science Beverly Vance, Wildlife Resources Commission Deputy Director of Constituent Support and Engagement Lisa Hocutt, Environmental Educators of North Carolina Past President Shannon Culpepper, North Carolina Association of Environmental Education Centers President Kellie Lewis, and the Division of Soil and Water Conservation Director Vernon Cox.

The North Carolina Environmental Education program was the first of its kind in the nation and has served as a model for other states. The North Carolina Environmental Education Program establishes standards for professional excellence in environmental education while recognizing educators committed to increasing environmental literacy. Individuals must complete 200 hours of professional development to be certified, which includes 70 hours of instructional workshops, 50 hours of outdoor environmental education experiences, 30 hours of experiences that promote awareness of the state’s environmental education resources, and 30 hours of teaching experiences. 

The required community-based partnership project addresses a need in each educator’s community. These projects have had far-reaching impacts on communities throughout the state, providing projects such as interpretive trails, recycling programs, school and community gardens, outdoor classrooms and even small ecological restorations. Examples of these projects can be viewed on the office’s Teachable Moments Blog.

For more information about N.C.’s Environmental Education Certification Program, or to enroll, visit www.eenorthcaroina.org.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Governor Cooper proclaims April 22nd through April 26th National Environmental Education Week



Governor Cooper has proclaimed April 22nd through April 26th as National Environmental Education Week. With this proclamation, North Carolina joins the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) and other states in the nation's largest celebration of environmental education. The theme this year is “Greening STEM” which encourages educators to use the natural environment and real-world challenges to engage learners and deliver high-quality STEM education. In support of these efforts, NEEF has released the “Greening STEM” toolkit for educators in advance of the week’s events. Visit the National Environmental Education Foundation’s website for this and other Environmental Education Week toolkits. 

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) kicked off environmental education celebrations early with the release of the new North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Program Video on March 30th in conjunction with a recognition event honoring more than 200 educators for completing the department’s Environmental Education Certification Program. The nearly 1,000 certified environmental educators and the programs they provide make North Carolina a national leader in environmental education. 


Trail hikes, stream clean-ups, nature tours and storytelling are just a few ways you can explore and learn about North Carolina’s diverse environment. To help you find events in your area on Earth Day (April 22nd), during Environmental Education Week and through the month of April, the DEQ Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs provides an online calendar on their website, eenorthcarolina.org. Events can be searched by city and zip code. 


Follow and share your events, photos, video, environmental education news and cool nature stories on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram using the hashtags #EEWeekNC and #NCEarthDay. Many of these events are also part of the North Carolina Science Festival which runs through April 30th. To find “green” STEM events and other science activities going on near you, connect with the Science Festival at ncsciencefestival.org or follow along with #NCSciFest.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Rachel Woods


Rachel Woods recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Rachel owns a company that teaches North Carolina ecology to young learners ages two to 12.

Woods says that although she had many years of teaching experience when she started the program, the hands-on, outdoor classes were especially helpful in gaining knowledge specific to the state’s flora and fauna. “This program made me fall in love with North Carolina. It feels more like home to me now than before I traveled all around, learning about its rich resources. Now I get to share that first-hand knowledge and love with my students!”

She was recently selected by her town to chair a tree committee to promote Arbor Day celebrations and to qualify her town as a Tree City USA through the Arbor Day Foundation and she credits the certification with opening those opportunities for her.
Her favorite park of earning her certification was the outdoor trips. “We have so many wonderful places to visit and so many knowledgeable and talented park staff, rangers, museum staff, and teachers. I've learned so much from so many and I have now visited so many new places in North Carolina and know of so many more to visit! I definitely feel more connected to my state now.”

Woods says the birding trips to Halyburton Park in Wilmington was an experience that stood out to her in addition to exploring a wetland with the staff from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. “One night I went with the museum in Raleigh to find frogs in some wetland off the side of the road that I never knew was there, although it was four miles from my house. I go there now to see the salamanders and frogs regularly.”

For her community partnership project, Rachel installed an outdoor classroom at Holly Ridge Elementary School in Holly Springs. It began as a pollinator garden registered as a N.C. Wildlife Federation Butterfly Highway Garden, and she expanded it to include trees and shrubs for birds and enough outdoor seating to hold two classes at once. The school now has a garden club and families volunteer over the summer to care for the garden. Their network includes more than 200 people, teachers and community members who share teaching and gardening information. This April, they are using grant money to bring staff from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences to conduct professional development for the staff and other teachers from neighboring schools on how to use a school's campus for teaching and learning through the museum’s UTOTES (Using the Outdoors to Teach Experiential Science) program.

Rachel says that the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “My business also stays strictly within North Carolina in terms of what I choose to teach about. Kids love tigers and polar bears and the rainforest, but they won't go out and see those things after my lesson. But since I keep things seasonal and local, they do immediately see what I was talking about. I hear from teachers all the time how kids go outside to look for what I was sharing with them after my lessons. I hear that from parents too."

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

DEQ Secretary Regan Recognizes Environmental Educator Cynelsa Broderick

On March 12, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan visited SEEDS, an urban garden and kitchen classroom in the heart of Durham, to recognize SEEDS staff member Cynelsa Broderick for completing the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification.

Founded in 1994, SEEDS has a mission to develop the capacity of young people to respect life, the earth, and each other through growing, cooking, and sharing food. SEEDS is located on a two-acre plot in Northeast Central Durham. Over the past 25 years, SEEDS has grown and developed to meet the changing needs of the community, particularly by adding an after-school program for children in first through fifth grades.

Cynelsa currently serves as the Operations and Administrative Coordinator for SEEDS, where she staffs the front desk, manages the office, and works in the educational garden and kitchen classroom. Cynelsa started the certification program while serving as an AmeriCorps member at the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. She has also worked in the NC State University Sustainability Office. Cynelsa is an accomplished visual artist and calligrapher and is passionate about making connections between STEM and the arts.



For her community partnership project, Cynelsa developed and presented 14 classes as part of the SEEDS summer camp. During the classes, students recorded observations in a nature log and worked together to design a new mural for the SEEDS building. The classes helped the youth participants experience nature, gardening, and cooking in a new way that combined art with gardening and environmental education.

Describing the classes, Cynelsa stated, "The objective was for students to learn what important details to capture in their observations and how to transfer them to our mural. Each week, I worked with about 20 young farmers and went through lessons that touched on topics from environmental stewardship to color theory, patents to biomimicry." As a result of Cynelsa's project, SEEDS has new curriculum materials and a colorful new mural on what was once a dull, blank wall.

Cynelsa said her favorite part of the certification program was traveling to different parts of the state. "Visiting so many state parks and meeting new people was a good way for me to become familiar with North Carolina."

Her experiences in the certification program also led Cynelsa to become a more versatile teacher. "I discovered various styles and ways people learn through this program and that has helped me be more aware of my methods in teaching others."
Participants in the SEEDlings after-school enrichment program for grades 1-5 students gave N.C. DEQ Secretary Regan some hands-on agricultural education! SEEDS also has programs for middle and high school Students and workshops and volunteer opportunities for adults. 

For more information about SEEDS, visit seedsnc.org. For more information about the NC Environmental Education Certification, visit the NC Office of Environmental Education website.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Department of Environmental Quality Hosts Wake County Middle School Students for Students@Work℠


On March 5, the Department of Environmental Quality's Office of Environmental Education hosted over 30 students from Moore Square Magnet Middle School for Students@Work Month.

Students@Work serves a critical role in our state's work-based learning efforts by helping local students become aware of potential careers and the necessary skillsets for those careers. Throughout the month of March, students will hear from guest speakers and take part in worksite visits where they learn firsthand about the careers available in their communities.

Upon arriving at DEQ's Green Square building in downtown Raleigh, students heard an inspiring speech from DEQ Secretary Michael Regan. Secretary Regan told the group about how we became involved in the environmental field and explained the career path that led him to DEQ.


Next, students participated in informational breakout sessions with staff from different DEQ divisions. Elliot Tardif and Tira Beckham from the Division of Air Quality showed the middle school students how the division forecasts the air quality index and explained why data manipulation is an important skill for many careers.


Students joined Amanda Mueller, Kristie Gianopulos, and Greg Rubino from the Division of Water Resources on an exciting journey through North Carolina's wetlands through the use of an online, interactive map. Marty Wiggins and Sarah Sanford from the Office of Environmental Education led a building tour where students learned about the Green Square building's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.


The morning concluded with an informative session with Human Resources Director Ursula Hairston. Ursula helped the students connect their passions and interests with potential careers and explained the types of qualifications necessary for working in the STEM field.

The Students@Work program is a joint initiative between the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The 2019 Students@Work initiative includes more than 280 businesses and 46,000 students statewide.

For more information about the Department's participation in Students@Work Month, contact the Office of Environmental Education at 919-707-8125. For more information about NCBCE, visit ncbce.org.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

DEQ Secretary Recognizes Elementary School Teacher Rebecca Masters

On February 19th, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan visited Central Elementary School in Elizabeth City to award Rebecca Masters the department's NC Environmental Education Certification.

Ms. Masters has been an elementary school teacher for 20 years, teaching every grade from kindergarten through fifth grade. She has worked at three different schools in Elizabeth City, and most of her career has been spent teaching kindergartners. Ms. Masters has a passion for bringing her interests to the children at her school. "My loves are science, art, and reading. There is no kind of feeling in the world like seeing a child read for the first time, or seeing their eyes light up when they learn a little bit about the natural world."

Mr. Shel Davis, Interim Principal at Central Elementary School, and Dr. Joanne Sanders, Acting Superintendent for Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, joined Secretary Regan in congratulating Ms. Masters on her achievement.

During Secretary Regan's visit to Ms. Masters' classroom, he took part in a "Bird Beak Breakfast," part of the students' curriculum on birds and their adaptations. Bird Beak Breakfast is an activity from Growing Up WILD, a program of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies offered to educators through the NC Wildlife Resource Commission. Growing Up WILD was one of the many environmental education workshops Ms. Masters completed for her Environmental Education Certification.


Ms. Masters said her favorite part of the certification program was "traveling around North Carolina, seeing more of my home in the past four years than I have in 31 years that I have lived here. I have hiked more, seen more waterfalls, driven more landscapes, experienced more ecosystems from the mountains to the sea."

She also said she fell in love with workshop facilitators like CC King (NC Wildlife Resources Commission) and Mir Youngquist-Thurow (Agape Center for Environmental Education) and their teaching styles: hands-on, inquiry-based, action-oriented. “I played with insect larvae in creeks and ponds and learned to love bugs. I also learned to catch my first fish through Project Catch with Becky Skiba (NC Wildlife Resources Commission). I attended a several treks with Megan Chesser and Melissa Dowland through NC Museum of Natural Sciences - kayaking, hiking, learning to draw and take detailed field notes, identifying plants and birds, spotting my first bears in the wild, and experiencing tens of thousands of Canada geese and tundra swan in the icy cold pre-dawn hours of wildlife refuges. I just cannot fully explain to you how all of these adventures have deeply affected me on a personal and professional level.”

For her community partnership project, Ms. Masters coordinated environmental education stations for a festival at Dismal Swamp State Park. The stations were part of an event called Dismal Day, an annual celebration of the park's nature and history. Families in the counties surrounding the park come to Dismal Day to enjoy cultural exhibits, food, music, boat rides, and other festivities. Ms. Masters saw a need for a kid-friendly environmental education component at the festival and worked with park rangers and local volunteers to set up education stations. Five stations were set up along a walking trail, and each station had volunteers who taught abbreviated versions of lessons from environmental education programs. Youth participants from the surrounding area took part in brief activities and lessons that, in Ms. Masters' words, "opened their eyes and their minds to the park, the trail, and environmental issues."

Participant at one of the environmental education stations at Dismal Day
Through the certification program, Ms. Masters found opportunities to step out of her established role as a teacher and once again become a student. "All of my courses, treks, and classes taught me to be more open and that it is OK to not know all the answers. Observation and education are key, not necessarily getting everything right the first time..."

To learn more about the NC Environmental Education Certification, visit the NC Office of Environmental Education website.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Gretchen Stokes


Congratulations to Gretchen Stokes for completing the NC Environmental Education Certification. Gretchen is a PhD student in ecology at the University of Florida, where she also serves as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. Gretchen studies movement ecology, tropical ecology, and global biodiversity conservation.

As a scientist, Gretchen had years of academic coursework in ecology, but little teaching experience. She said she pursued the program because of her interest in gaining hands-on experience as an educator. Gretchen found the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop to be the most helpful part of the program. "I learned a lot about inquiry-based teaching, group facilitation, and group management while teaching in the field." The networking aspects of the certification program were also a highlight. "I enjoyed the diversity of workshops...and getting to meet a diversity of instructors, educators and others who I might otherwise never have run into."

Gretchen conducted her community partnership project on a farm in Catawba, VA, a rural community near Virginia Tech. At the farm, she worked with Dr. Mary McDonald, a veterinarian who runs a training program called FARM. FARM stands for "Farm Animal Refresher for Missions." The one-week programs provide training in animal health care for veterinarians and veterinary students going on mission trips to developing countries. Gretchen noticed that the trainings had no environmental component, so she worked with Dr. McDonald to create trainings that would prepare veterinarians to lead mission projects that combine farm animal health and environmental health.


Gretchen also developed curriculum for an aquatic ecology and conservation lab for local college students who visit the farm. During the field course, students conduct water quality testing and biotic sampling in Catawba Creek, a stream that runs through the farm. Students also take part in a discussion of the role of humans as stewards of the earth, and record their reflections in nature journals. During the farm's first field course, students helped plant over 300 trees along Catawba Creek to serve as a riparian buffer. As Gretchen said, "This will not only improve water quality for a small section of Catawba Creek, but it will provide a working example to neighboring farms and other residences in Catawba Valley about how to have cattle and protect the stream. Hopefully having this as a model stream for improved conservation efforts will have a ripple effect."


A survey after the first field course showed successful results. "In the post-teaching evaluation, almost all students reported that the course helped them think more about the environment and that they are more motivated to change their behavior in at least one way to benefit the environment," Gretchen said.

Recently, Gretchen returned from teaching the second year of the aquatic ecology field course. The students did some maintenance on the riparian buffer, as well as another round of water quality sampling, physical stream measurements, and biotic sampling. Reflecting back on the weekend spent at the farm, Gretchen explained the impact of the course. "Many of these students have never spent time doing anything related to field biology so it's really cool to see their interest grow as they spend time outside. Some even, at the end of the day, approached me asking how they could pursue a career in environmental science or biology."

To learn more about the NC Environmental Education Certification, visit the NC Office of Environmental Education website.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Sarah Goodman


Congratulations to Sarah Goodman for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Sarah works at Providence Day School in Charlotte, N.C., as a sixth through eighth grade science teacher and environmental sustainability coordinator.

For her community partnership project, Sarah implemented a Trout in the Classroom project at her school. Trout in the Classroom is an environmental education program in which students raise trout from eggs to fry and eventually release the fish in a nearby stream, all while learning about water quality, conservation, and stream habitats. Sarah partnered with Rocky River Trout Unlimited and South Mountains State Park to complete the project. Starting in September, Sarah's students raised rainbow trout in their classroom at Providence Day School. During science classes, Sarah taught the students about bio-indicators in rivers, such as macroinvertebrates that indicate good water quality.

"I felt there was a need to connect the students in my classroom with outdoors spaces that went beyond school gardens and river cleanup," Sarah said. "By connecting the need for clean water with environmental stewardship, the students are able to see the impacts of keeping the land around our water systems clean." The students also learned the importance of cleaning the tanks where the trout eggs were kept and taking periodic water samples. At the beginning of the school year, Sarah taught the students about potential causes of death for the trout. This included a lesson on a fungal infestation that can kill the trout eggs before they hatch.

On release day, Sarah took the students (and the trout) to South Mountains State Park, where a park ranger gave the students an introductory lesson about the park's aquatic ecosystems. After releasing the trout in the river, the students spent an hour in the river collecting macroinvertebrates, fish, and other bio-indicators.

Students use nets to search for macroinvertebrates on the river bottom.
Sarah said the project "connects human activity to the health of an ecosystem and encourages youth to continue sharing their knowledge while doing their part for the environment."

Trout in the Classroom wasn't the only new project that Sarah started at Providence Day School. She also implemented a nature journaling component in the student's semester work. "Once or twice a month, the students receive a prompt and we take a break from content to go outside and observe the natural world...The hope is that the students are able to reflect better but also use their observation skills on their own explorations." Sarah said that participating in the certification program prompted her to approach science from a different angle, and to encourage her students to do the same.


To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification program, visit the N.C. Office of Environmental Education website. If you are interested in implementing Trout in the Classroom at your school, visit the Trout in the Classroom website.


Educator Spotlight: Molly Gillespie

Congratulations to Molly Gillespie for recently completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Molly has an enviable career, with work locations in both the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina and the National Parks of Alaska. Between October and April, she works at Muddy Sneakers in Brevard, N.C. teaching fifth grade science lessons in various outdoor locations in western North Carolina. Between May and October, she lives in Denali National Park in Alaska, where she works as a naturalist and wilderness guide leading 10-day expeditions through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Gates of the Arctic National Park.

Molly is passionate about both of her jobs. Describing her position with Muddy Sneakers, she said, "I love that during the school year, I get to teach students science on public lands-- learning in nature allows them to appreciate the natural world while understanding that they are a part of it. Perhaps I am impacting the next generation of people who care about the environment!"

When asked about her favorite part of the certification program, Molly replied, "I enjoyed the networking that naturally occurred at the various workshops I attended. I enjoyed making professional contacts, new friends, and gaining great knowledge of the EE resources in the area."

For her community partnership project, Molly helped establish a pollinator garden at The Park at Flat Rock in Flat Rock, N.C. The Park was formerly a golf course, which was converted into a natural area with trails, streams, a playground, and meeting areas. To build her pollinator garden, Molly partnered with volunteers and the head naturalist at The Park at Flat Rock, as well as the Mountain Trail Outdoor School. Mountain Trail Outdoor School is a local environmental education center that shared their greenhouse space so Molly could store plants over the winter.

Molly established the garden as an official Monarch Waystation, an area that provides the necessary food and habitat for monarchs to survive their long migration. Along with a group of dedicated volunteers, Molly weeded, watered, and planted for over a year to help establish the garden. Eventually a local naturalist donated owl boxes, and a local beekeeper established some hives next to the garden, adding to the diverse array of pollinator species.


Molly said that the pollinator garden "raises awareness of the importance and the current issues plaguing pollinators. By visiting a garden designed to specifically provide habitat for beneficial insects, migrating monarch butterflies, and honeybees, visitors can become aware and sensitive to the importance of pollinators and the need for gardens and habitat that support their role in our lives."

Reflecting back on what she learned during the certification program, Molly found that she had made some changes to her approach to environmental education. "I am careful that I don't preach an environmental agenda to my students. Rather, my goals are to connect them to nature and guide them to consider their entire environment in all that they do, while teaching them critical thinking skills to form their own values and attitudes."

To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification program, visit the N.C. Office of Environmental Education website.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Rachel Collins

Congratulations to Rachel Collins for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. During the certification process, Rachel was a student teacher for fifth grade math and science classes at Lindley Elementary School in Greensboro. As a classroom teacher, Rachel said her experiences in the certification program led to more integration of science in other subjects and curriculum.

For her community partnership project, Rachel partnered with the Lindley Elementary School PTA to coordinate a number of water-related projects for her students. First, students read the book, A Long Walk to Water, a story about the struggle to access clean water in Sudan. After the students read the book, Rachel arranged for two refugees from the region of Sudan where the story takes place to come to Lindley to speak to the students about water shortages in Sudanese villages. Rachel and the students led a fundraising campaign, and eventually they raised enough money to fund the building of a well in south Sudan.

Rachel also helped coordinate a school-wide Water Day at Lindley Elementary. During Water Day, community partners came to the school to talk to students about the importance of water and the water treatment process. Volunteers from UNC Greensboro's biology and education departments also came to Water Day to help students participate in hands-on educational activities.

Rachel felt that the lessons on water addressed a knowledge gap for many of the students. "We determined the need for this water project because students need to know that water is a limited resource. Most of our students at Lindley have never had to go a day without water...Teaching the students that water is a natural resource, which we must conserve, will lead to more globally aware children willing to preserve our water source and cut out unnecessary water uses."

To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification, visit the Office of Environmental Education website.

Educator Spotlight: Chris Goforth

Congratulations to Chris Goforth for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. As the Head of Citizen Science for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, Chris wears many hats. She coordinates the Museum's citizen science efforts, develops and manages several citizen science projects, educates the public, and provides citizen science trainings. In addition, Chris continues her own entomological research through the citizen science projects she runs. As Chris explained, "My background is aquatic entomology and I am in my happy place when I get to lead citizen science programs focused on insects, especially for the EE and formal educator communities. I also love working with kids and getting them involved in citizen science and/or excited about bugs!"

For her community partnership project, Chris developed a new self-led citizen science project on butterflies at J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh. The citizen science project operates in conjunction with eButterfly, a nationwide effort that brings together citizen scientists and professional entomologists to collect and share data on butterfly sightings. "One of the main reasons I wanted to install a new citizen science project at Raulston was because it gives people a call to action, a means of participating in basic scientific research and conservation related to butterflies through data collection in the field."

Chris created a butterfly guide, a datasheet, and garden signage that highlights butterfly hotspots and lets visitors know that the citizen science project is available. Chris used her own photos to create the butterfly guide, and took additional photos for species she was missing. She also led several butterfly programs at Raulston to introduce visitors to the project.
Chris said that participating in the certification program made her more aware of how much her program attendees appreciate activities that build skills and provide resources. In describing her insect citizen science programs, she stated, "...people are generally thrilled when I send them home with a custom guide to an insect group so they can practice their skills and/or collect data on their own after the program is over. While the big field guides are of course useful, they can be intimidating to beginners, so I try to simplify things by creating my own guides."

It's clear that Chris genuinely cares about helping her program participants to become better citizen scientists. "I spend time walking program attendees through the guide and build their ID skills during the program as well. My goal is now to send my program participants home with enough information about the natural history of the focal species and experience with the protocol that they'll feel comfortable participating on their own after the program is over."

When asked about experiences in the certification program that stood out, Chris was quick to name one particular day at Raulston. "I think perhaps the best moment of my certification came when I started leading a butterfly walk with a group of about 15 adults at Raulston and it began to rain fairly hard. Seven of the attendees left immediately, but the remaining eight walked the gardens with me for an hour in the rain! It is unbelievably gratifying as an environmental educator when you have people come to your programs who are so determined to learn what you have to teach them that they're willing to get wet and miserable."

To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program, visit the Office of Environmental Education website.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Paul Mazzei


Congratulations to Paul Mazzei for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Paul is the Public Programs Coordinator for the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island. Paul serves as an interpreter for live animal encounters, theater programs, and the aquarium's interactive dive program.

The aquarium where Paul works is one of three public aquariums on North Carolina's coast. The Roanoke Island aquarium is located in the town of Manteo, which is part of Dare County. Paul's community partnership project arose out of a desire to make the aquarium more accessible to the Latino population in Dare County. To come up with a project idea, Paul worked with the aquarium's partner organization, Mano al Hermano. Mano al Hermano is a nonprofit organization that provides English language tutoring, legal information, a community garden, and other services to Latino community members in Dare County.

After talking with the staff at Mano al Hermano, Paul decided to create a nature club for third through sixth grade students involved in Mano al Hermano's Family Literacy Program in Manteo. The nature club meets one Sunday per month for approximately three hours. Participants interact with live animals at the aquarium, sing songs, and take part in educational outdoor activities. Paul was able to offer the nature club and transportation to the programs through a grant from Nature Play, part of the Disney Conservation Fund.

Paul singing songs with participants in the Mano al Hermano nature club
Paul said the community partnership project was the highlight of his time spent earning his certification. "The partnership was a great experience and I hope that our relationship with the non-profit Mano al Hermano is able to continue for years into the future." He also said that participating in the certification program led to some changes in his interpretive work at the aquarium. "Based upon my experience in this program and past experiences, I've worked to revamp many of our programs at the aquarium to be more audience centered. I'm also continuously working to figure out ways to incorporate more outdoor experiences into programming."

To learn more about the interpretive programs offered at the aquarium, visit the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island website. To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program, visit the Office of Environmental Education website.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Barbara Haralson

Congratulations to Barbara Haralson for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Barbara owns the Greensboro franchise of Wild Birds Unlimited, a retail store that provides supplies for feeding and observing wild birds. Barbara said she has been intending to complete the certification for years, and was finally able to take enough time away from work to take part in the required workshops.

Barbara said her favorite part of the certification program was "meeting like minded people and having the opportunity to connect and network with them. I made more connections with people in nature related jobs during the certification process than I did in 21 years of business ownership."

While Barbara's official job title does not include "environmental educator," she certainly serves as an educator in the Greensboro community. As the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, Barbara is often asked to give talks or presentations to schools, garden clubs, senior homes, and other organizations. Participating in the certification program led to some important changes in Barbara's presentation style. "I learned the importance of hands on activities in the teaching process and how important they are to keeping people engaged. I also learned the value of providing the education and then allowing people to come to their own conclusions."
Barbara at her store, Wild Birds Unlimited, in Greensboro
For her community partnership project, Barbara installed a series of nest boxes for Eastern bluebirds along the Bryan Park golf course trail in Greensboro. The nest boxes are made out of recycled plastic milk jugs. Barbara also installed the poles for the boxes, as well as baffles to protect the eggs and baby birds from predators. Barbara monitored the boxes weekly throughout the spring and summer, gathering data on the number of eggs, nestlings, and fledglings. The data was reported to the North Carolina Bluebird Society, an organization that monitors the status of the Eastern bluebird. Barbara was interested in installing nest boxes for Eastern bluebirds because the species nearly went extinct in the 1930s. Beginning in the 1970s, the establishment of nest boxes specifically for bluebirds has led to widespread recovery of populations.

To culminate her project, Barbara gave a presentation at Get Outdoors Paddlesports about the success of the nest boxes, the near extinction of bluebirds, and the life history and habitat requirements of bluebirds. She also talked about the recycled plastic nest boxes and provided information on the importance of reducing plastic use and properly recycling plastic products.

The nest box project seems to be having a positive impact on more than just the birds. As Barbara reported, "Every time I went out to monitor the nest boxes, I encountered golfers who wanted to learn about the bluebirds and how to attract them to their own yard."

To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program, visit the Office of Environmental Education website.

Friday, December 14, 2018

DEQ Secretary Regan Recognizes Fort Caswell Educator Tara Whicker


DEQ Secretary Regan was at Fort Caswell to congratulate Tara Whicker for completing the department’s Environmental Education Certification Program and to learn more about Caswell’s educational programming.

Whicker is the coastal education assistant coordinator with the Environmental Stewardship Program at Fort Caswell. She helps facilitate field trips and teach K-12 students about coastal ecology and marine biology in a non-formal, outdoor setting.

Fort Caswell is surrounded by a salt marsh, the Cape Fear River, and the Atlantic Ocean which creates a unique outdoor classroom for students. Caswell’s Environmental Stewardship Program provides students with the opportunity to explore the shore and the fort, seine in the marsh, catch fish and blue crabs, view plankton under a microscope, and even kayak through a tidal creek.

Secretary Regan congratulated Whicker for completing the program. “North Carolina is fortunate to have educators like Tara providing outdoor experiences and programs for K-12 students that teach them about North Carolina’s rich coastal ecology.”

For her community partnership project, Tara organized an International Coastal Cleanup Event at Caswell Beach. Participants at the event collected and sorted marine debris and data on the marine debris was submitted to the Ocean Conservancy’s online database. Tara planned, advertised, and hosted the event in partnership with the Town of Caswell Beach and the Caswell Beach Turtle Watch program. As part of the event, Tara developed and delivered educational lessons on marine debris. Tara worked with Brunswick Electric to obtain a grant to fund the project.

The marine habitat around Fort Caswell had an obvious impact on Tara’s motivation to pursue the beach cleanup. “With the beach in my backyard, I feel a strong need to do my part in protecting this wonderful ecosystem and the coastal wildlife that depends upon healthy waterways. Just like lots of tiny pieces of plastic are causing a global marine debris crisis, so too can tiny bits of positive change turn the tides for caring for our earth. As an educator in my small community, I know firsthand that many who have lived in Brunswick County their whole lives know very little about some of the wonders they have in their own backyard. I believe that small events like the International Beach Cleanup do make a difference and that the lesson plans that coincide with the event also can have beneficial impacts to my community.”


DEQ Secretary Recognizes NC State Park Ranger for Earning Environmental Education Certification


DEQ Secretary Michael Regan recently joined NC State Parks Director Dwayne Patterson at 
William B. Umstead State Park to recognize Billy Drakeford for completing DEQ’s Environmental Education Certification. Park Superintendent Scott Letchworth and staff from state parks, and the DEQ Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs joined Drakeford for a brief interpretive hike about the cultural history and ecology of the park.

Drakeford worked as a park ranger at Mount Mitchell before coming to Umstead, and even though he considers himself an experienced ranger, he says he gained a wealth of resources from the certification. He particularly noted a workshop at Montreat College as part of the program.  “The big thing I was impressed about was the young students at Montreat College and their passion for environmental education. Put a little spark back into me when it comes to environmental issues,” said Drakeford.

As the group hiked down to the lake, a bald eagle flew overhead almost on cue and a family with young children was heard saying they had never seen a bald eagle before. Secretary Regan took the chance encounter as an opportunity to thank state parks for the value they place on education and for supporting rangers’ participation in such an intense professional development program. “The fact that you have completed this program speaks volumes to your commitment to teaching children and adults about the rich history and natural heritage at Umstead and in North Carolina,” said Regan. 

As part of his certification, Drakeford conducted a community partnership project in the park partnering with North Carolina Homeschool Adventures, a group that plans field trips for the N.C. homeschool community. Drakeford worked with group members to revitalize a nature trail in Umstead Park, which included researching, redesigning and installing new signage.  

“Inspiration Trail” is a short interpretive trail near the park’s Reedy Creek entrance with signs providing ecological and historical information about the area. After going on field trips to the park, the North Carolina Homeschool Adventures group made Drakeford aware of the outdated nature of the signs on Inspiration Trail. Drakeford recognized the need for new signs with updated interpretive information, and he set to work on researching appropriate educational material. As part of his mission to bring in appropriate educational material, Drakeford redesigned new signs and supervised the replacement of these new signs. 

Now visitors to the Inspiration Trail can benefit from Drakeford’s project. “The homeschoolers and community now have a nature trail that is legible and contains a lot of great historical and ecological facts.” 

Drakeford noted that not only does the certification program provide exciting professional development opportunities for “seasoned” rangers, but it also gives new rangers the opportunity to “get their feet wet” by exploring a variety of environmental education resources, workshops, and environmental education centers.


Thursday, December 6, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Kelly Nields


Congratulations to Kelly Nields on completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Kelly is a zookeeper at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. Kelly has worked at the zoo for over 12 years taking care of grizzly bears, black bears, elk, bison, and American red wolves.

When asked about highlights from the certification program, Kelly said, "My favorite part of earning my certification was having my eyes opened to all the great educational and outdoor experiences that our state offers! The best part was that for most of my experiences that earned my certification, I was able to bring along my family to experience it with me." Kelly has a young son, and she enjoyed the opportunity to get him involved in environmental education. "Being able to share in those experiences with him and to see his excitement about nature and the environment was something I will always be grateful for and will never forget!"

For her community partnership project, Kelly created a pollinator garden at her son's school, the Childcare Network of Adams Farm in Greensboro. The lessons she learned in the certification program helped Kelly recognize a need for environmental education at her son's school. "After speaking with my son's PreK teacher, I learned they didn't have a lot of outdoor environmental curriculum.  I spoke with individual teachers as well as directors about creating an outdoor learning environment that could benefit the children and teachers long after my son graduates to kindergarten."

To pay for the materials for the pollinator garden, Kelly applied for and received a grant from her local chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers. She also partnered with the All-A-Flutter butterfly farm in High Point. Kelly provided the school with a planter box and the student helped with planting and maintaining the garden. In addition, Kelly helped the school's teachers develop resources for teaching students about the importance of pollinators. "We also saw [the garden] as a great way to encourage parents to talk to their kids about pollinators and ways they could help at home once outside the classroom."

Kelly said that by completing the certification program, she developed "...a commitment to provide accurate and balanced factual information. To not muddy the message with a particular view point." Most importantly, she concluded, "I better understand my responsibility as an environmental educator."

To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification, visit the Office of Environmental Education website

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Molly Nelms


Congratulations to Molly Nelms for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Molly is a creative specialist who uses art and environmental education experiences to connect people with the natural world.

Molly, a North Carolina native, said her favorite part of the certification program was the rediscovery of her home state. "The awareness and richness I rediscovered in NC was heart warming and reminded me of how special it is to have grown up here and to have been raised in this wonderful place of natural beauty and biodiversity."

She found that the program opened up new possibilities in her work as an educator and interpreter. When asked how the certification program changed her approach to teaching, Molly said, "The EE Certificate program redefined the way I will use my leadership and teaching skill set." Molly particularly enjoyed the personable experiences created by the instructors in the certification program. She said she appreciated "experiencing nature through their eyes."

For her community partnership project, Molly worked with Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck, N.C to expand and enhance the park's natural outdoor play area. Molly's goal was to support Sylvan Heights in bringing more creative play opportunities and resources for education programming to the children visiting the park. To do this, Molly used her expertise as a creative specialist to work with the park's Education Coordinator on designing several outdoor play resources. 

With help from Sylvan Heights staff members, Molly painted and installed bird houses, added components to the park's sand cafe, created a mural about dinosaurs and fossils, and enhanced a nature trail around the playground.


Molly found that participating in the certification program also changed the way she approached environmental issues. "I became more engaged and participated in more action oriented community programs that bring about awareness and education for North Carolinians." 

To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification, visit the Office of Environmental Education website.