Friday, January 22, 2021

Cynthia Ramsay, Field Instructor with Muddy Sneakers in Guilford County, Completes Her NC Environmental Education Certification

Cynthia Ramsay, a field instructor with Muddy Sneakers in Guilford County, recently completed her Environmental Education Certification. 

As a field instructor with Muddy Sneakers, Ramsay takes 5th-grade students into public lands to teach the science curriculum using hands-on experiments and activities. In her personal time, she enjoys gardening, mushroom identification, piano, hiking, traveling and cooking.

Cynthia says that one of the things she enjoyed about the program was meeting other passionate educators like herself. She says the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop stood out for her. “It was a valuable class. I did a small presentation at my work on what I learned about the 5E lesson plan. As a former classroom teacher, I had used that lesson plan before, but I had never applied it to my current work.”

For her community partnership project, Cynthia built a mud kitchen for a local preschool that has been working towards a focus on outdoor education. “I received pictures when school began of the children, who were ages three to four, using the space for imaginary play with natural loose parts. These children were just becoming comfortable in the outdoors and this provided a hands-on way for them to connect with the natural world.”

 When asked if the program changed the way she approached teaching, Cynthia says every experience provided her with tools she could incorporate in her work with children. “Some of the courses taught me more content while others taught me pedagogy and teaching culture. Many courses taught a bit of both. My goal is to allow the content I teach to be accessible to all students and have it presented in the most comfortable way for the participants.”

Cynthia says the program further emphasized her understanding of the difference between environmental education and environmental advocacy. “I understood the difference before, but now I know how to apply them both in the appropriate scenarios. Advocacy has its place, but my work is focused on environmental education. I wish I had known this when I was a classroom teacher years ago.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Amy Bradshaw, Environmental Educator at Haw River State Park Completes NC Environmental Education Certification

Amy Bradshaw, an environmental education instructor at Haw River State Park recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification. Amy provides programs for students and facilitates team-building activities for students and adults. “I teach students about the environment through hands-on outdoor activities that align with the North Carolina K-12 Standard Course of Study. The wetlands are one of my favorite parts of the park to show students because of its beauty and biodiversity. I also enjoy the wetlands as a birdwatching spot.”

Amy says one of her favorite things about the program were the instructional workshops and the opportunity to meet other environmental educators and to collaborate with them during the workshops. “I really enjoyed the instructional workshops. Environmental educators know how to make training and professional development fun.” 

The community partnership project was the part of the certification experience that stood out for Amy.  “It enabled me to take the lead on a topic that I am passionate about and create engaging curriculum that will help people connect with nature.”

For her project, Amy developed a bird curriculum that will be used in future programming at Haw River State Park with visiting school groups. “Haw River State Park is a great birding spot, so I wanted to add programming specifically focusing on birds to increase visitor knowledge about birds and to inspire visitors to develop an appreciation for the diversity of birds in our area. One part of the curriculum I created was a bird hike around the park. Due to COVID-19, I had to make adjustments but I was able to provide a self-guided bird hike for visitors at the park during August. Visitors enjoyed spending time outdoors looking and listening for birds along the trails. Because this year has been so different with how environmental education programs are able to serve audiences, I also included digital components in the curriculum which include a virtual bird hike video that can be shared with school groups so they can still enjoy having a park experience even if they are unable to physically visit Haw River State Park.”

Amy said the certification program helped her find a balance in her approach to teaching. “Participating in this program helped me to find a balance between content and fun when teaching others. Content should be engaging! When learning, people – especially kids – should have opportunities to explore, make discoveries, and have meaningful experiences.” She also said the program changed the way she views environmental issues. “Instead of stressing about environmental issues, I now look at them as learning and teaching opportunities. Working with community members and other environmental educators, we can make small changes that are impactful. Also, if you want people to care for the environment and help solve environmental problems, you first have to give them opportunities to connect with the environment and learn about it.”

Monday, December 14, 2020

Frances Bozak, Park Ranger at Hammocks Beach State Park Completes NC Environmental Education Certification

Frances Bozak, a park ranger at Hammocks Beach State Park recently completed her Environmental Education Certification. As a non-formal educator with North Carolina State Parks, Frances provides programs for families and school groups.

Frances says her favorite part of the program was traveling around the state and the outdoor, instructor-led professional development. 

For her community partnership project, Frances worked with Coastal Carolina University and Carolina Kids Fish, a non-profit organization to create opportunities for kids and adults in the local community to get outside and fish for free. “It can be expensive to go fishing after you buy all the bait and tackle and some parents do not know where they can go to take their kids to fish. We also saw a lack of children getting out in the community to play. We provided a location, bait, and tackle for community members to use. This gave kids a chance to get outdoors and learn about their local environment.” Frances says because the program was free and advertised on Facebook and to local schools, it gave everyone regardless of their background an opportunity to participate. “It’s a great way for kids to learn about their local environment. By teaching them about the local ecosystem and how they can enjoy it, we give children and parents a connection with the world around them. We provide an opportunity for children to be outdoors and experience nature through all their senses in a safe environment.”

Frances says that participating in the online air quality workshop offered by the Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality, helped her understand how much air pollution has affected our state. When asked if the program had changed the way she approached teaching she said, gave her different strategies for adapting programs for different groups. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Jamie Justice, Education Coordinator for the Museum of Coastal Carolina Completes her NC Environmental Education Certification

Jamie Justice, education coordinator for the Museum of Coastal Carolina recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Jamie is responsible for planning education programming at the museum that focuses on coastal environments. She teaches school groups about coastal habitats and species through interpretive nature walks along the beach and the marsh and by guiding students through the museum’s exhibits. 

Jamie enjoyed going to workshops and networking with other educators to share ideas and learning from other environmental education centers. “I enjoyed going to all of the instructional workshops and getting to participate from the point of view of the student while also learning tips for teaching the curriculum.”

For her community partnership project, Jamie worked with Brunswick Town Fort Anderson to design new trail signs and brochures about the different habitats that are at the site. “I developed a curriculum focused on water quality and macroinvertebrates for fourth and eighth graders that visit the site each year. This project helped the students gain a better understanding of the habitats and species at Brunswick Town in a fun, engaging way and also provided visitors with up to date information about the things they would see as they hiked through the site, while also informing them of some species to look out for that bite or sting.”

Jamie says the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “I’ve changed my focus from the impact humans have on the environment to what we can do to protect the environment and to address the effects we have caused.”

She feels the certification program is well-rounded and covers all areas of environmental education instruction. “It helps keep educators up to date on current issues and provides methods and practice in instructing a diverse audience.”

Monday, November 2, 2020

Mikayla Renn, A Conservation Specialist with the Wake Soil and Water Conservation District Completes Her NC Environmental Education Certification

Mikayla Renn, a conservation specialist with the Wake Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Mikayla supports the director of the Wake SWCD with office administration and operations. She also provides support to their Natural Resource Conservationists in all aspects of both technical and office work. Mikayla believes the certification helped diversify her skills. 

Mikayla's favorite part of earning the certification was gaining knowledge in various fields and having the opportunity to explore North Carolina. “One of my favorite experiences was a mushroom identification workshop. I have always wanted to learn mushroom identification but never had the time to learn on my own. We found tons of mushrooms that day, some of which I had never seen before. It was such a fun experience trekking through the woods and learning with other educators."

For her community partnership project, Mikayla created three educational resources for the Bailey and Sarah Williamson Preserve. “With these resources, visitors of the preserve will learn about the preserve's pollinator garden and will discover ways they can implement native landscaping at home." 

Although she is not currently an environmental educator, she uses skills she learned in the program while speaking to the public and creating web content and newsletters. “I try to incorporate more visual and auditory components into these resources instead of just written content.”

Mikayla says, “obtaining this certification changed the way I look at environmental issues. It's not black and white. There are multiple viewpoints and cultural dynamics to take into consideration.”

Julia Hardy, a Conservation Program Education Specialist and Administrative Assistant for Wilkes County Soil and Water Conservation District Completes Her NC Environmental Education Certification.

Julia Hardy, a Conservation Program Education Specialist and Administrative Assistant for Wilkes County Soil and Water Conservation District completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. 

When she is not working, Julia enjoys spending time with her husband and two children outdoors, riding horses, playing with her four dogs, and helping with her church youth group. Her favorite part of earning her certification was meeting other educators in the program and learning different ways to educate others about the environment. 

Julia says the certification experience that stands out for her is the NA Bat Acoustic Monitoring Program. For this program she volunteered to drive a North American Bat monitoring route with equipment provided by NC Wildlife Resources Commission attached to her vehicle to collect bat data. The data was based on the sounds from the bats collected digitally at night. “My husband and children were able to go with me when the route was driven and were we able to not only hear the bats being found with the equipment but with the use of a tablet we were also able to see 2-3 suggested types of bats that the system recognized. The best part is all this was going back to research and we will eventually get results to let us know for sure what we heard and saw, also, we never realized how many bats are really always around us or even how many varieties of bats are in our area!”

For her community partnership project, Julia created online folder of lessons as a resource for other educators and students. “When the stay-at-home order began for COVID-19, everyone was in panic mode to do virtual/distance learning. I had already started the process of creating sample lessons to share with my local teachers to help promote my environmental lessons. As time went on, I talked with the local 4-H extension agent, local women’s Farm Bureau group, and other soil and water educators. Everyone I talked with was needing some way to share our resources, ideas, and lessons.” Julia was able to share the resources with other educators and new lessons and modifications are continuously being added. Julia recently added a virtual field trip to for 5th-9th graders. She offers to do all the lessons virtually, in-class, or in outside spaces with students.

Julia says participating in the certification program helped her tremendously. “I changed my approach to teaching others by learning how to read the group and making needed adjustments during the lesson to keep everyone engaged.”

Julia says the program changed the way she approaches environmental issues. “The program provided me with the tools to help others understand and learn from the environment around them including what impacts their environment and how to care for the environment.”

Friday, October 9, 2020

Lillie Reiter, Instructor at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher Completes Her Environmental Education Certification

Lillie is a nonformal environmental educator with a background in marine biology and ecology. She is an outreach instructor at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher currently on furlough due to the pandemic. Her work at the aquarium includes taking ambassador animals and other educational experiences out to students and adults in the surrounding community. Lillie is an AmeriCorps alumni and serves on the board of the Mid-Atlantic Marine Education Association as scholarship chair. She is interested in issues related to environmental justice, equity, and inclusion. In her personal time, she likes to bake, garden and to go on outdoor adventures. 

Lillie says one of her favorite things about earning her certification beyond the knowledge she gained was the networking opportunities. “I met wonderful environmental enthusiasts and educators which led to making friends and career network connections. I'd look forward to seeing the same people class to class and would often fall into a comfortable discussion of the topic quickly.” She says another exciting part of certification was the actual fieldwork included in the classes. “I've participated in activities such as bat mist netting, dissecting owl poop and counting flower buds for national data collection. I was able to put the skills into use after having just learned them and it was very helpful.”

The community partnership project was the aspect of the program that stood out for Lillie. Her project was at Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve in Wilmington NC. The nature preserve is used for recreation as and as a learning forest for the college of UNC Wilmington. Hurricane Florence flooded a large section of the preserve which devastated recently planted native longleaf pine trees and changed the course of the many walking trails. “Working with my Conservation Trust of North Carolina AmeriCorps host site, The Coastal Land Trust, and UNCW's Environmental Studies program, I organized multiple volunteer workdays to plant hundreds of new longleaf pines, clear trails, and bring awareness to the wonderful teaching space. Members of the community engaged in place-based environmental volunteering, the Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve got a spotlight in the community for being a teaching forest, and native trees were given a boost in the ecosystem.”

When asked how the certification changed her approach to teaching Lillie says there was one workshop that really had an impact. “Multiple classes during this process had a hand in shaping the way I teach environmental education currently, however, I feel the biggest impact came from K-12 Guidelines for Excellence (offered by Environmental Educators of North Carolina). The main lesson I learned was how to teach for environmental literacy, going beyond the state standards. I also learned how to assess my own environmental literacy, encourage critical thinking skills in students, and how being interdisciplinary can improve programs.”

Lillie says the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “The way I think about environmental issues has deepened and become more multi-faceted. I'm able to research topics more thoroughly because I have more resources and engage in a discussion considering all sides. One big topic I've become aware of that's changed my life drastically is single-use plastics. I've changed the way I store food, the items I purchase at grocery stores, and the way I talk about it to students after learning so much through this certification.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Iredell County Volunteer and Docent Whit Strunk Completes His NC Environmental Education Certification

Whit Strunk recently completed the NC Environmental Education Program. Whit is a volunteer and docent for multiple organizations including Catawba Lands Conservancy, Carolina Thread Trail, Mecklenburg Park and Recreation Department, Friends of Lake Norman State Park and Catawba Riverkeeper. When he is not volunteering, he enjoys nature study, meteorology, kayaking, canoeing, boating, hiking, camping and surf fishing.

Whit says his favorite part of the program was the wealth of knowledge shared by instructors, colleagues and peers. “The creative ways educators are using to present scientific information was invaluable. My two favorite programs were the Leopold Education Project and Certified Interpretive Guide Training.”

When asked if the certification program changed his approach to teaching, Whit says prior to pursuing certification his only teaching experience was with adults. “During the Spring and Summer of 2019, I served as a volunteer educator at Allison Woods Outdoor Learning Center. Most of the participants in the programs I taught were 5th and 6th graders. This presented an enriching challenge in preparing and delivering to learners of an age different from what I was used to. I do believe that teaching young people has made me a better adult educator because I am using new and creative methodologies I learned during certification coursework.”

For his Community Partnership Project, Whit led a team of Allison Woods Outdoor Learning Center staff and volunteers in building a greenhouse and a raised bed garden. Both were then used by the Aqua Sprouts 4-H Club in Iredell County. The produce grown was donated to a local food bank located in Harmony, NC. “The Aqua Sprouts 4H Club was formed to teach its members about the scientific theory and practical application of aquaponics and hydroponics. Teaching was conducted in a traditional classroom with an indoor laboratory. The club wanted to expand its program offerings to include traditional gardening techniques.  When the leader made me aware of the club’s plan for expanding their program I offered to take the lead on planning, designing and constructing a greenhouse and raised bed garden.”

When asked if the way he thinks about environmental issues changed after participating in the certification program, Whit says he more clearly recognizes the importance of presenting well researched and credible scientific information. “While I believe I always presented credible scientific information, teaching in our current political environment makes it even more important. Today I advocate less in my role as an educator, and inform more using the best scientific information available.”

Small Business Owner Honor Muralt Recently Completed the NC Environmental Education Certification

Honor Muralt, an educational business owner, recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification. Honor recently started a business called Educational Adventures and hopes the certification will enhance her programming. Honor designs curriculum aligned with the state's education standards for public and private schools. Her 15 years of experience as an art literacy teacher and her experience as a vocalist means that her lesson includes art and music as ways to teach educational concepts, hands-on science activities, art and create interactive presentations. When she isn’t creating fun educational experiences, Honor enjoys going on hikes in nature.

Honor says her favorite part of earning her certification was connecting with people and nature. “I loved exploring the coastal, piedmont and mountain regions of North Carolina, and I learned a lot about the different organisms that live here. I enjoyed all the workshops that taught about specific animal species like bears, amphibians, raptors and mammals. I gained a lot of knowledge to share with students.

She says the certification experiences that stood out the most were the experiences with live animals. “I enjoyed Turtle Exploration Workshop at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area where I was able to see live sea, terrestrial and aquatic turtles. At Advance Wild Raptors I was able to see a Barred Owl, Mississippi Kite and Great Horned Owl. The Wild Amphibians workshop provided me with the opportunity to see NC native frogs and salamanders up-close. I love these experiences, and I am looking forward to registering for more in the future.”

For her community partnership project Honor worked with students at a local elementary school to clean up overgrown trails, the outdoor classroom space, and docks overlooking a pond. “My goal was to provide teachers with an opportunity to teach NC state standards out in nature, instead of the classroom. The project increased awareness and use of this space by teachers and students. Unfortunately, the closing of schools due to COVID-19 has halted the use at this point. My hope is that the outdoor space will continue to become more popular with teachers, and they will use this amazing opportunity to continue to connect students to nature.”

Honor says participating in the certification program changed her approach to teaching. “Participating in the EE Certification process helped me to recognize the importance of adding more inquiry and collaboration time for students, so I have adjusted my lessons to allow time for appropriate grade level discussions to occur. The Five E's Instructional Model taught at the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop taught me great strategies to direct my teaching time. I have become a lot better at assessing student’s knowledge by asking more questions.”

The program also increased Honor’s awareness of environmental issues. “I learned about the affect light pollution has on sea turtle hatchlings, sound pollution has on animals, soil contamination that invades our water supply, and littering that endangers the health of birds. I have learned a great deal of information attending the environmental education workshops, and I share this information with my children, family members, friends, teachers, and students.”

Monday, September 21, 2020

Dana Thomason with the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island Completes Her Environmental Education Certification

Dana Thomason, the Lead Special Activities Instructor and Summer Camp Coordinator at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification.

Among her many responsibilities at the aquarium, Dana develops and leads curriculum-based public environmental educational programming, both indoor and outdoor, facilitates special educational events and conducts program evaluation. When not working, she enjoys beachcombing for unique sea glass and Mollusca sea treasures, taking hikes through the maritime forests, uploading photographs of nature to iNaturalist, reading books and traveling to new places.

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Dana says she benefitted in some way from all the components of the program.  “Instructional workshops aided me in gaining further knowledge on certain environmental topics/issues, build positive relations with fellow environmental educators, and have access to hands-on activities with keeping booklets provided at the workshop. Outdoor experiential learning allowed me to emerge myself into nature and use a practical application to identifying certain shorebird species, leaf-mining insects, and nature play learning to the test. Teaching reinforced the fact that my unique educational interpretation style and skills reach participants at a level that helps them find a connection to nature and want to act to protect it. Perhaps my favorite part was traveling to other NC regions and attending conferences/seminars that served as a platform to foster collaborative efforts in EE interpretation/skills for educators.”

Dana says that she gained a wealth of knowledge on the many environmental topics during the program and seeing the passion of workshops facilitators like CC King and Becky Skiba with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission for informal teaching made an impression on her. “Embarking on the EE Certificate Program led to many memorable experiences and the ones that have stayed with me are the instructional workshops led by enthusiastic facilitators such as CC King and Becky Skiba. Many interpretation techniques I witnessed from the two educators, are now added to my programs and activities.”

For her community partnership program which is required for certification, Dana created "Earth Fair OBX VII", a free event held annually in the Outer Banks and organized by a member of CEEN-Coastal Environmental Educators Network of North Carolina. Members of the Outer Banks community were invited to attend this free event where local organizations hosted a table showcasing what they do to educate, promote sustainability, and protect the environment. “Earth Fair OBX VII event shined light on environmental awareness, individual and community action, and the sheer joy of celebrating the valuable resources our planet gives us. Adults and children were able to enjoy interactive and informative tables, a live band that created a friendly, fun-loving vibe and the chance to enter in a few locally donated raffle items that support future Earth Fair OBX events! The community gained knowledge on the many local organizations that value, appreciate and protect our coastal habitats and ways to support, volunteer or participate.”

Dana says the program changed the way she teaches. “Participating in the EE Certification program led to the fine-tuning of my interpretation skills and expanding my knowledge on topics my Marine Biology degree did not cover in my college career. Before embarking on this program, I was fortunate to have had three years of informal educational teaching experience, but never truly had the opportunity to get trained on environmental hands-on workshops. The program helped me to recognize that by understanding my target audience, I could then work to build a positive connection for them and the natural world. As an active listener, I taught my programs and activities with my audience's needs and questions at the forefront.”

Dana says that her mindset on environmental issues did not change because of the certification program but that it did change her interpretation techniques and hands-on activities to help the audience understand, connect and care about environmental issues. “If not presented correctly, many environmental issues can be seen as "doom and gloom" where an individual's actions may not be portrayed as making a positive impact. Or the general misunderstanding of scientific data can negatively curve the audience's outlook on these issues. It is the interpreter's role to help build a foundation of awareness, knowledge, relevancy and potential action to help change the tide of some of these issues.”

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Highlighting and Incorporating Environmental Justice, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Environmental Education Programs

Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 143 tasks the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality with the “integration of environmental justice considerations into current and future policies, programs, and procedures,” and here at DEQ, we believe environmental education plays an essential role in that effort. 

“Environmental education connects people to the state’s rich natural resources and empowers them to bring positive change to their communities,” says DEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan. “This program is for everyone and we want to make sure it represents the diversity of our state and includes the voices and perspectives of often underserved communities.” Secretary Regan serves on the Environmental Justice Subcommittee of the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force meeting established by the Governor’s Executive Order. 

To better represent the importance of environmental justice in environmental education, our office of has modified its 
mission statement and is seeking new partnerships and opportunities for our programs. “The goal of environmental education is environmental literacy for all residents of North Carolina and should include environmental justice and its history,” says Lisa Tolley, program director for the Office of Environmental Education. “To achieve this goal, we must focus on increasing access of diverse communities to natural areas and environmental education programs.”

One way we plan to meet this goal is to provide environmental educators with better access to training in justice, diversity, equity and inclusion. We currently encourage and accept professional development in these topics for credit in the NC Environmental Education Certification, a professional development program for educators, and we are already working to highlight more quality workshops, resources and training. Our office also plans to partner with organizations such as Environmental Educators of North Carolina (EENC), the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), and others to build training and professional development in justice, diversity, equity and inclusion into the certification program.

“By providing this training, we will increase educators’ cultural competency and ensure that environmental education programs are inclusive and relevant to diverse communities. We want to help more educators incorporate justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion in their teaching strategy, relationships with students, lessons, projects, and resources,” says Lauren Pyle, Executive Director of EENC. 

And these are just the first steps. The office will also continue working with community colleges and universities to increase diversity in the conservation fields and in environmental education by reaching out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and minority-serving organizations and include them in a conversation on how to reach students. We plan to leverage existing university partnerships, such as the NC State University environmental education minor, as a model for other institutions and programs.

We are already using our existing platforms such as the successful Lunchtime Discovery Series partnership with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences to highlight current environmental justice work and the people and organizations that are engaging underserved communities and youth in the outdoors. Our most recent guest speaker was Tatiana Height, Doctoral Candidate in Agriculture and Extension Education at North Carolina State University, who discussed park and green space inequity in marginalized communities.

The series will also feature the museum's Coordinator of Accessibility and Inclusion, Jessie Rassau talking about the 
November 17 STEM Showcase for Students with Disabilities

As these plans develop, we will be using our new “Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion” page on our website, as the main information hub for these resources and opportunities. We’ve also developed an interactive database of related webinars, workshops and resources that can also be found here and on the new page. Visit it often for new content and updates on this new effort, or consider subscribing to the Teachable Moments blog or the office email list.

Read the press release

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Kristin Rosser, Outdoor Recreation Specialist for Mecklenburg County Completes Her N.C. Environmental Education Certification

Kristin is an Outdoor Recreation Specialist at Latta Nature Center in Mecklenburg County where she teaches environmental education courses and leads adventure tours. She is also completing a Master of Science in Environmental Education at Montreat College.

Kristin says the certification program has provided her with skills she will continue to use as she provides programs and tours. “It is a well-respected and difficult certification to receive and I am proud to have completed it. I think it will definitely help me professionally in the future.”

When asked what she liked best about the program, Kristin says it was the level of organization in the program’s curriculum, the accessibility and application of standards, and the variety of activities provided for each set of lesson plans.
For her community-based project, Kristin created a geocaching lesson plan to introduce students to maps, orienteering, geocaching, and nature. Children are taught how to read, create, and follow a map as they use Global Positioning System (GPS) to find caches with nature facts. “This lesson plan has been used by schools visiting Reedy Creek Nature Preserve. It gets them outside while still sharpening their technological and naturalist skills.”

Kristin says the program gave her many more tools to pull from and that she is more prepared and practiced at educating as a result. “Since every workshop I completed touched on environmental issues, I am well versed in basic environmental issues. While I am more prepared to teach about them because of the certification program, I am also more motivated to make changes in my own life!”

Monday, July 27, 2020

Union County Educator, Breanna Walker, Completes the N.C. Environmental Education Certification

Breanna Walker, education specialist for Union County Soil and Water Conservation District recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program.

As the environmental educator for her department, Breanna is responsible for creating and providing programs and workshops for both children and adults. She also does community outreach and education within her county which includes festivals and field days. When Breanna isn’t working she enjoys reading, crocheting, and exploring new places.

Breanna says being able to travel to new locations and meet other wonderful environmental educators was the most enriching part of the certification program for her. “As a new resident of North Carolina, this program allowed me to quickly build connections with other like-minded people and provided me with the opportunity to see more of what the state has to offer overall in the field of environmental education.”

When asked what experience in the program stood out to Breanna, she said it was the extremely quick response that other educators and the Office of Environmental Education had to the COVID-19 shutdown. “Several of my certification hours were acquired during this time, and I was particularly impressed with the Criteria II (outdoor instructor-led) programs that were provided virtually by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Having these activities to focus on during the shutdown helped me stay centered and focused on environmental education. As this pandemic continues, I look forward to seeing what other ideas and opportunities emerge.”

For her community project, Breanna wanted to find a way to reach various small communities within her county during the COVID-19 pandemic. She put together a DIY Bird Feeder Contest for elementary school students and partnered with Union County Public Schools to get the information about the contest to the teachers and children. Once the students had submitted their feeders and the contest was complete, the feeders were placed at various nursing homes, senior centers, and assisted living facilities throughout the county. The residents at these facilities were provided with educational materials on common birds and the significance of feeding songbirds. She was even able to present to one group of seniors via Zoom. “It was a great experience, and I feel that it not only provided the children with a way to get involved with environmental education, but it also provided joy to the senior citizens in our county,” says Breanna.

Before participating in the certification program, Breanna says she often focused on environmental issues when teaching environmental education, but the program changed her approach to teaching. “This program has helped me take a step back and look at the communities that I am working within and has enhanced my understanding of how I can connect with them to provide programs that are better suited to their needs while still teaching about the environment. I have gained so much knowledge about different programs that can be used, and I have so many ideas for the future!”

Monday, July 13, 2020

Water Challenge: NCDEQ and The North Carolina Arboretum ecoEXPLORE Launch Citizen Science Badge Program for Kids

ecoEXPLORE, an initiative of The North Carolina Arboretum that encourages kids to connect with the outdoors and engage in citizen science online, is partnering with the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on a new badge challenge for kids centered on hydrology and aquatic habitats. From July 13 through August 9, participants are encouraged to make photographic observations of aquatic and semi-aquatic organisms and upload them to their free ecoEXPLORE account. In addition, they will need to complete four weekly challenges related to local water issues to fully obtain the Water Badge.

Weekly Topics and Challenges include:
July 13-19: NC Watersheds
July 20-26: Wetlands
July 27-Aug 2: Streams
Aug 3-9: Estuaries/ Coastal Waterways

The educational content surrounding the water badge is designed in the style of a vintage comic book. Weekly videos feature real ecoEXPLORERS as the "heroes" who will consult with scientists and educators from DEQ, The North Carolina Arboretum and other educators from across the state virtually to accomplish missions based on different water topics and allow North Carolina children and their families to participate statewide.

ecoEXPLORE Creative Coordinator Jenna Kesgen says comic books have a universal appeal across all age levels and demographics. “By framing our science content within these adventure-based story lines, we can include an element of excitement and whimsy along with the main content focusing on vital issues related to local water quality. In doing so, we will hopefully reach more kids and families and increase their science literacy in an entertaining way,” says Kesgen.

Each mission will be closely tied to the challenges that ecoEXPLORERS will do safely at home to earn their badge. These challenges will help kids become more familiar with the kinds of waterways found around them and their value while encouraging them to do their own research. For example, in Challenge One: NC Watersheds, students will access the NC River Basins from the DEQ website to find their watershed and then upload their findings to earn credit for the challenge.

DEQ Water Education Program Coordinator Lauren Daniel says this partnership tied closely to the department’s mission to provide science-based environmental stewardship for the health and prosperity of ALL North Carolinians including all ages. “With this program, children get to learn how to protect our water resources in a manner that is age-appropriate and engaging. Partnering with The N.C. Arboretum on a project like their ecoEXPLORE Program makes a difference in how people understand our natural world and helps ensure a future of knowledgeable decision makers."

The first video, weekly challenge and newsletter will be available on YouTube and on ecoEXPLORE’s Facebook page July 13.

For more information about the ecoEXPLORE program, visit

For more information about NCDEQ’s Water Education Programs, visit 

Contact Information:
Jonathan Marchal,
Director of Education at The North Carolina Arboretum

Lauren Daniel

About The North Carolina Arboretum
Each year more than 500,000 visitors experience the Arboretum’s gardens, trails, exhibits and plant shows, educational programs and lectures. The Arboretum’s ability to meet its mission and enrich the visitor experience is made possible by a community of supporting resources – from members, volunteers and staff to state and local funds, special events, tribute gifts, grants and community partners.

The central mission of The North Carolina Arboretum, an affiliate institution of the 17-campus University of North Carolina System, is to cultivate connections among people, plants and places. A standard daytime parking fee of $16 per personal vehicle is required for non-Arboretum members. Special events and after-hours activities may require additional fees. For more information, please call (828) 665-2492 or visit

About ecoEXPLORE
ecoEXPLORE (Experiences Promoting Learning Outdoors for Research and Education) is an incentive-driven citizen science enrichment program for North Carolina children in grades K-8. Developed by The North Carolina Arboretum, an affiliate of the University of North Carolina System, this innovative program combines natural science exploration with kid-friendly technology to help foster children’s in science and scientific careers. Children are encouraged to get outdoors, make photographic observations of plants and wildlife, and upload their findings to their secure online account, which can be redeemed for prizes, badges and invitations to special events. Participation is free and parents or guardians can sign up their child online at

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Monique Eckerd, Research Operations Manager at Appalachian State University Completes NC Environmental Education Certification.

Monique Eckerd, Research Operations Manager at Appalachian State University, recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification.

Monique, who is also a Board Member with the Watauga Humane Society, an avid hiker, and gardener says the certification program gave her the tools to teach more informed camps as a volunteer with the Humane Society. She also enjoyed meeting other environmental educators and making new friends.

For Monique’s community partnership project, she rebuilt and enhanced the Watauga Humane Society Walking Trails. The Humane Society sits on a 13-acre tract of land in southern Watauga County which includes several acres of walking trails behind the main shelter building which are open to the public and until the initiation of this project were poorly maintained and marked. The walking trails wind through a stand of established woods with native tree species including maples, oaks, black gum, Frazier fur, white pine, and Frazier magnolia. The walking trails are rich with understory species such as rhododendron, and mountain laurel and smaller plants such as Jack-in-the-Pulpit, ferns, running cedar, and turkey’s beard which cover the woods floor.

Working in partnership with Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, Camp Cats and Canines, Gear Up, Appalachian State student volunteers and community volunteers, she was able to raise awareness of the resources and advantages of well-maintained trails for community use, engage volunteer groups in the establishment of a pollinator garden at the trail entrance and to educate volunteers on the importance of pollinators in the environment.

Monique says the trails are more widely used by community members to walk their pets and observe an old-growth stand of native trees and plants. “Humane Society volunteers have a safe and well-marked area to walk shelter dogs. Former campers have a permanent reminder of their service projects to show to their parents they feel connected to their community and the environment. Pollinators in the area have a garden to visit which brings more interest by trail users in the role of pollinators in a healthy ecosystem.”

When asked about changes in her teaching or environmental views after completing the program Monique says she as a more holistic approach to nature. “I am able to integrate that view into the learning experience. It's easy to focus on one part of an issue or concern, after participating in the program, I am able to see in the interrelationships that make up the bigger picture.”

Jessie Kerr, Educator at Foothills Equestrian Nature Center Completes Her NC Environmental Education Certification

Jessie Kerr recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification Program offered through the Department of Environmental Quality. Jessie works as an Environmental Educator at the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE) in Tryon.

In her role at FENCE, Jessie coordinates outreach programs to local elementary schools, leads field trips and organizes their summer nature camps. She also develops new programs and cares for the animals that live at the center. “When I’m not fostering a love of nature in area youth, you can find me enjoying live music, chasing waterfalls or in my hammock with my lab puppy, Bear.”

Her favorite part of earning her certification was participating in conferences. “I love connecting with other environmental educators and seeing the wonderful accomplishments of my peers. I always enjoy the informational sessions and guest speakers.” Jessie says the workshops and curriculum guides have proved to be incredibly useful in my work, especially with her summer camps. One of her favorite workshops was Project OWL offered by The North Carolina Arboretum.  “My favorite activity being the Microtrek hike with circles of tied yarn to encourage students to explore forest biodiversity on the ground. Having become one of my staples, I always keep pieces of yarn in my pack for this activity during camps and hikes!”

The certification experience that stands out to Jessie was participating in the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher’s first Baja Island Ecology Educator Program. “I was able to connect with some amazing educators across the state and brainstorm ways to bring our experiences back to the students we teach.”

While acquiring her teaching hours, Jessie taught a recycling program at a local elementary school in which they investigated Styrofoam in landfills. Following the program, the first-grade class started a campaign to end the use of the Styrofoam water cups in their cafeteria.

For her community partnership project, she collaborated to create an eco-art installation using the theme of waste reduction focusing on single use plastics. The project included a local trash cleanup during which items were collected and then used as the materials to create the installation. The installation included informational signage and following the project, Jessie provided programming to an after-school group on the topic.

Jessie says she has learned a lot about how environmental education is delivered to students in the classroom. “As a nonformal educator, I was unaware of the discrepancies of EE in the classroom, namely climate change lessons. Exploring information provided in many of the workshops, like the Earth Day 50 session, I learned how little time is devoted each year to related programming and how many classroom teachers are uncomfortable presenting this information. These findings have helped me further understand the importance and need of my role. In my position at a small nonprofit nature center, I travel to classrooms grades K-5 to regularly provide EE programming to schools at no cost. As such, we visit several schools a day, allowing for noteworthy impacts and reach. I am evermore dedicated to bridging that gap in programming and serving as a resource for teachers in my area.”

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

City of Raleigh Nature Instructor Laurie Nielsen Completes Her NC Environmental Education Certification

Laurie Nielsen recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification Program. Laurie has been a nature instructor with the City of Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Nature Program for six years.

She teaches a variety of science and nature programs for students PreK through 5th grades, both in the school setting and at various parks throughout the city. “Most of our students are visiting the parks on a field trip, and I absolutely love helping the young people (as well as their adult chaperones) discover and explore nature with hands-on activities! I simply can't get enough of dip-netting in a pond, looking for insects in a meadow, or sharing our reptiles with eager learners.”

Laurie has also been a volunteer docent with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences Curiosity Classes for the past six years, helping to teach museum programs and visiting school groups. “When I'm not teaching, I spend lots of time outdoors, especially with my family. I like hiking all over the state of North Carolina, bicycling, paddling and floating, and photographing amazing finds in nature.”

Laurie’s favorite part of earning her certification was working with the City of Raleigh Teen Outreach Program (TOPS) to complete her community partnership project. She worked with young people in the TOPS program and their counselors to paint murals of North Carolina native butterflies on the concrete sewer risers along a section of the Greenway trail south of Shelley Lake. Laurie’s project was featured on an ABC Channel 11 news broadcast, “Citizen-led public art project turns sewer risers on Raleigh greenway into a canvas.”

“I was surprised to hear so many positive comments from Greenway users, saying that they enjoyed and appreciated the nature art in this much-used space. I was glad to help arrange a project that benefited the young artists, many of whom had not been aware of the greenways before, and that helped beautify and provide nature awareness for a range of greenway users for years to come! Her project helped the teens spend meaningful time outdoors learning about native species, beautified outdoor structures along a well-visited corridor, and educated the public about some of the butterflies they may glimpse while using the Greenway.

Laurie says that one experience that stood out for her was from a bird identification program. Over a period of about four hours, her group identified approximately 50 species of bird within Durant Nature Preserve. “It was an amazing experience for me because about half of those species were migratory ones I'd never seen before. It was a special experience to bond with others who were equally excited about exploring nature, and the first time I officially went birding."

After completing the certification program, Laurie says she is much more aware of the components of effective environmental education. “I know that environmental education goes beyond sharing information, and that it can ideally lead to changes in participants’ attitudes and empower people with the skills to make changes. It provided me with so many ideas to make lessons effective for different audiences!”

Monday, June 8, 2020

Teacher at Central Park School for Children in Durham Completes the NC Environmental Education Certification Program

Anna Morrison, a first-grade teacher at Central Park School for Children in Durham, recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification Program.

Central Park is a project-based school and Anna enjoys integrating the environment into the students’ projects. She has completed several projects with students on topics such as trees and forest animals with the help of park rangers from Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, Eno River State Park and from staff at Piedmont Wildlife Center. Students also completed a farm project and visited local farms including Woodcrest Farm in Hillsborough. “I am passionate about taking my students outside five or more times a day to explore, walk, play, learn, observe and garden! I also love to integrate mindfulness into the classroom and outside with my first graders.”

Anna is also passionate about equity and diversity in and out of the classroom and believes environmental education has a huge role to play in it. She was fortunate to partner with Village of Wisdom [] this school year and be a part of a Black Genius [] pilot program at Central Park School for Children. This program is aimed at elevating and nurturing Black student’s talents, intellect, and creativity instead of negating them. She says, “Learning to see and know my Black students’ interests better and plug into them inside the classroom or outside has been crucial to connecting to and elevating them.”

For her community partnership project Anna organized a farmer's market in front of the school. This was culminating event at the close of her first-grade students’ farm project. She invited local farmers that the students had visited as well as local businesses that could benefit from this partnership. “We asked school families that had gardens to contribute any produce they had, and our class was able to share it with our school's students and families. It was a wonderful event and celebration as we shared our love of farms with our school community and introduced them to local farmers and businesses. My students were overjoyed to stand behind tables and sell produce and help support local farmers. What a beautiful way to support our environment!”

Anna says that the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education stood out for her because she was able to take it with her husband Scott Morrison, an Associate Professor of Education at Elon University who is also working on his certification. They both share an interest in getting kids outdoors.   

Anna says she wishes more classroom teachers took advantage of this certification as well as the workshops and classes. “I have been inspired in my trainings and try to transfer bits and pieces of what I have learned along the way with this certification with my first graders. This may come out in the way of teaching them to make a nature journal on Instagram during the pandemic or a lesson from Flying Wild during a bird project. The more I learn and spend time in nature, the more I want to share with my students.

Anna says the certification program helped inspire her to start a walking curriculum with her students this past year which got them outdoors every day at 9:00 a.m. for a walk- rain or shine! “My favorite walk was when one of my students noticed a big bird at the top of an oak tree on the big loop. We all gathered under to watch. It was silent as students just took in the sight of a really big bird right up above. We were VERY still as to not disturb the bird. We were all captivated. Turns out it was a hawk. What a discovery! Every day, we felt like explorers!”

Anna hopes that more classroom teachers will pursue their environmental education certification. “Our students need this! Students need to be outside and learning about our environment! The materials from Project Learning Tree, Project Wet, Aquatic Wild, Flying Wild and many others have been incredible resources for me as a classroom teacher. I am so grateful to walk alongside other NC Environmental Educators and share with others my love of nature and care for protecting our environment.”

Friday, May 22, 2020

Mecklenburg County Educator Cassie Skrutowski Completes Her N.C. Environmental Education Certification

Cassie Skrutowski, an educator at Reedy Creek Nature Center in Charlotte and at Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill, recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification.

Cassie develops and teaches environmental education programs to school groups on field trips and provides programs to the public. She works with all age groups but her main audience is elementary-aged students. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, kayaking and nature art.

Cassie says the instructional workshops were her favorite part of the program because of the curriculum guides she received. “The guidebooks have many environmental activities in them that are extremely useful for educators. These workshops were always well put together and allowed us to explore ways we could teach the activities for varying age groups and locations. Playful Pedagogy was a workshop that stood out to me because the activities were all about letting children play and learn through play, which was such an interesting concept for me to learn about.”

For her community partnership project, Cassie created lesson plans for local preschools based on age-appropriate books about animals. She also brought nature center animals for the students to touch and learn about including hermit crabs, starfish and a yellow-bellied slider. The preschools will be able to use the lesson plans in the future and hopefully continue to incorporate environmental content into their learning.

Cassie says the certification changed her approach to teaching in several ways. “I learned about the NC school standards and how lesson plans should be in accordance with those standards for field trips. I also learned that as an environmental educator, my focus during teaching should be to give all the facts, and let my students draw their own conclusions. We, as educators, should not "force" our opinions on anyone, or try to lead them to conclusions that we personally believe are correct. I try my best now to be unbiased while teaching, and to provide all sides of any issue I speak about.”

Through the program, Cassie says she also changed her view of environmental issues. “I learned about many new environmental issues that I was not knowledgeable on prior to the workshops I took. I try to think more proactively about environmental issues, and what I can do at home and work to help.”

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Maya Revell, A Wake Forest University Graduate Student Completes Her Environmental Education Certification

Maya Revell is a graduate student in the Master of Arts in Sustainability program at Wake Forest University. Through this interdisciplinary program, she is exploring the intersections of education, environment, and equity. Maya is also a Fellow with the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a private foundation with a mission of improving the quality of live for North Carolina residents.

Maya says her favorite part of earning the Environmental Education Certification was making connections with the environmental education community across the state while learning about how to be an effective educator. “Of all the amazing experiences I had, the certification experience that stands out to me is my teaching experience with the Haw River Assembly during their annual Learning Celebration. This celebration took place over a span of three weeks, and I had the opportunity to empower young students and provide them with tools to protect their local waterways. Also, this was my first experience teaching with the Stormwater SMART Program through the Piedmont Triad Regional Council which makes it even more memorable!”

For her community partnership project, Maya organized the first Bio Blitz at Cates Farm Park with the City of Mebane, NC for Alamance County Creek Week. Maya’s project had a positive impact on the community. “Community residents were able to come to the park and engage with community entities such as NC Wildlife Resources Commission, Elon University and Haw River Assembly. During the event, families got to participate in citizen science activities, learn how to identify macroinvertebrates, and take inventory of the native plants and animals along Mill Creek in Alamance County. After the event, we were able to upload the species that were identified so that others could view their findings.”

Maya says the certification program provided her with strategies to engage younger learners in an effective way.  “As someone who had worked more in educating 8th graders and peers in college, I did not have much experience in how to effectively teach students in grades K-5. The certification program showed me the importance of play-based learning for children.”

While Maya doesn’t think the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues, she says it has shown her the value that education has in guiding others to make sustainable choices for the environment. “Because of the systemic and interconnected nature of many societal problems, this certification program has aided me in developing curriculum and teaching about the environment in a way that demonstrates this interconnectedness to students.”