Friday, December 21, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Paul Mazzei

Congratulations to Paul Mazzei for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Paul is the Public Programs Coordinator for the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island. Paul serves as an interpreter for live animal encounters, theater programs, and the aquarium's interactive dive program.

The aquarium where Paul works is one of three public aquariums on North Carolina's coast. The Roanoke Island aquarium is located in the town of Manteo, which is part of Dare County. Paul's community partnership project arose out of a desire to make the aquarium more accessible to the Latino population in Dare County. To come up with a project idea, Paul worked with the aquarium's partner organization, Mano al Hermano. Mano al Hermano is a nonprofit organization that provides English language tutoring, legal information, a community garden, and other services to Latino community members in Dare County.

After talking with the staff at Mano al Hermano, Paul decided to create a nature club for third through sixth grade students involved in Mano al Hermano's Family Literacy Program in Manteo. The nature club meets one Sunday per month for approximately three hours. Participants interact with live animals at the aquarium, sing songs, and take part in educational outdoor activities. Paul was able to offer the nature club and transportation to the programs through a grant from Nature Play, part of the Disney Conservation Fund.

Paul singing songs with participants in the Mano al Hermano nature club
Paul said the community partnership project was the highlight of his time spent earning his certification. "The partnership was a great experience and I hope that our relationship with the non-profit Mano al Hermano is able to continue for years into the future." He also said that participating in the certification program led to some changes in his interpretive work at the aquarium. "Based upon my experience in this program and past experiences, I've worked to revamp many of our programs at the aquarium to be more audience centered. I'm also continuously working to figure out ways to incorporate more outdoor experiences into programming."

To learn more about the interpretive programs offered at the aquarium, visit the N.C. Aquarium on Roanoke Island website. To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program, visit the Office of Environmental Education website.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Barbara Haralson

Congratulations to Barbara Haralson for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Barbara owns the Greensboro franchise of Wild Birds Unlimited, a retail store that provides supplies for feeding and observing wild birds. Barbara said she has been intending to complete the certification for years, and was finally able to take enough time away from work to take part in the required workshops.

Barbara said her favorite part of the certification program was "meeting like minded people and having the opportunity to connect and network with them. I made more connections with people in nature related jobs during the certification process than I did in 21 years of business ownership."

While Barbara's official job title does not include "environmental educator," she certainly serves as an educator in the Greensboro community. As the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, Barbara is often asked to give talks or presentations to schools, garden clubs, senior homes, and other organizations. Participating in the certification program led to some important changes in Barbara's presentation style. "I learned the importance of hands on activities in the teaching process and how important they are to keeping people engaged. I also learned the value of providing the education and then allowing people to come to their own conclusions."
Barbara at her store, Wild Birds Unlimited, in Greensboro
For her community partnership project, Barbara installed a series of nest boxes for Eastern bluebirds along the Bryan Park golf course trail in Greensboro. The nest boxes are made out of recycled plastic milk jugs. Barbara also installed the poles for the boxes, as well as baffles to protect the eggs and baby birds from predators. Barbara monitored the boxes weekly throughout the spring and summer, gathering data on the number of eggs, nestlings, and fledglings. The data was reported to the North Carolina Bluebird Society, an organization that monitors the status of the Eastern bluebird. Barbara was interested in installing nest boxes for Eastern bluebirds because the species nearly went extinct in the 1930s. Beginning in the 1970s, the establishment of nest boxes specifically for bluebirds has led to widespread recovery of populations.

To culminate her project, Barbara gave a presentation at Get Outdoors Paddlesports about the success of the nest boxes, the near extinction of bluebirds, and the life history and habitat requirements of bluebirds. She also talked about the recycled plastic nest boxes and provided information on the importance of reducing plastic use and properly recycling plastic products.

The nest box project seems to be having a positive impact on more than just the birds. As Barbara reported, "Every time I went out to monitor the nest boxes, I encountered golfers who wanted to learn about the bluebirds and how to attract them to their own yard."

To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program, visit the Office of Environmental Education website.

Friday, December 14, 2018

DEQ Secretary Regan Recognizes Fort Caswell Educator Tara Whicker

DEQ Secretary Regan was at Fort Caswell to congratulate Tara Whicker for completing the department’s Environmental Education Certification Program and to learn more about Caswell’s educational programming.

Whicker is the coastal education assistant coordinator with the Environmental Stewardship Program at Fort Caswell. She helps facilitate field trips and teach K-12 students about coastal ecology and marine biology in a non-formal, outdoor setting.

Fort Caswell is surrounded by a salt marsh, the Cape Fear River, and the Atlantic Ocean which creates a unique outdoor classroom for students. Caswell’s Environmental Stewardship Program provides students with the opportunity to explore the shore and the fort, seine in the marsh, catch fish and blue crabs, view plankton under a microscope, and even kayak through a tidal creek.

Secretary Regan congratulated Whicker for completing the program. “North Carolina is fortunate to have educators like Tara providing outdoor experiences and programs for K-12 students that teach them about North Carolina’s rich coastal ecology.”

For her community partnership project, Tara organized an International Coastal Cleanup Event at Caswell Beach. Participants at the event collected and sorted marine debris and data on the marine debris was submitted to the Ocean Conservancy’s online database. Tara planned, advertised, and hosted the event in partnership with the Town of Caswell Beach and the Caswell Beach Turtle Watch program. As part of the event, Tara developed and delivered educational lessons on marine debris. Tara worked with Brunswick Electric to obtain a grant to fund the project.

The marine habitat around Fort Caswell had an obvious impact on Tara’s motivation to pursue the beach cleanup. “With the beach in my backyard, I feel a strong need to do my part in protecting this wonderful ecosystem and the coastal wildlife that depends upon healthy waterways. Just like lots of tiny pieces of plastic are causing a global marine debris crisis, so too can tiny bits of positive change turn the tides for caring for our earth. As an educator in my small community, I know firsthand that many who have lived in Brunswick County their whole lives know very little about some of the wonders they have in their own backyard. I believe that small events like the International Beach Cleanup do make a difference and that the lesson plans that coincide with the event also can have beneficial impacts to my community.”

DEQ Secretary Recognizes NC State Park Ranger for Earning Environmental Education Certification

DEQ Secretary Michael Regan recently joined NC State Parks Director Dwayne Patterson at 
William B. Umstead State Park to recognize Billy Drakeford for completing DEQ’s Environmental Education Certification. Park Superintendent Scott Letchworth and staff from state parks, and the DEQ Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs joined Drakeford for a brief interpretive hike about the cultural history and ecology of the park.

Drakeford worked as a park ranger at Mount Mitchell before coming to Umstead, and even though he considers himself an experienced ranger, he says he gained a wealth of resources from the certification. He particularly noted a workshop at Montreat College as part of the program.  “The big thing I was impressed about was the young students at Montreat College and their passion for environmental education. Put a little spark back into me when it comes to environmental issues,” said Drakeford.

As the group hiked down to the lake, a bald eagle flew overhead almost on cue and a family with young children was heard saying they had never seen a bald eagle before. Secretary Regan took the chance encounter as an opportunity to thank state parks for the value they place on education and for supporting rangers’ participation in such an intense professional development program. “The fact that you have completed this program speaks volumes to your commitment to teaching children and adults about the rich history and natural heritage at Umstead and in North Carolina,” said Regan. 

As part of his certification, Drakeford conducted a community partnership project in the park partnering with North Carolina Homeschool Adventures, a group that plans field trips for the N.C. homeschool community. Drakeford worked with group members to revitalize a nature trail in Umstead Park, which included researching, redesigning and installing new signage.  

“Inspiration Trail” is a short interpretive trail near the park’s Reedy Creek entrance with signs providing ecological and historical information about the area. After going on field trips to the park, the North Carolina Homeschool Adventures group made Drakeford aware of the outdated nature of the signs on Inspiration Trail. Drakeford recognized the need for new signs with updated interpretive information, and he set to work on researching appropriate educational material. As part of his mission to bring in appropriate educational material, Drakeford redesigned new signs and supervised the replacement of these new signs. 

Now visitors to the Inspiration Trail can benefit from Drakeford’s project. “The homeschoolers and community now have a nature trail that is legible and contains a lot of great historical and ecological facts.” 

Drakeford noted that not only does the certification program provide exciting professional development opportunities for “seasoned” rangers, but it also gives new rangers the opportunity to “get their feet wet” by exploring a variety of environmental education resources, workshops, and environmental education centers.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Kelly Nields

Congratulations to Kelly Nields on completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Kelly is a zookeeper at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. Kelly has worked at the zoo for over 12 years taking care of grizzly bears, black bears, elk, bison, and American red wolves.

When asked about highlights from the certification program, Kelly said, "My favorite part of earning my certification was having my eyes opened to all the great educational and outdoor experiences that our state offers! The best part was that for most of my experiences that earned my certification, I was able to bring along my family to experience it with me." Kelly has a young son, and she enjoyed the opportunity to get him involved in environmental education. "Being able to share in those experiences with him and to see his excitement about nature and the environment was something I will always be grateful for and will never forget!"

For her community partnership project, Kelly created a pollinator garden at her son's school, the Childcare Network of Adams Farm in Greensboro. The lessons she learned in the certification program helped Kelly recognize a need for environmental education at her son's school. "After speaking with my son's PreK teacher, I learned they didn't have a lot of outdoor environmental curriculum.  I spoke with individual teachers as well as directors about creating an outdoor learning environment that could benefit the children and teachers long after my son graduates to kindergarten."

To pay for the materials for the pollinator garden, Kelly applied for and received a grant from her local chapter of the American Association of Zookeepers. She also partnered with the All-A-Flutter butterfly farm in High Point. Kelly provided the school with a planter box and the student helped with planting and maintaining the garden. In addition, Kelly helped the school's teachers develop resources for teaching students about the importance of pollinators. "We also saw [the garden] as a great way to encourage parents to talk to their kids about pollinators and ways they could help at home once outside the classroom."

Kelly said that by completing the certification program, she developed "...a commitment to provide accurate and balanced factual information. To not muddy the message with a particular view point." Most importantly, she concluded, "I better understand my responsibility as an environmental educator."

To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification, visit the Office of Environmental Education website

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Molly Nelms

Congratulations to Molly Nelms for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Molly is a creative specialist who uses art and environmental education experiences to connect people with the natural world.

Molly, a North Carolina native, said her favorite part of the certification program was the rediscovery of her home state. "The awareness and richness I rediscovered in NC was heart warming and reminded me of how special it is to have grown up here and to have been raised in this wonderful place of natural beauty and biodiversity."

She found that the program opened up new possibilities in her work as an educator and interpreter. When asked how the certification program changed her approach to teaching, Molly said, "The EE Certificate program redefined the way I will use my leadership and teaching skill set." Molly particularly enjoyed the personable experiences created by the instructors in the certification program. She said she appreciated "experiencing nature through their eyes."

For her community partnership project, Molly worked with Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck, N.C to expand and enhance the park's natural outdoor play area. Molly's goal was to support Sylvan Heights in bringing more creative play opportunities and resources for education programming to the children visiting the park. To do this, Molly used her expertise as a creative specialist to work with the park's Education Coordinator on designing several outdoor play resources. 

With help from Sylvan Heights staff members, Molly painted and installed bird houses, added components to the park's sand cafe, created a mural about dinosaurs and fossils, and enhanced a nature trail around the playground.

Molly found that participating in the certification program also changed the way she approached environmental issues. "I became more engaged and participated in more action oriented community programs that bring about awareness and education for North Carolinians." 

To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification, visit the Office of Environmental Education website.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Leah Farr

Congratulations to Leah Farr for completing her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Leah is a park ranger at Jordan Lake State Recreational Area near Apex, North Carolina. At Jordan Lake, Leah teaches informal education programs, maintains campgrounds, and enforces park regulations. Leah is also a Girl Scout leader, and she said the skills she gained in the certification program helped in both of her roles.

Leah's favorite part of the certification program was the variety of learning opportunities. In particular, she enjoyed that every workshop and class offered something new. "Before this program, I didn't give myself enough opportunities to teach," Leah said. Through hands-on courses in teaching methodologies, Leah learned about age-appropriate environmental activities. Leah said she now has a better understanding of how to break down educational programs for younger audiences and provide more rigorous programs for adults.

For her community partnership project, Leah partnered with the UNC Institute for the Environment's Caterpillars Count program. Caterpillars Count is a citizen science program for measuring seasonal variation and abundance of caterpillars, beetles, spiders, and other arthropods. Leah set up Caterpillars Count survey sites at Jordan Lake and invited both visitors and park rangers to help her search for and identify arthropods. 

Leah's community partnership project was inspired by a need to expand the knowledge of local species at Jordan Lake. Leah realized that a citizen science project would be the perfect way to engage visitors in environmental education. "Our community varies daily because of the nature of our location. We have some repeat patrons but we also needed a better way to reach out to the rotating patrons." To conduct Caterpillars Count surveys at Jordan Lake, participants simply shake designated trees and let the arthropods in the trees fall onto a "beat sheet," a large white sheet that allows participants to easily see the organisms. Participants then document all the arthropods they see and identify the species if possible, although species identification is not required. "This flexibility takes pressure off those who just want to search for new species and not worry about identifying every type of arthropod."

Leah also involved the public through the use of the N.C. State Parks system's online database. The N.C. State Parks System Natural Resources Inventory Database allows users to view lists and photos of plants and animals found in all of North Carolina's state parks. Leah uploaded pictures and other biological information about the arthropods found during Caterpillars Count surveys to Jordan Lake's species list. As Leah pointed out, "This database is a great way to reach out to people who are just looking for a check off list for their hiking or camping trip." 

Leah said her time in the certification program changed her understanding of the natural world. "I believe I have a broader understanding of how to approach and learn about environmental issues. I pay more attention to species, habitats, and changes happening in our environment."

To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification, visit the Office of Environmental Education website.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Angela Roach

Congratulations to Angela Roach for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Angela is a park ranger at Falls Lake State Recreation Area near Wake Forest, NC, where she works to improve visitor experiences and protect natural resources.

Angela enjoys learning and teaching about wildlife, and when asked what stood out to her about the certification program, she stated that it was the chance to work with other passionate wildlife conservationists. "I love reptiles and amphibians and this certification program paved a way for me to interact with and become cohorts with some of the key conservationists in the state." Angela also benefited from the certification program through a course in teaching methodology. "The Methods of Teaching EE class really showed me that everyone learns differently...I have now tailored my teachings to a variety of teaching styles so I can reach a much broader audience."

For her community partnership project, Angela partnered with a boy scout troop and other park rangers at Falls Lake to design and build a podium containing fish identification information. Angela said that the project was inspired by her first few months working at Falls Lake, during which the most common question she fielded was, "What kinds of fish can I catch here?" This made her realize that there was a lack of publicly available information about fishing and fish species at Falls Lake.

A local boy scout working on his Eagle Scout Project designed and constructed the wooden podium, while Angela designed a mini flip book to help people identify and learn more about the fish species found in Falls Lake. The weather resistant flip book will go inside the podium, and the podium will be placed on a day use fishing pier inside the park. Angela also kept younger children in mind while designing the project, and created a special activity for kids that might be too young to fish. "The podium was finished with a chalkboard paint and a chalk box will be located near the podium so smaller children will have something to do while their parents fish."

Angela said she was thankful that she was able to start the certification program prior to becoming a park ranger, and that she looks forward to incorporating all she learned into her career at Falls Lake. She concluded by describing the certification program as "a great way to meet professionals in the field, gain contacts, share ideas and establish a network."

Monday, October 15, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Lily Dancy-Jones

Congratulations to Lily Dancy-Jones of Asheville for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Lily is a Biology and AP Environmental Science teacher and the sponsor for the Eco Club at Clyde A. Erwin High School. Lily also chairs the steering committee of Youth for Environmental Stewardship (YES), a collective of environmental clubs across high schools and colleges in the greater Asheville area.

Lily said she enjoyed building relationships with other environmental educators during the certification process. "It is inspiring to learn about what others are doing across the state and exchange ideas and resources." Her favorite part of the process was having a chance to be a student again. "Being able to be the student, not the teacher, and experience high quality, thoughtfully planned programs was a great change from leading my traditional classroom and gave me more energy and inspiration as an educator."

For her community partnership project, Lily established an educational pollinator garden at Erwin High School. Lily put an impressive amount of thought into her project, making plans for the garden long before building it. "It was years in the making, starting with a workshop I took in the first year of working on my certification, and blossomed into a beautiful and amazing source of inspiration for conservation in my community."

To build the garden and provide educational opportunities for the Erwin community, Lily partnered with the North Carolina Arboretum, UNC Asheville, and Asheville Greenworks, among other partners. Her goal was to increase awareness about the importance of pollinators in the rural community of Erwin, and to bring a strong conservation ethic to the community. "I wanted to reach more students, as well as our faculty and visiting community members, to change the conversation about the purpose of gardens and the importance of pollinators and the impact individual actions could have."

Lily worked with a wide variety of K-12 students, UNC Asheville undergraduates, and other community members to build the pollinator garden. Students in the Eco Club and the AP Environmental Science class helped to collect native plants and create educational flyers about pollinators for other students at the high school. Local K-12 and college students built bee hotels for the garden. Lily also partnered with the N.C. Arboretum to help students learn to monitor monarch butterfly populations and eventually raise their own monarchs in the classroom. The garden is now a certified Monarch Waystation (through, a Schoolyard Habitat, and a Pollinator Pitstop (through the National Wildlife Federation).

Lily's community partnership project and her overall experience with the certification program made her reassess the way educators can instill environmental values in students. "I try to cultivate a conservation ethic in my students but I now think more carefully about how I do that, and have them come to their own conclusions with information I've shared rather than asking them to have the same viewpoint as I do."

To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification, visit the Office of Environmental Education website.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Sea Level Rise and Security in the Southeast: A Film Screening and Discussion Panel

 On September 30, a panel of military, academic and government experts met to discuss the risks posed by sea level rise and opportunities to build resilience across North Carolina’s coastal communities. In the wake of Hurricane Florence, rising sea levels and catastrophic flooding are among the greatest threats to America’s safety and security in a 21st century world. 

John Nicholson, chief deputy secretary for the Department of Environmental Quality facilitated the panel discussion. Nicholson, a retired Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps reflected on his service in the military and how it’s shaped his views on climate change. “Sea level rise affects our coastal communities and presents special challenges for the coastal military bases we rely on to preserve our national security. Efforts to build resiliency among these communities will require the cooperation of policy makers, planners, scientists, military leaders and most importantly, the residents of these areas,” said Nicholson.

The discussion included representatives of the United States Navy and the Center for Climate and Security, professors from the Coastal Studies Institute at East Carolina University and the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Director of the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Penn State University, and the Principal Planner for the Town of Nags Head, North Carolina. The event also featured a screening of Tidewater, an award-winning film from the American Resilience Project that details the challenges sea level rise presents to military readiness, national security, and coastal communities in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. You can view Tidewater online at

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, the Center for Climate and Security, North Carolina Sea Grant, and the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership hosted the event at the NCSU Hunt Library on Centennial Campus.

You can view the livestream at

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Gretta Steffens

Roseboro, N.C. native Gretta Steffens recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Gretta is the Environmental Education Coordinator at the Sampson Soil and Water Conservation District. As the Environmental Education Coordinator, Gretta provides workshops for educators, coaches local middle and high school EnviroThon teams and establishes environmental education programs for local schools.

The N.C. Environmental Education Certification program had a profound effect on Gretta. In her words, “I fell in love with nature again and with North Carolina. I have enjoyed meeting people from all around the state who work in environmental education, they have been amazing. I love all the books and tools I have been given to use in my teaching and all the contacts I have made who have been so helpful.”

In particular, a workshop on elk with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences stands out in Gretta’s memory. “I realized one morning at sunrise, standing on a mountain, watching two male elk rattle their horns together, that I had found my calling. The beauty of the moment spoke to my soul and I felt that sense of wonder that you get as a child come flooding back to me.”

For Gretta’s community partnership project, she created a community garden in her hometown of Roseboro. Gretta partnered with a local artist and a master gardener to turn an empty lot in the middle of town into a garden filled with vegetables and fruits to be donated to community members. Supplies, funding, and labor to build the garden were all donated by local citizens and businesses. While there were some bumps in the road, Gretta and her partners were resilient throughout the partnership project. “We applied to a few grants, but never heard anything back. This didn’t discourage anyone, we just worked all the harder and the people of my town took real pride in doing it themselves.”

Gretta’s community garden project has already benefitted the Roseboro community. Shortly after finishing the project, Gretta reported, “The Community Garden has supplied produce to the local Meals on Wheels program, the local nursing home, to home-bound citizens and to socially disadvantaged families. It will be used as a teaching garden, an educational opportunity for local students and for volunteer opportunities for community groups and clubs…The garden has become a social gathering place, a place to learn and relax. It adds to the beauty of the town with its amazing plants and rustic fencing.”

Greta expressed gratitude for the certification program, stating that the workshops and classes she took broadened her way of thinking about the environment. “I see a much bigger picture than I did before. I am much more aware of the effects of future populations and long term global issues.”

Greta also said that the certification program gave her more confidence to teach environmental education lessons. “I think the main way that it has led to changes in my approach is by using more hands on involvement and more time outside. I have learned to make it fun as well as informative.”

To learn more about the NC Environmental Education Certification, visit the Office of Environmental Education website.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Jane Jarrett

Congratulations to Jane Jarrett for completing her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Jane is an instructor at East Carolina University, where she teaches undergraduate students majoring in recreation and park management and recreation therapy. “One of the classes I teach is recreation and event programming, where I mentor students through the writing of program plans and implementation of community events and programs,” said Jane. When asked about her life outside of work, Jane replied, “When I am not working you can find me spending time with my two large dogs, my snake or my bird!”

For her community partnership project, Jane created a set of interactive nature boxes for a schoolyard garden in Greenville, North Carolina. Her project was part of an afterschool program for children who have underperformed in a traditional school environment. Jane created nature boxes with different themes related to the schoolyard garden, with a special focus on birds and pollinators. “My goal was to develop interactive, themed nature boxes that motivated students and kept them engaged,” said Jane.

Jane partnered with the East Carolina University Lab School and the Pitt County School System to implement her project. To help students keep up with their school curriculum, Jane ensured that learning materials in the nature boxes were related to vocabulary and concepts learned in the classroom. Nature boxes contained crafts, games, activities, and lesson plans for teachers and other learning facilitators.

As an educator focusing on community-based initiatives, it was important to Jane to create a project that engaged not only the school children, but the other community members involved in implementing the afterschool program. “This project engages members of the community by providing them resources to utilize while working with the participants. Having the materials, lessons, activities, games etc. ready to implement makes this project accessible for the facilitators/teachers/volunteers. The nature boxes, Children's Garden and afterschool program are provided to the participants for free.”

Jane said her favorite part of the N.C. Environmental Education Certification process was the chance “to interact with passionate educators and facilitators.” She also stated that participating in the certification program led to some changes in her teaching style. "I started noticing more subtle connections that I have personally made to enhance my labs and lectures...I was able to share methods of teaching environmental education with my students and encouraged them to create an atmosphere of excitement rather than advocacy with their participants."

When asked about the trainings and workshops that she enjoyed most during the certification process, Jane said she appreciated programs that “involved audience participation and got people outside their comfort zone.”

To learn more about the NC Environmental Education Certification, visit the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs' website.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Kristin Gibson

In June of 2018, Kristin Gibson completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Kristin was serving as an AmeriCorps Coastal Community Engagement Specialist with the North Carolina Coastal Federation in Newport, North Carolina.

To complete her certification, Kristin organized a community partnership project focused on cleaning up marine debris on the beaches of Emerald Isle. Kristin’s project idea was motivated by the pollution she witnessed growing up along the North Carolina coast. “Spending my high school years in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, I have always known how important the summer tourists are to the local economy. However, after a long day at the beach, tourists would litter the area with straws, bags, and other plastics. Marine debris is unsightly, and takes away from the aesthetic value of the beach.”

In the fall of 2017, Kristin attended the Marine Debris Symposium, where she watched a presentation by the founder of BlueTube, an organization that collects recycled plastic bags and uses the bags as receptacles for beachgoers to collect trash. The presentation by BlueTube founder Patty Goffinet had a strong effect on Kristin. “The minute she finished her presentation, I knew BlueTube was something we needed in Emerald Isle. Not only to protect our economy, but to decrease the amount of litter entering the marine environment through education and direct action.”

Kristin orchestrated the construction of BlueTubes at two beach access points at Emerald Isle. BlueTubes are bright blue, easy-to-spot containers that hold reused plastic bags. As Kristin explains, “BlueTubes are installed at beach crossovers so people can grab a bag on their way to the beach, pick up trash and throw it away.” Kristin partnered with BlueTube Beaches, Emerald Isle Realty, and the Town of Emerald Isle Parks and Recreation to complete her project. At the end of her project, Kristin held a mini beach cleanup and public installation event, where she explained to attendees the environmental impact of marine debris.

Looking back on her certification process, Kristin stated that the program taught her to better understand how to provide educational material for different audiences. “Participating in the EE Certification program has taught me to pay more attention to age appropriate lessons and the different types of learners. This was very beneficial for my after school programming! I was able to create much more effective curriculum and lessons for the students.”

Kristin also believes that her NC Environmental Education Certification provided her with useful skills for her future career. “Earning my EE certification has allowed me to network with other educators, learn new teaching skills, and gain more knowledge of the environment in North Carolina.” Kristin encouraged other young educators to pursue the certification program, especially those who do not yet have experience in environmental education. “As a new educator, it was very helpful, and I think college students looking at the field would feel the same way.”

To learn more about BlueTube, visit the BlueTube website. To learn more about the NC Environmental Education Certification, visit the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs' website.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Educator Spotlight - Amy Taylor

Dr. Amy Taylor recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification. Dr. Taylor is an associate professor in the Watson School of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington where she teaches various levels of science methods courses for pre-service teachers as well as a few environmental studies electives.

Dr. Taylor enjoys teaching and learning outdoors as often as possible. She teaches a class called Island Ecology for Educators in which most of the class is taught outdoors in amazing settings like Carolina Beach State Park.

When asked about her favorite part of completing the program, Dr. Taylor says it was getting to meet many different people in both formal and informal education and learning more about their methods for incorporating the various curricula into their own teaching. “It's refreshing to be in the same space with people who have similar interests and passions as yourself. I have been teaching workshops such as Project Wild, Aquatic Wild, etc. since the early 90s and it never gets old! I love revamping my own teaching and taking these workshops and connecting with other educators was very beneficial to my teaching.”

She especially enjoyed the outdoor experiences where she could get outside and apply the information from the workshops. “Taking birding or herping workshops with Mike Campbell or Becky Skiba (N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission) was always a treat as they are walking encyclopedias of information and I was always in awe of how much I learned at the end of those workshops.”

For her community partnership project, Dr. Taylor partnered with the New Hanover House Assisted Living Facility associated with the Affinity Living Group located in Wilmington, NC. The Affinity Living Group is the eleventh largest provider of assisted living in the United States, the sixth largest provider of Alzheimer's and memory care, and the largest senior housing provider in the southeastern US. She worked to restore elevated planting beds at the facility and helped the residents learn about local/native flowers in our area and the importance for planting them for benefits to bees, butterflies and other pollinators. “Many of the residents were avid gardeners in their younger lives and I thought this would be a way they could get back involved on whatever level they could physically handle.”

Dr. Taylor says participating in the certification program led to changes in her approach to teaching. “I have been teaching lessons outdoors for over 20 years but by completing the environmental education certification program I have more a structured idea of how to package and direct these lessons based on the key characteristics of environmental education. Particularly how to foster a clear awareness of, and concern about, economic, social, political and ecological interdependence in urban and rural areas but more importantly how to help create new patterns of behavior among individuals/groups as a whole toward the environment.”

She also feels the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “I have always loved and had an innate appreciation of nature and the interdependence of all things in our environment. This certification program has helped me to see the "whole" picture of each type of environmental issue including the ramifications beyond our own backyard, schoolyard, or community but globally.”