Jennifer Fenwick, an interpretation and education specialist with North Carolina State Parks, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification, a program of the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in the Department of Environmental Quality. Fenwick conducts educational programs for school groups and the public and assists with special projects. Some of her programs include pond dipping, owl prowls, birding, moth nights, canoeing and butterfly and tree identification.
Fenwick has been able to take teens from the Neighborhood Ecology Corps to the mountains, swamps, and coasts of North Carolina. The Neighborhood Ecology Corps is an afternoon middle school program focusing on nature and community. The program is designed to develop environmentally literate citizens and help students create a holistic view of their community. Activities include outdoor introductions to state parks, the ecology of the local community, and eco-restoration activities. This program is led by CHER (Center for Human-Earth Restoration) and offered at no cost to students or their families. “These trips increased their knowledge of our state's rich natural history along with equipping them with recreational skills in the outdoors. However, many of the participants stayed in the Neighborhood Ecology Corps program for a second and third year and needed something more advanced. From this group, the Outdoor Leadership Academy was born.”
Fenwick’s community partnership project involved developing the Outdoor Leadership Academy which provided the Neighborhood Ecology Corps with an enhanced leadership experience through a week-long camp at Haw River and Hanging Rock State Parks. The students participated in interactive leadership discussions, increased their outdoor skills (camping, campfire cooking, canoe basics, orienteering, CPR certification, and learning the fundamentals of leading a hike), and spent ample time preparing and teaching a nature lesson. Through this camp, participants were empowered to become counselors for younger kids within the Neighborhood Ecology Corps program.
In addition, Fenwick has led a week-long overnight Outdoor Leadership Academy for the past two summers for the program participants and also she also serves as the coordinator for Wake Audubon’s Young Naturalist Club. “In North Carolina, there’s a gap in much of environmental education for kids who are ages 12-18 who are interested in the natural sciences. This club presents kids in Wake County opportunities to explore the state through visiting parks and learning from experts in the field."
Fenwick says her favorite part of earning her certification was the workshops with experts in different fields. “I was impressed with the amount and breadth of workshops available to North Carolina educators. Reading a book is helpful but to learn from an expert in the field is invaluable.” When asked about the experience that stands out for her she says it was the HERP Project (Herpetology Education in Rural Places and Spaces), a project led by Catherine Matthews through UNCG's School of Education in partnership with Elon University and UNC Pembroke and supported by the National Science Foundation. “The HERP Project was by far the best workshop I’ve ever been to.”
Fenwick says the certification has changed the way she views environmental issues. “Through the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education and other workshops I have attended through the certification program, I learned that environmental issues are best discussed when encountering the issues at hand. For example, water quality is more easily approached when participants are catching and identifying aquatic macroinvertebrates in a river. Through this fun activity and handling these small creatures, they learn that some need clean water to survive. As an extension, we begin to discuss water quality for humans. If you go straight into the environmental issues without having a shared experience, then discussion usually falls flat with people stating their ready-made responses. I am now more comfortable introducing environmental issues in my programs. Before it felt as if environmental issues were too polarizing/political. But I found that if you leave space for discussion and not just right and wrong answers, then the program is more enriching for everyone.”