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