Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Educator Spotlight - Catrina Dillard

Catrina Dillard recently completed her Environmental Education Certification. Dillard is the volunteer and guest services coordinator at The North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville and is also currently serving as the membership coordinator for Environmental Educators of North Carolina, a non-profit professional organization for environmental educators.

For her community partnership project, Dillard worked with Lauren Pyle at the Western North Carolina (WNC) Nature Center to start Asheville's first Outdoor Play Club through an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) grant. The play club was supported by Kids in Parks, WNC Nature Center, The North Carolina Arboretum and the National Parks Service.  “I spent a great deal of time promoting and organizing events at various outdoor locations across the city. The goal was to create a play club in Asheville that promotes playing and learning outdoors while teaching families how to do so,” said Dillard.

As part of the program, Dillard facilitated several events including a nature art day at the WNC Nature Center, a kids hiking day at The North Carolina Arboretum, geocaching and letterboxing at Carrier Park and a river play day at the Davidson River. “The families I met were so excited to have a resource to get their kids outdoors in a fun, safe environment,” said Dillard. The program is now in its second year and the club’s Facebook page now has 244 members and serves as a resource for families to find fun outdoor activities across western North Carolina.

When asked about her favorite part of earning her environmental education certification, Dillard said, “I really enjoyed networking with colleagues at the workshops and all the great lessons. It was fun to take a series of classes at Montreat, Brevard College and Warren Wilson College because I was able to meet the pre-service educators and professors and gain inspiration from a whole new generation of environmental educators. I also enjoyed exploring the Environmental Education Centers across the state.” Dillard specifically notes a series of courses she took at Montreat College with Dottie Shuman, professor of Outdoor Education and Environmental Education and Tanya Poole, southern mountain education specialist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “Dr. Shuman is an inspiration to her students and is a bright spot in the world of environmental education. She and Tanya Poole make a great team- so organized, fun and inspirational.”

Dillard says that the certification program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “I see the importance of environmental education in a well-rounded education. To create world-class citizens, we need to feed our children's minds, bodies and souls. The benefits of being outdoors is proven and can help balance our test-dependent school system. Having left the classroom to become an environmental educator, I have seen the benefits of learning in and about or environment. It is our duty as educators to teach our children why they need to create sustainable living and building systems and how to be good stewards of the planet. The certification process has made me feel highly qualified and given me the resources to be a better educator, in and outside the classroom,” said Dillard. 

Friday, June 17, 2016

AmeriCorps Member's Environmental Education Certification Project Engages High School Students to Help Monarchs

Corinne Fretwell is an AmeriCorps member serving with the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy in Hendersonville. Like many AmeriCorps members who work on environmental outreach projects in North Carolina, she is also enrolled in the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality's Environmental Education Certification Program. 

                                         Corrine, center, with some of her
                      Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy 
AmeriCorps colleagues                   
Corrine gets some supervision from one of Deerwoode's year-round residents

The environmental education certification program requires a community-based partnership project, and Fretwell's is especially noteworthy. She worked to install a monarch waystation on land owned by Deerwoode Lodge and Cabins, a privately held resort located along the French Broad River south of Brevard, and also involved local high school students from the area in the project.

In 2003, 175 acres of the land were put into a conservation easement with the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (CMLC) by owner Bill Mays. But Fretwell felt the land had even more potential to serve as an ecological asset to help wildlife. Bill’s son, Matt Mayes, recounts seeing hundreds of thousands of migrating Monarchs visiting the property’s flowering fields, and in recent years he has shared the Monarchs with the family’s next generation; “I’ve gone out in the field with my daughter and caught them but it’s nothing near to the millions that used to come through here when I was a kid,” Matt shares.

Hopefully many more Monarchs will return as a result of Fretwell's project. She worked with more than 50 Brevard High School agriculture students, who with help from other CMLC AmeriCorps members planted 275 native milkweed plants on the easement. The newly planted milkweed is critical to Monarch populations since milkweed is the sole host and food source for Monarch eggs and caterpillars. The adult butterflies and other important pollinators will benefit from milkweed nectar when the plants bloom in late summer, as well as from the other planted flowers, which will extend the bloom time of the field from June through October.

The milkweed and other flowering plants were donated to the community project by CMLC. Tom Fanslow, Land Protection Director at CMLC obtained the plants from Monarch Rescue and founder Nina Veteto, who received funding for the plants from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife grant.

In keeping with the environmental education aspect, Fretwell
began each planting session with a short lesson about CMLC, land protection, habitat restoration, the Monarch life-cycle, as well as a demonstration of proper planting techniques. Students also received Monarch education materials from Monarch Watch, provided by Monarch Watch Conservation Specialist Joyce Pearsall who also joined in the planting day.

Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy is a non-profit land trust located in Hendersonville, NC. CMLC has protected more than 30,000 acres of lands that you love — and need — along the Blue Ridge Escarpment, French Broad River Valley, Hickory Nut Gorge, and beyond since its inception in 1994. For more information visit carolinamountain.org.

The N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program is administered by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality's Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs. Learn more about the program at www.eenorthcarolina.org  

NC Certified Environmental Educator's Project Revitalizes Public Space, Energizes Public Learning

Katie Boleware recently completed her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification, a program administered by the N.C. Division of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs. Boleware currently works at the North Carolina Outward Bound School, but recently worked for the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville where she completed her required community partnership project for the certification program. Located just south of Asheville, the arboretum is a 434-acre public garden which operates as an affiliate entity of the University of North Carolina system.

Boleware's project revitalized the Pollinator Garden, a public learning space at the arboretum. Recently the location became designated as a "Citizen Science Hotspot," in which 3rd-8th graders may come to record and upload ecological data to not only contribute to large scale scientific research, but also win cool prizes.

Boleware notes that "one of the aims of the project was to increase traffic in this little known public area by adding low-maintenance, low-cost, high-fun activities for younger siblings to complete while older siblings explore the Citizen Science Hotspot. Another goal was to beautify the space for field trips and summer camp groups that frequent the Pollinator Garden throughout the entire calendar year. Many varieties of vegetables were planted to harvest and cook with, host and feeder plants were added for local pollinators, and games such as tic-ta-toe and hopscotch were added to make the space generally more inviting. Through collaboration with the arboretum volunteer coordinator and United Way's Hands On! Day of Service, I organized volunteers from a local digital agency in Asheville to complete the labor required. We also began and ended the day with short discussions about the importance of garden-based environmental education, especially in our region of western North Carolina. " 

Katie's thoughts on her project are similar to many in the N.C. DEQ environmental education certification program who find it has a real, lasting impact on their communities. "My final project was very fulfilling. It allowed me to complete a long term goal at my previous workplace and leave a lasting impact on the educational space. I enjoyed collaborating with many community partners and organizing volunteers to complete a vision larger than I could have tackled on my own."

Katie relates that she also enjoyed the certification program’s field experience requirements, especially one spent at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. She also found the instructional workshops helpful in her professional development, noting that she felt the workshops "did a great job at helping me use an inquiry-based approach rather than consistently front loading every lesson. I also felt that the workshops increased my creativity when it came to coming up with new games and activities for getting my point across to a variety to audiences." 

So, consider visiting the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville to view Katie's work, as well as beautiful plants, exhibits and other natural wonders. And why not participate in the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program yourself? Learn more on the N.C. Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs website. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Certified Environmental Educator Publishes Carolina Explorers Magazine for Families and Educators

Tamara Seymour, a freelance writer, graphic designer and interim teacher at a high school in Avery County recently completed her environmental education certification and in the process started a new magazine for families and educators. 

As part of her community partnership project for her environmental education certification, Seymour published Carolina Explorers Magazine, a family magazine about nature in North Carolina, from the mountains to the coast. Carolina Explorers is a fantastic field guide for educators and parents packed full of activities and wildlife investigations. Readers will find information on great places to visit and get outdoors, unique plants and animals in North Carolina, and even the best spots for sea kayaking. 

As part of the project, Seymour shared the small format magazine with classrooms, libraries and educators. Seymour has received a lot of positive feedback. "Readers enjoy the the publication and learning about North Carolina nature and new places to explore," said Seymour.

Seymour anticipates taking on a more formal role as an Earth and Environmental Science teacher for the 2016-2017 school year. In addition to her work as a publisher and educator, Seymour has helped manage a Fraser fir tree farm for the past five years and established a small nature center at the farm. 

When asked about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program Seymour said, “I think it is one of the best managed and most valuable programs for North Carolina and its educators. The program has helped me feel more comfortable in a teaching role, has improved my content knowledge, and has proved how effective (and fun) hands-on learning can be. I've collected and connected with, many valuable and credible resources I will use from now on.” 

The certification is offered through the Department of Environmental Quality's Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs. For more information about the program, visit eenorthcarolina.org

For more information about Carolina Explorers Magazine, visit the website at ncexplorers.com

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Interactive GIS Map Helps Educators Explore the Natural and Cultural History of the Tar-Pamlico Region

Staff from the DEQ Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs recently had the opportunity to try out a new interactive GIS map developed for educators during a workshop hosted by UNC Institute for the Environment’s Environmental Resource Program.

Interactive GIS Map developed by the DEQ Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs
Tracy Weidert, program coordinator with the office participated in the EGRET (Exploring the Geographical Region and Ecosystems of the Tar-Pamlico Watershed) Workshop which was designed to help educators explore the natural and cultural history of the Tar-Pamlico region, learn more about the EGRET curriculum and to explore ways the lessons could be integrated into their existing programs.

Weidert sees lot of potential for the interactive map because it allows users to explore the geographical and ecological features of their region with students and program participants. “With the map you can identify which river basin you live in, what type of soil is beneath your feet, examine the topography of your area, and more. The map also displays the state’s Environmental Education Centers of which there are over 200 in North Carolina,” said Weidert.

The workshop was offered to educators from state parks, science museums, nature centers and colleges and universities. The workshop is an extension of the EGRET Program, a year-long fellowship program to engage 5th grade teachers from the Tar-Pamlico river basin in hands-on, inquiry-based activities integrated across content areas and with the outdoors. 

Laura McCoy, Erica Connery, Toni Abernathy examining samples created during a live tar kiln demonstration

“We hope to make the program more sustainable by offering training to environmental educators in the field who can then support classroom teachers in their areas,” said Sarah Yelton, EGRET Program Manager, with UNC Institute for the Environment.

The professional development training included sessions on how to lead nature journaling programs that build observation skills and how to do citizen science in the schoolyard. Participants learned these skills and more at the two-day workshop, which was held at Goose Creek State Park. Park rangers and staff  were essential to helping facilitate the workshop sessions which also included: exploring swamp and marsh ecosystems; investigating Goose Creek by kayak; tar kilns + turpentine: how NC’s ecosystems built the state (with demonstration of a working tar kiln); and exploring ecosystem response to human activity.

More information about the EGRET program can be found at http://ie.unc.edu/egret/

To explore your ecological address using our new map, visit http://www.eenorthcarolina.org/resources-discover-ecoaddress.html

Monday, June 6, 2016

Free Film Screening Explores Carl Schenck’s Pivotal Role in Saving America’s Forests

The Department of Environmental Quality's Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs has partnered with the North Carolina Museum of History to bring a new documentary about Carl Schenck and his role in our nation’s conservation history to downtown Raleigh, Friday, June 17 at 7 p.m.

The North Carolina Museum of History will present a free screening of “America’s First Forest: Carl Schenck and the Asheville Experiment,” the first in-depth documentary film about legendary forester and educator Carl Schenck. The film, which debuted on national public television in April, tells the story of the German forester who managed over 100,000 acres of woodlands at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville and established the first forestry school in the United States. He helped launch the American conservation movement.

Prior to the screening participants will have the opportunity to talk with local forestry education and outreach groups beginning at 6:30 p.m. The screening of “America’s First Forest” will begin at 7 p.m. followed a panel discussion and a Q&A session. The panel will feature James G. Lewis, executive producer of “America’s First Forest,” historian, and editor of Forest History Today; Brian Haines, public information officer of N.C. Forest Service; Joann Meyer-Cox, CF/CFA and owner of Meyer-Cox Forestry Consultants, LLC. Science comedian Brian Malow will serve as moderator.

Join us for this wonderful opportunity to learn more about Schenck’s amazing story and his pivotal role in our nation’s history.

Visit the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs website for more information.