Thursday, May 20, 2010

UPDATE: Status of the Office of Environmental Education

The N.C. Office of Environmental Education has received numerous requests for information about the impacts to our office as a result of the recently proposed budget cuts in the Senate. See below for detailed information on the impacts to the operations of the Office.

The Senate Bill eliminates two positions in the Office of Environmental Education, the adult environmental education program manager (river basin and informed consumer programs, and all public awareness programs for adults) and the PreK-12 environmental education program manager (teacher training institutes, outdoor classroom symposium, Environmental Literacy Plan development and all PreK-12 Programs) within the Office of Environmental Education.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Natural and Economic Resources is meeting today to review Senate budget and take input from committee members. A vote is expected to be taken in subcommittee by next Thursday. The Appropriations Committee of the North Carolina House of Representatives will hold a public hearing on Monday, May 24, to receive comments about the state budget. The hearing will be held from 7-10 p.m. at the McKimmon Center on the campus of North Carolina State University. Email comments concerning the budget may be sent to up to midnight of May 25.

The N.C. Office of Environmental Education serves as a national model for providing access to and policy for environmental education.

The N.C. Office of Environmental Education was established by the N.C. Environmental Education Act of 1993, which called for the creation of the Office of Environmental Education within the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (Link to legislation)

In 2000, the office had a staff of 10. Since that time, the staff has been cut in half. The office, which is functioning now with five employees, would be reduced by two under the Senate’s proposal. The two positions proposed for elimination include the PreK-12 Program Manager and the Adult Environmental Education Program Manager. This proposal would essentially repeal the N.C. Environmental Education Act, setting our state back 17 years.

These two positions, as well as the other positions in the office, are critical to the success of the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. The certification program’s continued growth is dependent upon the support the office provides to both formal PreK-12 classroom teachers and nonformal educators including adult educators. Both the positions proposed for elimination support the development of the certification program. The N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program cannot successfully function without the support of the Office of Environmental Education and its remaining staff.

In addition, the office has made some exciting accomplishments within the last year that would be severely affected by the current proposal.

· The Office most recently released the state's 10-year plan for environmental education. In order to meet the goals of this plan, the office must remain a fully staffed entity.

· The office is leading the effort to create a state environmental literacy plan for PreK-12 schools, which could potentially bring millions of federal dollars to the state to enhance statewide public education. The funding is being proposed through the No Child Left Inside legislation, which is one of four key pieces of legislation being considered as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act at the federal level. The plan will help better prepare North Carolina students to face environmental challenges in the future, as well as placing the state in a position to take advantage of federal funding. The PreK-12 position, with support from all 4 positions in the office, is critical to the development of this plan. On May 12, the Office of Environmental Education and partners launched the state’s Environmental Literacy Plan. (See news coverage of the event).

· Since 2002, the PreK-12 Program has led the development and coordination of high-quality professional development institutes and symposia for classroom teachers. More than 250 teachers have learned how to teach their students to use critical-thinking, problem-solving and decision-making skills by investigating locally relevant environmental issues and incorporating outdoor learning into their classroom. As a result, more than 138,000 students continue to be positively impacted by teacher participation in these professional development programs. These professional development opportunities and the resulting student impacts would not be possible without the leadership of the PreK-12 position, which is currently proposed for elimination.

· The Office received a $99,000 Stormwater Compliance Grant from Wal-Mart last year to continue the highly successful river basin educational awareness program. The Division of Water Quality has made changes to the state’s river basin boundaries and this grant would allow the office to make those changes to the river basin maps and booklets distributed to teachers and non-formal educators across the state. The office has distributed hundreds of thousands of these publications to educators and this grant would allow the office to provide these resources to other educators and citizens. The Adult Environmental Education Program Manager being considered for elimination is responsible for this program among many other programs in the office. This program was part of an effort that began in the 1990s to educate citizens about their connection to their environment and to increase environmental awareness among the adult population. This program and the consultation it provides to other agencies will not exist if the adult environmental education program manager position is eliminated.

· The office has joined eight Southeastern states in an effort to increase access to environmental education programs, resources and events. This partnership provided funding through EPA to create an online searchable database of all the environmental education resources in the state. This program is also managed by the Adult Environmental Education Program Manager, a position which is being proposed for elimination.

· In April, the Office of Environmental Education recognized 185 formal and non-formal educators for completing the EE Certification Program. North Carolina is now home to more than 900 certified environmental educators.

The PreK-12 and adult environmental education programs are essential to the mission of the Office of Environmental Education. The PreK-12 and adult environmental education programs are severely understaffed as they currently exist, with two people serving the needs of the entire state. By necessity, all five of the office’s staff collaborates on multiple grants and programs; individual staff members are not solely responsible for program areas. The five positions remaining are all critical to meeting the mandate in the office's legislation. Any further cuts of this program will render the program essentially ineffective.

Monday, May 17, 2010

N.C. Environmental Literacy Plan Kickoff Event Video

News 14 Carolina did an excellent video and news story about the kickoff for the North Carolina Environmental Literacy Plan that was held Wednesday, May 12 at Wiley Elementary in Raleigh. Visit this link for the complete story. Senator Josh Stein delivered remarks, as well as State Superintendent June Atkinson and N.C. DENR Secretary Dee Freeman.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

State Leaders and Educators Launch Environmental Literacy Plan for N.C. Students

Release: Immediate Contact: Sarah Yelton
Date: May 11, 2010 Phone: (919) 733-0711

Superintendent Atkinson Launches Environmental Literacy Plan for N.C. Students

State leaders and educators will launch North Carolina’s new environmental literacy plan on Wednesday (May 11, 2010) at a Raleigh school that has become a model for outdoor learning.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson and Dee Freeman, secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, will help kickoff the plan during the 9:15 a.m. ceremony at Wiley International Studies Magnet Elementary School, 301 Saint Mary’s St., Raleigh.

The environmental literacy plan aims to ensure that graduates of North Carolina’s public schools are prepared for future environmental challenges. The plan is a partnership between the state departments of Environment and Natural Resources and Public Instruction.

“This plan will provide students with the essential critical-thinking and problem-solving skills they will need to meet real-world challenges and contribute to healthy, sustainable and prosperous communities,” Atkinson said. “Environmental literacy is an important part of a well-rounded education. It is also increasingly important as businesses recognize that an environmentally literate workforce is essential for long-term success and sustainability.”

The plan would prepare North Carolina to take advantage of federal funding through proposed No Child Left Inside, or NCLI, legislation. The NCLI Act is one of four key pieces of legislation being considered as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or ESEA. The ESEA authorizes federally funded education programs administered by the states. It is being reviewed for reauthorization this year.

Freeman said a state environmental literacy plan is important for the state’s future.

“To be globally competitive in the 21st Century and to have a sustainable and healthy future, North Carolina needs environmentally literate individuals and communities who can make informed decisions about the complex environmental issues affecting our economy, public health and natural resources,” Freeman said.

Wiley, the Raleigh school hosting the event, was an ideal location because of its outdoor learning area that includes a natural learning garden and a Piedmont Savannah restoration area. Recently, volunteers completed a community service project that added a learning platform to the school’s outdoor classroom area. The platform will provide a place for students to study outside. During Wednesday’s ceremony, state officials and members of the PTA as well as educators at Wiley will unveil the new platform and add plants to the school’s outdoor garden.

Wiley serves as a model for other schools that would like to have outdoor learning areas. Wiley Principal Erin Kershner, teachers and PTA members are committed to using the outdoors to teach students. You can learn more about Wiley’s outdoor learning areas online at The state’s environmental literacy plan is an important component of North Carolina’s master plan for environmental education, which can be found at
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N.C.'s Newest Certified Environmental Educators Honored

Professor and author David Sobel, Antioch University New England, was keynote speaker.

The Office of Environmental Education and its certification program sponsors and partners recently honored the state's newest certified environmental educators. The special ceremony was held at the Research Triangle Park Sheraton. The program has certified 185 individuals since the last ceremony in 2006, bringing the total number of N.C. certifed environmental educators to 908.

Educators and guests from around the state were treated to an inspiring keynote address by David Sobel, professor and director of teacher certification programs at Antioch University New England. Sobel is a widely recognized authority on environmental and place-based education and is the author of several books, including "Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms & Communities and Childhood and Nature." Sobel was introduced by Rebecca Garland, chief academic officer for the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (N.C. DPI). Garland gave an inspirational talk as well, emphasizing the importance of the positive working relationship between N.C. DPI and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The nationally recognized North Carolina Environmental Education Program was the first program of its kind in the country. The program began with 25 certified educators in 1996. Today, more than 1,800 teachers, park rangers, non-formal educators and North Carolina residents are enrolled in the program. The program has been used as a model by a number of other states, as well as South Korea.

Participants in the program are required to complete 200 hours of professional development, which includes instructional workshops, 50 hours of outdoor experiences, knowledge of environmental education resources and facilities, a teaching component and a community environmental stewardship project. Administered by the N.C. Office of Environmental Education, the program is sponsored by N.C. DENR, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, Environmental Educators of North Carolina, the Environmental Education Fund, the N.C. Association of Environmental Education Centers and the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

Environmental education certification ensures high-quality, comprehensive environmental education programs by establishing standards for the environmental education profession. It has become a powerful tool for strengthening the field of environmental education in North Carolina and is a widely recognized credential for employment in environmental education and related fields. "The certification program recognizes professional development in environmental education and the educators who have committed their time to instilling a sense of environmental stewardship in children and adults," noted Dee Freeman, secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. "This program inspires educators to use the outdoors to teach math, science, social studies, language arts and art while connecting students to their communities and instilling an environmental ethic. It also helps provide future citizens and adults with the data and skills needed to make knowledgeable environmental decisions."

Ceremony sponsors included Progress Energy; Duke Energy; N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission; Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation; Environmental Educators of North Carolina; N.C. Aquarium Society; N.C. Zoological Society; Friends of State Parks; Project Food, Land and People, N.C. Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts; Southeastern Community College; N.C. Association of Environmental Education Centers and the Environmental Education Fund. A list of the certified Environmental Educators by county can be viewed on the Office of Environmental Education's website at

Newly certified environmental educators, program sponsors and guests from across the state got a chance to meet and mingle at the recent North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Ceremony.

David Sobel, N.C. DENR Secretary Dee Freeman and N.C. Division of Parks and Recreation Director Lewis Ledford pose with rangers and staff that were honored at the certification ceremony. Forty-four rangers were honored, as well as a park office assistant, an interpretation and education specialist, members of state park friends groups and a member of the N.C. Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.