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.