Thursday, August 31, 2017

Educator Spotlight: Sandy Fowler

Sandy Fowler, a former middle school teacher, recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Sandy has been teaching science for the last 15 years and last year she started an Envirothon Team 
at High Point Friends School that qualified for the N.C. State Competition. When she is not teaching Sandy loves to hike the Mountains to Sea Trail and she hopes one day to teach at an environmental center or park. 

Sandy says the N.C. Envirothon Leadership training was the certification experience that stands out for her. She says the training helped her understand the expectations and objectives of the competition and curriculum and therefore, helped her students become a successful team. 

For her community partnership project, Sandy worked with Kelsie Burgess, a stormwater specialist with the City of High Point, to create backpacks for the Piedmont Environmental Center in High Point and learning boxes for Salem Lake Park. Kelsie was the lead on the Salem Lake Park project while Sandy spearheaded the Piedmont Environmental Center project. “The Piedmont Environmental Center has already put their backpacks to use during a camp this month. They will loan them out to families and teachers to use while they are at the center. Salem Lake is starting up their educational program and will be using theirs to jump start that program, as well as loan them out to families and teachers. These learning packs make it easier for the public to gain a better understanding of the environment.”

Sandy says the certification program led to changes in her approach to teaching others. “Environmental education has been a tremendous help in my methods of teaching. I have always been a hands-on teacher. The workshops have provided me with countless activities and resources to incorporate into the classroom and outside. It has also increased my knowledge on many topics. I started the Envirothon Team and the team placed 6th in the region and competed in the state competition. This team will continue to work together to improve their knowledge and scores.” 

Sandy says she is also more mindful of her how her actions affect the environment. She feels the certification program needs to be heavily promoted among teachers. “It would be so beneficial to teachers, students, parents and schools if the majority of the teachers were certified. 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Fall lunchtime lecture series promises some “spooky” surprises

The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs is offering several engaging and in some cases “spooky,” topics for their fall lunchtime speaker series.

With a nod to the season, October’s sessions include “Soring Talons of Death,” “Oddities from the Vault,” “Our Mysterious Night Flyers,” “Spooky Spiders” and “Howling Misconceptions.” Today's talk, “Ghosts Forest of the Sounds” with Marcelo Ardon Sayao of N.C. State University, will feature a unique citizen science project to investigate the changing shorelines of North Carolina.

Other presentations in the series include how to safely eat locally-caught fish, how living shorelines are helping control erosion, Raleigh’s efforts to “green” the Capital Boulevard corridor, the role of rivers in art and history and a tour of the Oakwood Cemetery featuring several of the cemetery’s conservation and green initiatives.

The guest lecture series is hosted by the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in the Dept. of Environmental Quality and features professionals from a wide range of environmental and science backgrounds. These folks represent local and state agencies, college and universities, and other organizations throughout the state. The series is designed to provide professional development for employees and educators and to give attendees the opportunity to interact directly with experts in their respective fields.

The lectures are held from noon until 1 p.m. on Wednesdays in the Environmental Literacy Center located in the Nature Research Center.

Check out the entire schedule and the incredible lineup of experts the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs is excited to welcome this fall. We look forward to seeing you there!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Educator Spotlight: Mandy Nix

Mandy Nix is a nonformal educator who had a very busy year. In addition to working in several seasonal positions, Mandy used her training and experiences to complete her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. She worked as an environmental education instructor at Mountain Trail Outdoor School in Hendersonville where she actively engaged 2nd to 8th-grade school groups in high adventure and discovery-based curricula throughout 1400 acres of southern Appalachian bogs, ponds, streams and forests. She taught a hands-on, “minds-on” natural science curriculum on native flora and fauna for the Nature Explorers Camp at the N.C. Botanical Garden. In September, Mandy will begin a year of service as an AmeriCorps member with Trout Unlimited. She will serve as a West Virginia Volunteer Restoration and Monitoring Organizer engaging volunteers from local communities in the restoration, monitoring and protection of the cold, clean water in our Appalachian waterways.

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Mandy points to the teaching resources. “I’m laughably greedy about new curricula - books, educational posters and advanced field ID training - and the environmental education certification program left me breathless with such invaluable teaching resources. I’ve never felt more equipped to forge daily connections between communities and backyard flora/fauna.”

For her community partnership project, Mandy developed the Lemur S.C.O.U.T. Patch Program at the Duke Lemur Center to engage local youth, ages 6 to 12, in lemur science and conservation. The program gave the participants a toolkit of skills during the five-step program to “Study, Conserve, Observe, Understand and Teach.” The program also allowed her to create connections between the program and the Piedmont Girl Scouts and Y Guides.

Mandy says the program changed her approach to teaching others. “The program was hugely transformative for both my teaching and my perception of environmental education. It reinforced that we’re not teaching our communities to be scientists; we’re teaching them to be science lovers and science literate, thus empowering them to be intimate participants in conservation.”

She feels that the program further supported her views about the importance of working with communities and engaging youth early-on. “The certification program fortified my belief that conservation is rooted in deep, personal connections in and with nature. My own relationship with the natural world was born from sticky summers in the North Carolina Piedmont, where Kerr Lake was a quick hop-skip through the mixed hardwood and pine forests I called my backyard. But while I was lucky to have a childhood that kept dirt under my fingernails and between my toes, many lack my own experience and exposure. It’s important that I play an active role in growing that accessibility and engaging our communities in wild, green spaces. Moreover, those connections should begin early – with our youngest citizens.”

Monday, August 14, 2017

Educator Spotlight: Cheryl Michalec

Cheryl Michalec, a 2nd grade teacher at Sandy Ridge Elementary School with Durham Public Schools, recently earned her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Cheryl teaches reading, math, science, social studies and writing. Her school has a visual and performing arts focus and the students often enjoy the outdoor space on their campus and use art and writing to reflect on their experiences outdoors. 

Cheryl credits the certification program with helping her start an “encore” or post-retirement career. She says that there were two favorite parts of earning her certification. One was going on the educator treks offered by the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. “My experiences on educator treks taught me so much about the beauty of our state. I could not believe that I grew up in North Carolina and had never seen the snow geese and swans migrating.” Her other favorite part was creating a pollinator garden at her school. “I loved planting the pollinator garden with our second grade students. They demonstrated amazing teamwork and commitment to providing a habitat for bees and butterflies. I cannot wait for them to come back this fall and see how it has grown.”

The trip Cheryl took to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center at Topsail Beach was the experience that stood out for her. “I was inspired by the work of the turtle hospital and by Karen Beasley herself who took the time to speak with us. It is still difficult to believe the amazing experience. We saw a nesting mother, a nest boil and a Kemps Ridley hatchling that was still in a nest. To have seen one of these events would have been wonderful but all three in one trip just beats the odds.”

For her community partnership project Cheryl received a grant from the Keep Durham Beautiful: Healthy Bee, Healthy Me program which provided plants, soil, mulch and expert advice she need to install the pollinator garden on the school’s campus. “It is a beautiful sight, and is already blooming and covered in bees and butterflies. In addition, we have a blue bird living right there in a house that a student painted. The garden has an abundance of life on the ground and in the air. The project made me more aware of the resources available in our community. The people from Master Gardener Program, Soil and Water and Keep Durham Beautiful in addition to our school community all worked together to make this an amazing project. Our students learned from experts and have access to extra resources.”

Cheryl feels that participating in the program changed her approach to teaching. “I feel that I am more relaxed teaching about the natural world. I do not feel as pressed to give the students facts and figures. I want them to become active observers and questioners. My focus is to give them some background on a topic and let them run with their new knowledge. For example, "Create Your Own Butterfly," has become one of my standard lessons.”

Cheryl says the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “Making small changes of my own have been difficult, and I feel that I do care about the environment. So, reaching out to help others notice how they can make a positive impact is not going to be instantaneous. Working with children is an opportunity to build that relationship with the environment, and then I hope that when they see opportunities to care for the world around them, they will take them. My students were beginning to look around OUR community and thinking of what they could do.” 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Educator Spotlight: Teresa Andrews

Teresa Andrews, a stormwater specialist in Randolph County, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Andrews is responsible for managing NPDES (
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) Phase II Permit Programs for several municipalities in the Piedmont. The Phase II Permit Programs require stormwater education for all ages and Teresa coordinates, plans and implements environmental education programs for the citizens in the communities where she works. In her personal time, she loves to fish, garden and quilt and has been a beekeeper for five years.

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Teresa says she enjoyed the community partnership project and the workshops she attended. “The partnership project allowed me to utilize the skills that I gained throughout the certification and to create something that has a positive lasting impact on my community. All of the workshops I was able to attend were so creative and inspiring, whether through the materials and lesson plans I received or new ideas, they helped me become a better educator.”

For her community partnership project, Teresa built a pollinator garden in Fair Grove Park in the City of Thomasville. She partnered with the City of Thomasville Parks and Recreation Department, Watts Lawn and Garden, and Piedmont Environmental Center for the project’s location, materials, and native plants. “The Thomasville Parks and Recreation summer camp kids came out to the garden where we had a lesson on pollinators and why they are important and how creating habitat and food sources for our pollinators is very important, then the kids helped plant all of the native pollinator plants in the garden. This pollinator garden will reach many citizens of Thomasville, whether they are driving by the garden, or stop in the park and read the signage around the garden, I hope it educates people on the importance of pollinators, and encourages them to plant their own pollinator garden.”

Teresa says participating in the program led to changes in her approach to teaching. “I definitely learned different ways to teach different topics. Not being a formally trained teacher I think that the EE Certification program helped me figure out different ways to teach different types of audiences, which is extremely helpful for my position. Whether it's adults or children I feel confident in my ability to adapt a program to suit the needs of my audience.”

Teresa found the Basics of Environmental Education Independent Study helpful when considering environmental issues. “In the Basics of Environmental Education workshop, I found all of the articles to be very inspiring and their messages extremely important to environmental educators everywhere. The way that the articles discussed how to handle teaching about environmental issues and the different ideas of the goals of environmental education inspired me to focus my topics and remember to help maintain the difference between education and advocacy.”