Rachel Woods recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Rachel owns a company that teaches North Carolina ecology to young learners ages two to 12.
Woods says that although she had many years of teaching experience when she started the program, the hands-on, outdoor classes were especially helpful in gaining knowledge specific to the state’s flora and fauna. “This program made me fall in love with North Carolina. It feels more like home to me now than before I traveled all around, learning about its rich resources. Now I get to share that first-hand knowledge and love with my students!”
She was recently selected by her town to chair a tree committee to promote Arbor Day celebrations and to qualify her town as a Tree City USA through the Arbor Day Foundation and she credits the certification with opening those opportunities for her.
Her favorite park of earning her certification was the outdoor trips. “We have so many wonderful places to visit and so many knowledgeable and talented park staff, rangers, museum staff, and teachers. I've learned so much from so many and I have now visited so many new places in North Carolina and know of so many more to visit! I definitely feel more connected to my state now.”
Woods says the birding trips to Halyburton Park in Wilmington was an experience that stood out to her in addition to exploring a wetland with the staff from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. “One night I went with the museum in Raleigh to find frogs in some wetland off the side of the road that I never knew was there, although it was four miles from my house. I go there now to see the salamanders and frogs regularly.”
For her community partnership project, Rachel installed an outdoor classroom at Holly Ridge Elementary School in Holly Springs. It began as a pollinator garden registered as a N.C. Wildlife Federation Butterfly Highway Garden, and she expanded it to include trees and shrubs for birds and enough outdoor seating to hold two classes at once. The school now has a garden club and families volunteer over the summer to care for the garden. Their network includes more than 200 people, teachers and community members who share teaching and gardening information. This April, they are using grant money to bring staff from the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences to conduct professional development for the staff and other teachers from neighboring schools on how to use a school's campus for teaching and learning through the museum’s UTOTES (Using the Outdoors to Teach Experiential Science) program.
Rachel says that the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “My business also stays strictly within North Carolina in terms of what I choose to teach about. Kids love tigers and polar bears and the rainforest, but they won't go out and see those things after my lesson. But since I keep things seasonal and local, they do immediately see what I was talking about. I hear from teachers all the time how kids go outside to look for what I was sharing with them after my lessons. I hear that from parents too."