Non-formal educator April Byrge recently completed the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification program. April is a seasonal National Park Service ranger at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In this role, she delivers curriculum-based environmental education and citizen science programming for students of all ages – both within the park and in the classroom. She also holds interpretive programs for park visitors.
April’s favorite part of earning her certification was the community partnership project. Through this project, certification candidates get practical experience applying what they have learned. They lead partnerships that have positive and lasting effects on communities and increase environmental awareness and understanding. For her project, April started a birding program with 3rd and 4th graders at New Kituwah Academy, a Cherokee language immersion school in Cherokee, NC.
Working with the student’s science teacher and fellow NC Certified Environmental Educator, Jessica Metz-Bugg, April developed several days’ worth of activities including birding in the field and setting up a feeder station on campus. April even coordinated a live Bird of Prey program performed by Balsam Mountain Trust. April reports that the activities went over well with the students. “The students are very excited to go birding and talk about birds and have even taught me the Cherokee names for several species.” April particularly liked that her community partnership project allowed her to spend extended time with a group of students, rather than just doing one program a year or semester with students.
Through participating in the EE Certification program, April gained new tools that influenced how she plans for programs: “Learning about the EE curriculum guides that are available has really helped me in planning for certain programs. Now, I can look up the grade's curriculum, then find a guide like Project WILD or Project Learning Tree and find cool activities that will correlate with what they are learning in the classroom. Going through the program has given me the knowledge of many different tools that are out there that can really enrich EE programming.”
While the program reinforced April’s wildlife knowledge, it introduced her to new information about water and water conservation: “Many of the wildlife topics I was already pretty familiar with, but Project Wet was really enlightening for me. I had no idea how much water I used on a weekly basis. Going through that workshop really made me take a look at how and why to conserve water.”
To find out more about Great Smoky Mountains National Park, check out their website: https://www.nps.gov/grsm/index.htm. To learn more about the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs and our certification program, visit us at www.eenorthcarolina.org.