Tuesday, February 19, 2019

DEQ Secretary Recognizes Elementary School Teacher Rebecca Masters

On February 19th, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan visited Central Elementary School in Elizabeth City to award Rebecca Masters the department's NC Environmental Education Certification.

Ms. Masters has been an elementary school teacher for 20 years, teaching every grade from kindergarten through fifth grade. She has worked at three different schools in Elizabeth City, and most of her career has been spent teaching kindergartners. Ms. Masters has a passion for bringing her interests to the children at her school. "My loves are science, art, and reading. There is no kind of feeling in the world like seeing a child read for the first time, or seeing their eyes light up when they learn a little bit about the natural world."

Mr. Shel Davis, Interim Principal at Central Elementary School, and Dr. Joanne Sanders, Acting Superintendent for Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, joined Secretary Regan in congratulating Ms. Masters on her achievement.

During Secretary Regan's visit to Ms. Masters' classroom, he took part in a "Bird Beak Breakfast," part of the students' curriculum on birds and their adaptations. Bird Beak Breakfast is an activity from Growing Up WILD, a program of the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies offered to educators through the NC Wildlife Resource Commission. Growing Up WILD was one of the many environmental education workshops Rebecca completed for her Environmental Education Certification.


Ms. Masters said her favorite part of the certification program was "traveling around North Carolina, seeing more of my home in the past four years than I have in 31 years that I have lived here. I have hiked more, seen more waterfalls, driven more landscapes, experienced more ecosystems from the mountains to the sea."

She also said she fell in love with workshop facilitators like CC King (NC Wildlife Resources Commission) and Mir Youngquist-Thurow (Agape Center for Environmental Education) and their teaching styles: hands-on, inquiry-based, action-oriented. “I played with insect larvae in creeks and ponds and learned to love bugs. I also learned to catch my first fish through Project Catch with Becky Skiba (NC Wildlife Resources Commission). I attended a several treks with Megan Chesser and Melissa Dowland through NC Museum of Natural Sciences - kayaking, hiking, learning to draw and take detailed field notes, identifying plants and birds, spotting my first bears in the wild, and experiencing tens of thousands of Canada geese and tundra swan in the icy cold pre-dawn hours of wildlife refuges. I just cannot fully explain to you how all of these adventures have deeply affected me on a personal and professional level.”

For her community partnership project, Ms. Masters coordinated environmental education stations for a festival at Dismal Swamp State Park. The stations were part of an event called Dismal Day, an annual celebration of the park's nature and history. Families in the counties surrounding the park come to Dismal Day to enjoy cultural exhibits, food, music, boat rides, and other festivities. She saw a need for a kid-friendly environmental education component at the festival and worked with park rangers and local volunteers to set up education stations. Five stations were set up along a walking trail, and each station had volunteers who taught abbreviated versions of lessons from environmental education programs. Youth participants from the surrounding area took part in brief activities and lessons that, in Rebecca's words, "opened their eyes and their minds to the park, the trail, and environmental issues."

Participant at one of the environmental education stations at Dismal Day
Through the certification program, Rebecca found opportunities to step out of her established role as a teacher and once again become a student. "All of my courses, treks, and classes taught me to be more open and that it is OK to not know all the answers. Observation and education are key, not necessarily getting everything right the first time..."

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

Monday, February 11, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Gretchen Stokes


Congratulations to Gretchen Stokes for completing the NC Environmental Education Certification. Gretchen is a PhD student in ecology at the University of Florida, where she also serves as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. Gretchen studies movement ecology, tropical ecology, and global biodiversity conservation.

As a scientist, Gretchen had years of academic coursework in ecology, but little teaching experience. She said she pursued the program because of her interest in gaining hands-on experience as an educator. Gretchen found the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop to be the most helpful part of the program. "I learned a lot about inquiry-based teaching, group facilitation, and group management while teaching in the field." The networking aspects of the certification program were also a highlight. "I enjoyed the diversity of workshops...and getting to meet a diversity of instructors, educators and others who I might otherwise never have run into."

Gretchen conducted her community partnership project on a farm in Catawba, VA, a rural community near Virginia Tech. At the farm, she worked with Dr. Mary McDonald, a veterinarian who runs a training program called FARM. FARM stands for "Farm Animal Refresher for Missions." The one-week programs provide training in animal health care for veterinarians and veterinary students going on mission trips to developing countries. Gretchen noticed that the trainings had no environmental component, so she worked with Dr. McDonald to create trainings that would prepare veterinarians to lead mission projects that combine farm animal health and environmental health.


Gretchen also developed curriculum for an aquatic ecology and conservation lab for local college students who visit the farm. During the field course, students conduct water quality testing and biotic sampling in Catawba Creek, a stream that runs through the farm. Students also take part in a discussion of the role of humans as stewards of the earth, and record their reflections in nature journals. During the farm's first field course, students helped plant over 300 trees along Catawba Creek to serve as a riparian buffer. As Gretchen said, "This will not only improve water quality for a small section of Catawba Creek, but it will provide a working example to neighboring farms and other residences in Catawba Valley about how to have cattle and protect the stream. Hopefully having this as a model stream for improved conservation efforts will have a ripple effect."


A survey after the first field course showed successful results. "In the post-teaching evaluation, almost all students reported that the course helped them think more about the environment and that they are more motivated to change their behavior in at least one way to benefit the environment," Gretchen said.

Recently, Gretchen returned from teaching the second year of the aquatic ecology field course. The students did some maintenance on the riparian buffer, as well as another round of water quality sampling, physical stream measurements, and biotic sampling. Reflecting back on the weekend spent at the farm, Gretchen explained the impact of the course. "Many of these students have never spent time doing anything related to field biology so it's really cool to see their interest grow as they spend time outside. Some even, at the end of the day, approached me asking how they could pursue a career in environmental science or biology."

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Sarah Goodman


Congratulations to Sarah Goodman for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Sarah works at Providence Day School in Charlotte, N.C., as a sixth through eighth grade science teacher and environmental sustainability coordinator.

For her community partnership project, Sarah implemented a Trout in the Classroom project at her school. Trout in the Classroom is an environmental education program in which students raise trout from eggs to fry and eventually release the fish in a nearby stream, all while learning about water quality, conservation, and stream habitats. Sarah partnered with Rocky River Trout Unlimited and South Mountains State Park to complete the project. Starting in September, Sarah's students raised rainbow trout in their classroom at Providence Day School. During science classes, Sarah taught the students about bio-indicators in rivers, such as macroinvertebrates that indicate good water quality.

"I felt there was a need to connect the students in my classroom with outdoors spaces that went beyond school gardens and river cleanup," Sarah said. "By connecting the need for clean water with environmental stewardship, the students are able to see the impacts of keeping the land around our water systems clean." The students also learned the importance of cleaning the tanks where the trout eggs were kept and taking periodic water samples. At the beginning of the school year, Sarah taught the students about potential causes of death for the trout. This included a lesson on a fungal infestation that can kill the trout eggs before they hatch.

On release day, Sarah took the students (and the trout) to South Mountains State Park, where a park ranger gave the students an introductory lesson about the park's aquatic ecosystems. After releasing the trout in the river, the students spent an hour in the river collecting macroinvertebrates, fish, and other bio-indicators.

Students use nets to search for macroinvertebrates on the river bottom.
Sarah said the project "connects human activity to the health of an ecosystem and encourages youth to continue sharing their knowledge while doing their part for the environment."

Trout in the Classroom wasn't the only new project that Sarah started at Providence Day School. She also implemented a nature journaling component in the student's semester work. "Once or twice a month, the students receive a prompt and we take a break from content to go outside and observe the natural world...The hope is that the students are able to reflect better but also use their observation skills on their own explorations." Sarah said that participating in the certification program prompted her to approach science from a different angle, and to encourage her students to do the same.


To learn more about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification program, visit the N.C. Office of Environmental Education website. If you are interested in implementing Trout in the Classroom at your school, visit the Trout in the Classroom website.


Educator Spotlight: Molly Gillespie

Congratulations to Molly Gillespie for recently completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Molly has an enviable career, with work locations in both the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina and the National Parks of Alaska. Between October and April, she works at Muddy Sneakers in Brevard, N.C. teaching fifth grade science lessons in various outdoor locations in western North Carolina. Between May and October, she lives in Denali National Park in Alaska, where she works as a naturalist and wilderness guide leading 10-day expeditions through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Gates of the Arctic National Park.

Molly is passionate about both of her jobs. Describing her position with Muddy Sneakers, she said, "I love that during the school year, I get to teach students science on public lands-- learning in nature allows them to appreciate the natural world while understanding that they are a part of it. Perhaps I am impacting the next generation of people who care about the environment!"

When asked about her favorite part of the certification program, Molly replied, "I enjoyed the networking that naturally occurred at the various workshops I attended. I enjoyed making professional contacts, new friends, and gaining great knowledge of the EE resources in the area."

For her community partnership project, Molly helped establish a pollinator garden at The Park at Flat Rock in Flat Rock, N.C. The Park was formerly a golf course, which was converted into a natural area with trails, streams, a playground, and meeting areas. To build her pollinator garden, Molly partnered with volunteers and the head naturalist at The Park at Flat Rock, as well as the Mountain Trail Outdoor School. Mountain Trail Outdoor School is a local environmental education center that shared their greenhouse space so Molly could store plants over the winter.

Molly established the garden as an official Monarch Waystation, an area that provides the necessary food and habitat for monarchs to survive their long migration. Along with a group of dedicated volunteers, Molly weeded, watered, and planted for over a year to help establish the garden. Eventually a local naturalist donated owl boxes, and a local beekeeper established some hives next to the garden, adding to the diverse array of pollinator species.


Molly said that the pollinator garden "raises awareness of the importance and the current issues plaguing pollinators. By visiting a garden designed to specifically provide habitat for beneficial insects, migrating monarch butterflies, and honeybees, visitors can become aware and sensitive to the importance of pollinators and the need for gardens and habitat that support their role in our lives."

Reflecting back on what she learned during the certification program, Molly found that she had made some changes to her approach to environmental education. "I am careful that I don't preach an environmental agenda to my students. Rather, my goals are to connect them to nature and guide them to consider their entire environment in all that they do, while teaching them critical thinking skills to form their own values and attitudes."

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

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Educator Spotlight: Rachel Collins

Congratulations to Rachel Collins for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. During the certification process, Rachel was a student teacher for fifth grade math and science classes at Lindley Elementary School in Greensboro. As a classroom teacher, Rachel said her experiences in the certification program led to more integration of science in other subjects and curriculum.

For her community partnership project, Rachel partnered with the Lindley Elementary School PTA to coordinate a number of water-related projects for her students. First, students read the book, A Long Walk to Water, a story about the struggle to access clean water in Sudan. After the students read the book, Rachel arranged for two refugees from the region of Sudan where the story takes place to come to Lindley to speak to the students about water shortages in Sudanese villages. Rachel and the students led a fundraising campaign, and eventually they raised enough money to fund the building of a well in south Sudan.

Rachel also helped coordinate a school-wide Water Day at Lindley Elementary. During Water Day, community partners came to the school to talk to students about the importance of water and the water treatment process. Volunteers from UNC Greensboro's biology and education departments also came to Water Day to help students participate in hands-on educational activities.

Rachel felt that the lessons on water addressed a knowledge gap for many of the students. "We determined the need for this water project because students need to know that water is a limited resource. Most of our students at Lindley have never had to go a day without water...Teaching the students that water is a natural resource, which we must conserve, will lead to more globally aware children willing to preserve our water source and cut out unnecessary water uses."

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

Educator Spotlight: Chris Goforth

Congratulations to Chris Goforth for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. As the Head of Citizen Science for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences, Chris wears many hats. She coordinates the Museum's citizen science efforts, develops and manages several citizen science projects, educates the public, and provides citizen science trainings. In addition, Chris continues her own entomological research through the citizen science projects she runs. As Chris explained, "My background is aquatic entomology and I am in my happy place when I get to lead citizen science programs focused on insects, especially for the EE and formal educator communities. I also love working with kids and getting them involved in citizen science and/or excited about bugs!"

For her community partnership project, Chris developed a new self-led citizen science project on butterflies at J.C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh. The citizen science project operates in conjunction with eButterfly, a nationwide effort that brings together citizen scientists and professional entomologists to collect and share data on butterfly sightings. "One of the main reasons I wanted to install a new citizen science project at Raulston was because it gives people a call to action, a means of participating in basic scientific research and conservation related to butterflies through data collection in the field."

Chris created a butterfly guide, a datasheet, and garden signage that highlights butterfly hotspots and lets visitors know that the citizen science project is available. Chris used her own photos to create the butterfly guide, and took additional photos for species she was missing. She also led several butterfly programs at Raulston to introduce visitors to the project.
Chris said that participating in the certification program made her more aware of how much her program attendees appreciate activities that build skills and provide resources. In describing her insect citizen science programs, she stated, "...people are generally thrilled when I send them home with a custom guide to an insect group so they can practice their skills and/or collect data on their own after the program is over. While the big field guides are of course useful, they can be intimidating to beginners, so I try to simplify things by creating my own guides."

It's clear that Chris genuinely cares about helping her program participants to become better citizen scientists. "I spend time walking program attendees through the guide and build their ID skills during the program as well. My goal is now to send my program participants home with enough information about the natural history of the focal species and experience with the protocol that they'll feel comfortable participating on their own after the program is over."

When asked about experiences in the certification program that stood out, Chris was quick to name one particular day at Raulston. "I think perhaps the best moment of my certification came when I started leading a butterfly walk with a group of about 15 adults at Raulston and it began to rain fairly hard. Seven of the attendees left immediately, but the remaining eight walked the gardens with me for an hour in the rain! It is unbelievably gratifying as an environmental educator when you have people come to your programs who are so determined to learn what you have to teach them that they're willing to get wet and miserable."

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