Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Educator Spotlight: Jessica Draughn

Jessica Draughn, a communications specialist for the Town of Leland recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. 

In her role as communications specialist, Jessica says she enjoys creating engaging content and helping to make sure communication with the community is accurate and informative. In her personal time, she enjoys being outdoors, hiking, birding and looking for more opportunities to teach environmental programs with local community groups. 

Jessica says the certification helped advance her career. “Obtaining my Environmental Education Certification has allowed me to network with educators and environmentalists nationwide, many of whom are in jobs or careers they have created themselves. It’s helped me realize that you don’t necessarily have to find jobs and sometimes, the job finds you.”

She says her favorite part of earning her certification was learning and exploring lots of amazing places throughout the state. “I’ve slept in a treehouse above the Cashie River, hiked through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and learned how to pin butterflies at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. I had forgotten how fun field trips were as a kid, and these last two years have allowed me to experience that feeling all over again.”

When asked what experience stood out for her, Jessica says it was the classes she took with Gail Lemiec at the Fort Fisher Aquarium. “Gail is an incredible educator with a wealth of knowledge, and I feel so lucky to have taken Sea Turtle Exploration, Project Learning Tree, and Aquatic Wild workshops with her. She is so passionate about what she does, and it shows through the workshops she works so hard to provide to educators like me.” 

For her community partnership project, Jessica worked with a local Girl Scout Troop and the Town of Leland to install bat boxes in Westgate Nature Park. “This project was unique because the girls constructed the bat houses themselves from kits and donated the bat houses to the town. The public can view these bat houses at Westgate Nature Park, in the nature classroom at the end of the walkway. Our goal with this project was to bring awareness to the local bat populations in this area of the state and show that anyone can make a difference, no matter how small it may be.”

Jessica said the certification program changed her approach to teaching. “As a non-formal educator, I had no formal teaching experience until this program. I have a background in film studies, but I always knew that I would end up doing something related to environmental education. This program allowed me to learn more about what it takes to teach and learn from others and has helped me build the confidence I needed to do it. I will always give educators a round of applause because it's not for the faint hearted. It is a fantastic gift to give others the knowledge you have gained along your journey, and it's not something I will ever take for granted. I can't wait to continue taking classes and workshops from other educators because I know there will always be something new to learn.”

She says the program also changed the way she views environmental issues. “Through this program, I have become more invested in local environmental issues and work to help provide environmental education in an area that is quickly becoming increasingly developed. With more people moving to this part of the state daily, it's important to offer programs that help them feel connected and informed on how their footprint affects the area they now call home.”

Monday, May 20, 2024

Educator Spotlight: Brittany Watkins

Brittany Watkins with the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina recently completed her Environmental Education Certification.

Brittany is the community engagement manager for the Foothills Conservancy of North Carolina, a non-profit land trust that serves eight counties in Western North Carolina. Part of the conservancy’s mission is to "cultivate communities that value conservation" which Brittany says is at the core of everything she does. “My main responsibilities are to manage our volunteer and education programs which both aim to engage learners of all ages in land conservation through guided outings and stewardship workdays. I feel extremely lucky that I get to invite people into the woods with me to learn how to ID plants or maintain trails and call it "work." Somehow, I turned my favorite hobbies into a career, and I hope to inspire others to do the same!”

Brittany says her favorite part of the certification process was connecting with other environmental education program providers. “Sharing stories with fellow educators about programs that worked as well as ones that didn't, helped validate my experiences and fed me the encouragement I needed to keep going!”

When asked what experience stood out for her, Brittany said it was attending the Environmental Educators of North Carolina’s annual conference. “I was blown away by how many people were there and how diverse their backgrounds and goals were. There were university professors, community group leaders, K-12 teachers, and nonformal educators, like me, from all over the state. I just remember leaving with a feeling of hope and inspiration that so many people are passionate about expanding environmental literacy and helping others to get curious about our environment!”

For her community partnership project, Brittany developed and hosted a summer camp program for 6–12-year-olds called, “Our Big Backyard” that encourages exploration of the natural world through a week of outdoor adventures and nature-based crafts. “The goal of the camp was to connect underserved kids with local greenspaces like South Mountain State Park and Lake James and to introduce them to conservation partners like the NC Wildlife Resources Commission and the NC Extension Center. Since 2021, “Our Big Backyard” has expanded to a year-round program that offers field trip and in-classroom activities, as well as public environmental education workshops to learners of all ages within FCNC's service area.”

When asked if the program changed her approach to teaching, Brittany said that she learned that teaching is not preaching. “This is one of my biggest takeaways from the certification program. If we want to feed people's natural curiosity, we have to provide enough guidance to spark their interest without suffocating them in facts. Learning should be fun and explorative, not rigid. I try to weave in time for questions and lots of hands-on activities into every educational event I host now.”

Brittany says the certification program also changed the way she views environmental issues. “The EE program taught me that we can't scare people into caring about environmental issues. Instead of focusing on everything people do to hurt the environment, I now try to focus on what actions people can take to help. Actions big and small - from learning to compost, to writing an elected official about the need for more restrictions on riparian buffers, all count towards a better future for us all. But, most importantly people have to be inspired to take any action at all. And I think that is the goal of environmental educators, to share our passion for the outdoors and hope to ignite that fire in others.”

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Everything You Need to Know to Garden for Wildlife

Talk and Book Signing with National Wildlife Federation Naturalist David Mizejewski 

David Mizejewski, naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation, will give a talk followed by a book signing in the Museum of Natural Sciences’ SECU Daily Planet Theater on May 22 at noon. 

Join David for a fun and informative talk on how to create a beautiful garden space that fits into the local ecosystem and supports birds, butterflies, bees and a whole host of other wonderful wildlife neighbors. Find out why native plants are critical, the four essential components of habitat, and the best sustainable gardening practices based on the latest conservation science. He’ll also share how you can achieve the National Wildlife Federation’s “Certified Wildlife Habitat” recognition for your garden space. 

David’s book, “Attracting Birds, Butterflies, and Other Backyard Wildlife,” will be available to purchase. Meet the author and have your copy signed! 

Event Details

Wednesday, May 22, 2024
Noon – 1:00 p.m.
SECU Daily Planet Theater
Nature Research Center
121 W. Jones Street, Raleigh, 27603

Follow and mention us on Social Media:

 @NorthCarolinaEE on X (Twitter)
 @NorthCarolinaEE on Facebook
 @eenorthcarolina on Instagram 

Monday, April 22, 2024

DEQ Celebrates Earth Day with the Release of the State K-12 Environmental Literacy Plan

Fuquay-Varina- State and local leaders gathered today at Lincoln Heights Environmental Connections Magnet Elementary School to celebrate Earth Day with students and release the state’s new K-12 Environmental Literacy Plan.

“The Environmental Literacy Plan is a roadmap for increasing environmental understanding and preparing students for STEM careers,” said DEQ Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser.  “Lincoln Heights is a successful model of the schools exemplified in the Plan and the perfect place to celebrate Earth Day and the release of the updated plan.”

This 2024 revision of the original 2010 Environmental Literacy Plan was a collaboration between the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and the nonprofit Environmental Educators of North Carolina (EENC), which serves as the state’s professional association for environmental education.

The Plan provides schools and nonformal educators guidance for increasing environmental literacy and preparing students for environmental and STEM careers.

Lincoln Heights provided the ideal site to release the new plan. The school has incorporated an environmental connections magnet theme since the 2017-18 school year, and the original Environmental Literacy Plan was used to develop the program.

The Plan encourages collaborations between schools, local businesses and organizations, environmental education centers, colleges and universities, conservation organizations, and nonformal educators--individuals such as park and forest rangers, museum educators, Soil and Water District educators, local stormwater and recycling educators and others.

All of the speakers at today’s event highlighted the collaborative nature of the Plan and the environmental connections Magnet Program at Lincoln Heights. Lincoln Heights third graders shared ways to reduce food waste and the fifth grade GROW ambassadors invited guests to add pollinator plants to the school’s garden planters.

Dr. Kimberly Lane, Senior Director for Magnet and Curriculum Enhancement programs, Wake County Public School System; Dr. Kristi Day, Director of Academic Standards with DPI; Nikki Jones, interim executive director for EENC; EENC President Kyra Thurow Bartow; Fuquay-Varina Mayor Blake Massengill; Principal Scott Gaiten and Laura Wood, Environmental Connections Integration Specialist, joined Secretary Biser to celebrate the release of the plan.


Thursday, April 18, 2024

Educator Spotlight: Adam Hubert

Adam Hubert, a middle school science teacher at Hope Academy GSO, recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification Program. In addition to being a science teacher, Adam is also an instructional coach and athletic director. “I teach and instructional coach from an experiential learning lens. I have a passion for connecting folks to the natural world.”

Adam says his favorite part of the certification program was getting to see the beauty of North Carolina. “The range of classes allowed me to connect with other like-minded professionals in all three regions of the state. This helped me grow in deeper appreciation for our state and to think creatively about ways to get my students to engage with the state.”

When asked about the certification experience that stood out for him, Adam says it was the NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ Educators of Excellence programs. “From snorkeling with hellbenders in the Blue Ridge mountains to helping NC State conduct research on the Neuse River Waterdog, these are experiences that helped shape how I viewed my role as a formal educator and how to engage with folks in the natural world.”

For his community partnership project, Adam helped to establish a cover board research transect at Knight Brown Nature Preserve. “As a frequent visitor to the Knight Brown Nature Preserve, I fell in love with the vernal pools and all the life that springs from them. As I built a relationship with the Piedmont Land Conservancy, I learned there was no formal data collection on the vernal pools on the property. I saw this as not only a growth opportunity for the conservancy but also my 8th grade students at Hope Academy GSO who deserve real world experiences collecting data and caring for the natural world. This led me to facilitate a cover board research project around two of the vernal pools on the property of Knight Brown Nature Preserve. My classes will be able to collect real world data and PLC will have some documentation on the amphibian breeding that happens in the vernal pools in the spring and fall.” Each spring and fall the 8th grade class at Hope Academy will monitor the amphibian migration to the vernal pools at the preserve.

Adam says the program changed his approach to teaching. “The principles of environmental education were important to my scope as a formal educator. Whether I am teaching about the natural world or not, I try to implement those principles into the classroom. The amazing nonformal educators that lead many of these courses, also model great teaching that I always bring back to my classroom. Whether it is learning how to nature journal with Melissa Dowland or taking a PLT (Project Learning Tree) course with Renee Strnad, I am always eager to bring back something I learned in these courses back to my students.”

Adam says the program also changed the way he views environmental issues. “When I first started teaching, I thought students needed to be bombarded with all the issues and crises happening on our planet. This program emphasized the importance of building a connection, knowledge and capacity before discussing the issues. A student won't care that vernal pools are not a protected wetland unless they have seen the bevy of life that depend on those ecosystems.”

Educator Spotlight: Brandy Oldham

Brandy Oldham, District Administrator and Education Coordinator with Chatham County Soil and Water Conservation District, recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification.

Brandy serves as a clerk to the district’s Board of Supervisors and throughout the year, she coordinates educational events. Some of the highlights of her educational work includes volunteering each year at the annual Envirothon competition, holding events during Creek Week and coordinating the yearly conservation contents. Brandy especially enjoys working with groups. “I love doing hands-on lessons with groups. I’ve been focused on doing watershed lessons using our EnviroScape but I also do Stream Watch which is a blast.” In her personal time, Brandy likes to learn all she can about birds and plants. “I keep a flock of backyard chickens and they bring me so much joy. I also love to read, I'll read almost anything, but my favorite books are thrillers/mysteries.”

When asked about her favorite part of the program, Brandy says it was the Investigating Your Environment workshop offered by the NC Forest Service. “I met so many amazing and kind people there. I still think about all the fun we had learning about different topics during the week.” She says going to Linville Falls and Grandfather Mountain were incredible experiences that made a lasting impression on her.”

Brandy says the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop was an experience that stood out for her. “The methods workshop gave me so much confidence in myself and great information about being a certified environmental educator.”

For her community partnership project, Brandy created a Creek Geeks program. This was a three-hour hands-on event that she plans to hold each year at a local park or greenway. The program includes lessons on water quality and preventing water pollution and it also includes a small trash clean up. Brandy hopes to continue adding partners to the event.

Brandy says that the program changed her approach to teaching by stressing the importance of hands-on learning as a way of nurturing respect and understanding of the natural world and encouraging a sense of responsibility for protection for our natural resources.

She also says the program changed the way she views environmental issues. “I see many sides of issues now, after the first thought pops in my head and becomes my primary feeling towards something, I've learned to step outside of that and try to find other views and positions and dive deeper into an issue. I feel more well-rounded and capable of finding out more about certain issues.”

Educator Spotlight: Sammy Bauer

Sammy Bauer, a stormwater educator for the Town of Chapel Hill, recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification. Sammy says they have a fun job. “I spend my days teaching folks about water pollution prevention and, where possible, helping them nurture their own relationships with our land and waterways.” Sammy is also an impact producer and sometimes director at Ethereal Films where they have released two documentary shorts about forever chemicals that have gone on tour nationwide and beyond. Sammy enjoys spending time at the Eno River, rock climbing, and crafting.

When asked about the best part of the program, Sammy says it was attending the air quality workshop twice. “The first time, I had just fallen into nonformal environmental education after teaching 6th grade language arts and getting a Master of Public Administration. I knew a lot about teaching and engaging audiences, but I knew next to no content. The first time I went to the workshop in 2019, I was soaking up every bit of content I could. I learned how to find salamanders under tree cookies and about the plants used to monitor air pollution at Purchase Knob! I'd never considered air quality much before the workshop. It was a highlight of the certification and also of life in general. The second time I went several years later, I knew much more content. While I still learned many new things - yes please, tardigrades - I centered my learning on the process such as how they built the agenda and what went into coordinating such a big trip. This time, I walked away with a deeper understanding of how to create learning opportunities that bring people closer to the land.”

Sammy says the experience in the program that stood out was the support of the environmental education community. “I immediately felt welcomed and supported at every workshop and especially at the Environmental Educators of North Carolina (EENC) conference. I'm also a big fan of the different criteria. From process to content, structured experiences to self-guided exploration, the certificate feels well-balanced. It's thorough yet accessible, structured yet flexible.”

For the community partnership project, Sammy coordinated the 3rd annual Orange County Creek Week, March 16-23, 2024. Creek Week is a weeklong celebration of local waterways that involves events organization, partnership development, communication and education, community engagement, documentation and evaluation. “The events consist of workshops, cleanups, art sessions, and habitat assessment workshops. We design the events to help folks nurture their own relationships with the waterways and land.”

Sammy says that partnerships with community organizations are extremely important. The planning team includes local governments, UNC, and nonprofits.  The team distributed educational materials to raise awareness about watersheds and stormwater pollution. Community members were actively involved, and the project's impact is evaluated and documented. “This year, we had over 1200 people (and 30 dogs) participate in our events - including 10 trash cleanups that removed over 1500 pounds of trash from our waterways - nearly doubling our impact from last year. Using resources from EENC’s Universal Design for Learning course, we structured accessibility into every step of the planning process.” Sammy is also working on a project guide that will help other communities plan their own Creek Week.

Sammy says the program changed how they approach teaching and notes several workshops that made a significant impact. “DEQ’s Ground Level Ozone workshop showed me how multiday experiences can deepen folks’ relationship to the more-than-human world and how to run a fun community science program. The BEETLES program’s learning cycle and BFF questions (questions that will be your Best Friends Forever to encourage wonder, exploration, discussion, and reflection) transformed the way I approach teaching. EENC’s Universal Design for Learning course helped restructure all my events to better meet the needs of more people.”

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Educator Spotlight: Rachel Harris

Rachel Harris, an environmental science undergraduate student at Appalachian State University, recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Rachel works full-time on hydrology research and enjoys being outdoors in nature. She also likes to make her research accessible to the public through environmental education and outreach.

Rachel says her favorite part of earning her certification was the outdoor experiences, especially the guided hikes. “The program really allowed me to work more in groups and learn through guided instruction.”

When asked what experience stood out for her, Rachel says it was applying what she learned in the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop to her work with K-8 students. “I was better able to teach different age groups, and I started noticing how tweaking a lesson really makes a different to your audience.”

For her community partnership project, Rachel developed labels and scavenger hunts for the Fred Webb Jr. Outdoor Lab and Rock Garden which is part of the McKinney Geology Teaching Museum, a teaching and outreach initiative of the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences at Appalachian State University. “I noticed we weren't really able to include younger students in the more complex aspect of the garden, so I made educational signs that can be attached to the current signs which allowed the younger students to be introduced to more complex environmental education subjects in a relatable way.”

Rachel says the certification program changed her approach to teaching. “The EE Certificate helped me develop teaching strategies to use with different age groups. I feel I was more naturally able to teach older age groups, but through the program, I have started to learn strategies that help me connect with younger ages during environmental education sessions.” As far as environmental issues are concerned, Rachel says the program caused her to consider multiple solutions for different environmental issues.


Tuesday, March 12, 2024

NCDEQ Hosts Local Middle School Students for 14th Annual Statewide Students@Work℠ Program

The Department of Environmental Quality's Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs recently hosted Moore Square Magnet Middle School 7th Grade for the 2024 Students@Work℠ Month. The Students@Work℠ program serves a critical role in our state's work-based learning efforts by helping students explore potential careers and experience positive workplace environments. 

Each March, Students@Work℠ connects hundreds of North Carolina businesses, organizations and agencies with thousands of students statewide. Throughout the month, students interact directly with representatives from various jobs and careers, take part in worksite visits or engage in learning activities to explore a variety of career opportunities. The program is a joint initiative between the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Governor Roy Cooper has also proclaimed March as Students@Work℠ Month.

“DEQ looks forward to welcoming the students from Moore Square each year, and it is an honor to be  part of the Students@Work℠ program. This is also an opportunity for our staff to provide activities for the students and resources for their teachers that support their studies in science and the environment. We hope this enhances their appreciation for North Carolina's natural environment and inspires some of them to enter careers in the environmental and STEM fields," noted DEQ Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser. 

Secretary Biser fields some great questions from the Moore Square Magnet Middle School students. 

During their visit, students toured the DEQ building and learned about the sustainable design features of the downtown Raleigh Green Square complex. They also got an introduction to some of the environmental science used by employees of the department in activities led by Amy Pitts, Senior Geologist for Education and Outreach, Division of Energy, Land and Mineral Resources; Rebecca Coppa, State Sedimentation and Education Engineer, Division of Energy, Land and Mineral Resources; Brittany Hall, Environmental Specialist, Division of Air Quality; Janina Millis, Community Engagement, Education and Outreach Specialist, Division of Air Quality; Ella Raff, Environmental Chemist, Division of Air Quality and Laura McCoy, Environmental Specialist, Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service Recycling Programs.

Amy Pitts, Senior Geologist for Education and Outreach, shows students some of the amazing rocks, minerals and even fossils that can be found in downtown Raleigh building facades. 

The students ended their day by participating in a career panels with DEQ employees, including Dr. Tim Ellis, Quantitative Ecologist, Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership; Ella Raff, Environmental Chemist, Division of Air Quality; Steven Rice, Environmental Specialist II, Division of Air Quality; Alyssa Wright, DEQ Assistant General Counsel; Jeff Horton, Western Property Specialist, Division of Mitigation Services and Sara Kreuser, Meteorologist, Division of Air Quality.

Students asked the panel about their careers, their career paths, and challenges for their profession. The DEQ employees gave helpful advice for how to students can connect their passions and interests with potential careers and how students can begin to develop the qualifications necessary for working in STEM fields through internships, job shadowing and other opportunities.

For more information about the Department's participation in Students@Work℠ Month, contact the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs at 919-707-8125. For more information about NCBCE, visit ncbce.org.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Educator Spotlight: Will Badger

Will Badger, a college instructor and education consultant with Akademeia Tutorial Consultancy, recently completed his NC Environmental Education Certification. “Much of my teaching involves wilderness literature and eco-criticism, and I felt that earning my certification could help me become a better naturalist and a better teacher of students at all levels.” In his personal time, Will enjoys outdoor activities from hiking and camping to prospecting.

Will says his favorite part of earning his environmental education certification was having a “formally informal” way to connect with environmental literacy during the difficult days of the pandemic. "Even when I was ensconced in my flat feeling relatively disconnected both from nature and my fellow humans, I could look forward to learning online about salamander identification and habitats...it was a wonderful release. Actually, that lifeline may be only my second-favorite part of certification. My favorite was meeting a diverse cohort of fellow environmental educators, in person and online!”

When asked about a certification experience that stood out for him, Will says his favorite lesson was part of the It’s Our Water workshop coordinated through the Division of Water Resources in the Department of Environmental Quality. “The workshop not only offered several useful classroom activities and strategies, but also had an in-stream component that helped me to get to know one of my local waterways. I've always loved playing in creeks, and this module felt like educative play.

For his community partnership project, Will began a nature journaling group. “I founded a group called Triangle Nature Journalling (yep, it used the British spelling with two L's -- I did grad school in the UK, and that usage slipped in without my noticing). We had a small but hardy cohort of journalers, who met at Umstead Park to wander, chat, and write and draw our encounters with nature.” Will says although the group meeting decreased as the pandemic restrictions eased, most of the members are still journaling. “Even if the group was just a way for us to make it through a trying time by connecting to nature, our thoughts, and one another, it was worth it.”

Will says the program changed his approach to teaching, especially the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop. “I appreciated the dedication and creativity of my methods workshop facilitators. They helped me to see state and national standards not as a kind of externally imposed straitjacket, but as a common language that could be used to access funding and promote wider participation in environmental education programs. I plan to take this perspective forward in my teaching, now understanding that standards are a tool that needn't negatively impact pedagogical creativity.”

Will says that the program changed how he views environmental issues in many ways. “There are so many changes that I couldn't possibly express them all here. Perhaps the most important is a central tenet of environmental education that I encountered in my Basics of Environmental Education course several years ago: as environmental educators we are to share our passion for the environment and not any political take or bias. This is a liberating approach since it means that we can ideally connect to people of all backgrounds and help them engage with nature and the environment in life-changing and community-changing -- perhaps ultimately, planet-changing ways. Rather than offer our  audiences/students/colleagues solutions to environmental problems, we teach them how to educate themselves and think critically, so that they can develop solutions.”

Monday, February 12, 2024

Educator Spotlight: Jenifer Jay

Jenifer Jay, a Human Resource Specialist with the USDA Forest Service, recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Jenifer was enrolled in the Central Carolinas Master Naturalist Program in Charlotte, which she says launched her into pursuing her Environmental Education Certification. “I volunteered at the McDowell Nature Preserve and presented environmental education programs during their summer day camps for elementary school children and also provided Smokey Bear programs including celebrating Smokey Bear's birthday!” In her free time, Jenifer and her husband enjoy walking, traveling, and spending time with all six of their grandchildren. They also spend a considerable amount of time spoiling their two dogs and three cats.

Jenifer says the program experience that stood out for her was her visit to Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve. “This visit stands out for me because of the longleaf pine forest. The longleaf pine ecosystem is fascinating to me because of the diversity of species and the important role fire plays in preserving the ecosystem.”

Jenifer says her favorite part of the certification program was her community partnership project, “A Day in the Forest.”  Students from a local middle school came out to visit the Uwharrie Ranger District in Troy, NC for the day. They went on a two- and half-mile hike through the forest with forest personnel including a forestry technician, a forester, two archeologists, and a wildlife biologist. The hike included identifying and measuring trees; locating and identifying artifacts at an archeological site; and locating and identifying minerals found along the trail such as quartz. They searched for mollusks in a creek and then had a special surprise at the end of the trail by meeting and greeting Woodsy the Owl! “I gave a presentation on “Leave No Trace” principles and were shown how a fire torch is used by one of the firefighters for a prescribed burn! It certainly was a day to be remembered and our purpose was to engage and connect the students with the national forest and educate them on the different career paths they may want to begin charting towards a career in natural resources.”  The program was featured in the local paper, the Montgomery Herald.

When asked if the program changed her approach to teaching, Jenifer says she felt better prepared to teach. “As I progressed through the program, I noticed I was better prepared when I would present a program. My program outline was clearly defined, and I was adding more experimental exercises to my programs engaging students more through hands-on experiences.”

She says the program also changed the way she views environmental issues. “I have been more concerned about environmental issues but most importantly, through the program, it has allowed me to be cognizant about my own attitudes and behaviors toward the environment. I am more empathetic towards people who are passionate about their environmental concerns. I also learned how to navigate through some tough questions that may arise in certain topics and be ready to address those questions.” 

A Day in the Forest at Uwharrie Ranger District

Source: Montgomery Herald Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Twenty sixth-graders from a local middle school learned about forest service careers and hiked with staff on the Uwharrie National Forest January 19. 

Wheatmore Middle School students and staff with Woodsie

Student Advocate Ashley Albertson, of Wheatmore Middle School in Trinity, called Uwharrie National Forest District Ranger Susan Miller this past fall to ask if some of her sixth-graders could come out to the Forest and “get off the pavement.” 

Albertson’s goal was to take the students out to not only have a fun day outdoors, but also to get to meet with Forest staff and learn about what different forest service jobs are really like. She wants her students of all ages to stay motivated to finish high school and learn more about careers that may not be your typical 9-5 office jobs. 

“That doesn’t work for everyone,” said Albertson, a statement which many people in the forest service can agree with. Many staff joke about “being ADD” and find they are more suited to hands on, outdoors work. So Uwharrie staff were happy to join the kids for a hike, connect them to the forest and hopefully inspire some in the next generation to be stewards of their public lands.

The Wheatmore Middle School students, three teachers, Alberston and nine Uwharrie staff hiked the 2.3-mile, long loop of the Denson’s Creek Trail. The trailhead is located behind the Uwharrie office on 789 Biscoe Rd. Throughout the hike, the group stopped for short discussions of the history, plants, timber and fire related information along the trail, giving the students an idea of what each department’s job duties might look like. Two archaeologists discussed evidence ofgold mining, the remains of settlers’ homes and Native American history in the area. The district biologist, fire engine captain and district ranger talked about timber stand management, the longleaf pine and the importance of implementing regular prescribed fires in our ecosystem. At the end of the hike, Woodsy Owl surprised the group, and our HR specialist discussed the importance of Woodsy Owl’s Leave No Trace message. 

After the hike, the group moved to the Forest’s work center, where the engine captain and a senior wildland firefighter showed kids the fire engine, some of our firefighting tools and how we safely conduct prescribed burns or respond to wildfires by burning a pile of leaves as an example. The firefighters put the leaf burn out using the engine’s hose and water supply. Next, the group met with the recreation staff, looked at different recreation and maintenance tools, and learned from staff about maintaining campgrounds and trails and working with visitors.

Finally, the group returned to the district office to receive goodie bags and check out some Native American artifacts, quartz crystals found on the forest, and our taxidermied fox squirrel and red cockaded woodpecker. Both the squirrel and the woodpecker are part of the longleaf pine forest habitat, their presence or lack thereof indicating the presence of good longleaf pine habitat. In the office, the kids met with our law enforcement officer, learning about safety in the forest, as well as visitor services and support services staff in order to learn about the kinds of jobs you can get involving both working with the public and managing internal and financial affairs. Many federal and state forest service jobs are in offices and are essential to keeping the forest operations running smoothly. Even those who may not want to be outside all day can apply their skills to jobs in the industry.

Suzanne Miller and Jenifer Jay

Additional info: For North Carolina National Forests HR specialist, and one of the A Day in the Forest event organizers, Jenifer Jay, creating and implementing the project went toward the completion of her North Carolina Environmental Educator’s License. She hopes to use her license to bring more educational opportunities, including programs such as A Day in the Forest, to people of all ages. 

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Educator Spotlight: Marguerite Bishop

Marguerite Bishop, an instructor at Gaston College recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Marguerite teaches general biology to science majors and non-majors. She also volunteers with local elementary schools to provide STEM-themed outreach.

Marguerite says that her favorite part of the certification program was visiting state parks with her family. “My kids were often tagging along when I was completing field experiences for my outdoor hours. We all have developed a greater love for salamanders, plants, the iNaturalist App and exploring through this process.”

When asked about an experience that stood out to her, she says it’s difficult to choose one. “All of the different experiences had value and have added to my knowledge of the natural world and how to introduce, teach and engage others with the world that surrounds them.”

For her community partnership project, she designed and installed a learning garden and outdoor classroom at Nashville Elementary School in Nash County. “I learned how to build a retaining wall and install fencing. I also gained an appreciation for a tractor and an auger so that postholes don't have to be hand dug. I think what made this project even more special is that it was accomplished during the beginning of COVID when everyone was so nervous and scared. It was great to have an outlet during this time that my kids could also help with to get us through a period of real uncertainty and feel like we were doing something good while living through this dark period.”

Marguerite says that participating in the program changed her approach to teaching. “As a biology instructor I often take my students outside and have them interact with the natural world to observe, question and analyze. Through this process I have learned about barriers that people might have to the outdoors and how to help guide students through these interactions to help make these experiences easier.”

She also says the certification changed the way she views environmental issues. “Through the EE certification program, I think about environmental issues with more hope. The program opened my eyes to a lot of people and programs that are trying to raise awareness of and mitigate the impact of environmental issues. I didn't know the community was so big before the certification program.”

The North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Program is administered by the N.C. Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in partnership with organizations and agencies across North Carolina. https://www.eenorthcarolina.org/certification


Educator Spotlight: Miranda Norlin

Miranda is the summer camp director for The Learning Community School and an instructor with Muddy Sneakers and she recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. In her personal time, she enjoys gardening and milling wood on the sawmill that she and her wife recently purchased. Miranda grew up exploring the creeks, woodlands and fields of Western North Carolina and enjoys sharing the outdoors with other people. “I love exploring the outdoors with people of all ages to build curiosity and connection to the outdoors.”
Her favorite part of the certification program was the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in Environmental Education training she took through Environmental Educators of NC (EENC) and applying what she learned to her teaching practice. Miranda says the UDL course she took as part of the certification program changed her approach to teaching. “The UDL course shifted how I plan and structure my day and teaching. As part of it I developed my "planner banner" which is a visual organizer tool to allow students to see the plan for the day and share their priorities and interests while still allowing for flexibility on the part of the educator.” For her community partnership project, Miranda worked with Shining Rock Classical Academy to plan a nature trail on their campus. She used a survey and conversations with teachers to address their goals and concerns. She scouted out possible trail routes and recommended key species that could be identified by the students. She also provided recommendations for how the teachers can use the trail to teach their students. Miranda is grateful to be part of the wonderful community of environmental educators in North Carolina and looks forward to continuing to work with and learn from them through NCEE and EENC offerings.

The North Carolina Environmental Education Certification Program is administered by the N.C. Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in partnership with organizations and agencies across North Carolina. https://www.eenorthcarolina.org/certification

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Educator Spotlight: Margot Lester

Margot Lester, CEO and owner of The Word Factory marketing agency, recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. The Word Factory has been in operation for more than 30 years and provides messaging and strategy consulting and brand journalism services, corporate and individual writing training, and advocacy work for national brands, universities and nonprofits.

Margot is an avid woods walker and beach lover, stormwater geek, interpretative signage nerd and nature writer. “My vocation and avocation came together when I discovered I could teach what I know about communications, writing and advocacy in the context of nature, the environment and climate action. It's still kind of hard to believe how well they dovetail.”

When asked about her favorite part of the program, Margot says she has met terrific people through the program and has made many friends. She also “ really loved getting to visit parks and other facilities around the state, like Singletary State Park and Gorges State Park. It not only fed my interest in education and interpretation, but it deepened my connection to my home state and its incredible natural resources.”

Margot notes that one of the certification experiences that stood out for her was the workshop on frog calls with Becky Savage and Karen Clark of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. “Because I was driving all over North Carolina to get my site visits in, I could identify the herps in those areas. My visit to Gorges just happened to coincide with mountain chorus frog season. These little frogs have a seriously limited range in Clay and Cherokee Counties, and I was lucky enough to be staying with a friend right in the middle of their prime habitat. It was so cool to identify what we were hearing and to understand how rare the experience is for most people in the state.”

For her community partnership project, Margot created two nature journaling posters and a set of prompts for the Triangle Land Conservancy’s Williamson Preserve. One poster briefly reviews the benefits of being in nature and invites visitors to refocus their eyes, tune their ears and look for repeating patterns in nature. The other introduces visitors to Project Pando, a volunteer-driven farm that grows native trees that will be given for free to the public. “The project benefits public health by guiding visitors to slow down and immerse themselves further into nature, which enhances the mental and physical health benefits of being outside. The guided observations also create a connection to the preserve, explaining its role in native tree restoration. The posters inspire hikers who are curious about nature connection and journaling and may even motivate people to hit the trail to explore these activities and discover a new way to engage with the natural world.”

Margot says the certification program changed her approach to teaching. She says that the workshops provided by Environmental Educators of North Carolina (EENC) on inclusion, cultural sensitivity and accessibility really influenced her teaching. “I now do a people and place acknowledgment before my programs and include resources from a much more diverse group of experts. I plan my outdoor sessions with mobility in mind and try to optimize my materials for accessibility readers. I'm also exploring the possibility of translating my advocacy, climate action and nature journaling content into Spanish.”

The certification had an impact on the way she views environmental issues, too. “Interacting with people at events and trainings made me realize the need for empathy and hope in our communications about environmental and climate issues. Not toxic optimism or glossing over the real issues but sharing the hard parts and then showing tangible acts -- big and small -- that have impact. That's where the hope comes in. Doing my own work on these two topics helped me see the vital role of storytelling and personal narrative to break down barriers, bridge gaps and move people to action.”

Monday, January 8, 2024

Abigail Fuesler, Graduate Student at Western Carolina, Completes Her NC Environmental Education Certification

Abigail Fuesler recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Abigail is the Executive Assistant to the Vice President for Academic Affairs at Brevard College, and a graduate student working on her M.S. in Experiential and Outdoor Education at Western Carolina University. Abigail serves on the Pisgah Area SORBA (Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association) Board of Directors and is also certified as a Leave No Trace Level 2 Trainer. In her personal time, she enjoys reading, puzzles, podcasts, road trips, game nights, mountain biking and canoeing. 

Abigail says her favorite part of earning her certification was the site visits. “The wonderful state parks in North Carolina have really innovative visitor centers, and I loved learning from experts about the topics they are passionate about.” She says the teaching component of the certification really stood out for her. “It was time consuming since I don’t have a classroom or a job that involves teaching regularly, but it is at the core of this certification.”

For her community partnership project, Abigail coordinated the 2022 Adventure Education Conference at YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly which drew 200 people, mostly college students. The attendees could choose to attend workshops on topics including trail maintenance, AmeriCorps, careers in outdoor fields, spending time in nature to reduce stress and even more niche topics like how to become a camp director or how to through-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. “My hope is that the young people in attendance had an impactful experience that could change how they approach their career in the outdoors.”

Abigail says she takes more time to prepare for teaching after completing the program and she says the program changed the way she views environmental issues. “I see Leave No Trace, sustainability and having an environmental ethic as being inextricably connected to the everyday experiences of my life, like how I walk to work, pack my lunch or shopI look forward to using the skills and knowledge I learned through the program to encourage others to adopt environmentally minded practices in their day-to-day life."

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Dana Miller, a Haywood County Middle School Teacher Recently Completed Her NC Environmental Education Certification

Dana Miller, a Haywood County middle school teacher recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. She says the program enriched her learning, made her a better educator and provided invaluable networking opportunities.

Dana is currently the STEM teacher for grades 6 through 8 at Canton Middle School. “I provide students with hands-on challenges that enrich their understanding of applied science and mathematics while sharpening their problem-solving and teamwork skills. I also serve as the Academically or Intellectually Gifted (AIG) Specialist for our students by working with core teachers to differentiate instruction for gifted learners and teaching an elective course specifically for gifted learners. In my free time, I love cooking a good meal, reading in my hammock, hiking for a great view, listening to live music, and being with my loved ones, including my two pups, Montana and Cooper.”

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Dana says it was getting access to all sorts of great lessons she can do with her students and meeting a network of dedicated, talented environmental educators that inspires her to continue growing as a teacher.

As far as an experience in the program that really stood out for her, Dana says, “Seeing wolves in Yellowstone on the NC Museum of Natural Sciences Educators of Excellence Institute trip is hard to beat, but I think my community project was a turning point for me professionally. I needed to complete my project during the pandemic, so it offered me a unique experience to serve my community during a time of need. It pushed my creativity in a way that was both challenging and rewarding.”

For her community partnership project, Dana created an At-Home Adventure Kit program for upper elementary and middle school students in her community. The program provided participants with free boxes filled with instructions and materials for five to eight environmental education activities each month. The boxes helped serve students who were learning remotely during the pandemic and may not otherwise have had those hands-on learning experiences.

Dana said the program changed her approach to teaching. “I think participating in this program has equipped me with activities, lessons, and resources that I can use with learners of all abilities and ages. It has taught me that simple experiences in nature are where environmental literacy begins, so don't be afraid to take learners outside and to indulge their natural curiosity. Some of my favorite workshops were the NC Museum of Natural Sciences virtual programs. I learned so much about my own backyard and it made me realize how rich those experiences can be.”
The program changed the way she views environmental issues. “I have a better understanding of local environmental issues than I did before participating in the program. This program required some travel, which meant I got to experience different parts of the state and participate in place-based environmental education experiences.”

Monday, November 20, 2023

DEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser Awards Environmental Stewardship Initiative Program Manager Yolanda Gibson with Environmental Education Certificate

Secretary Biser awarded Yolanda Gibson with her NC Environmental Education Certificate today. Yolanda started working on her certification while teaching environmental science and biology at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in Salisbury. She recently took a position as a program manager with the Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI) in DEQ’s Division of Environmental Assistance and Customer Service. As one of the program managers, she supports members of the ESI Program with sustainability initiatives.

Yolana enjoys hiking, exploring nature, baking, and challenging herself to find new ways to engage audiences through experiential learning and hands-on experiences. “I love revamping recipes for my daughter that has severe food allergies and spending time working at a local food pantry.”

Yolanda says her favorite part of earning her environmental education certification was attending workshops and meeting people with similar interests. “There were so many wonderful experiences, but attending the Swans, Bears and Wolves Workshop probably stood out the most. Opportunities to go out in the field and participate in hands-on experiences are rare; so, having access to this workshop was extremely beneficial. Although I have completed my certification, I am scheduled to attend the Coastal Conservation Workshop this August and cannot wait to go!”

“It is an honor to award Yolanda with her Environmental Education Certification,” said Secretary Biser. “Completing the program is a wonderful achievement and the added bonus is that she has joined the DEQ staff and brings her commitment to environmental education to her work with the Environmental Stewardship Initiative.”

For her community partnership project, Yolanda installed a native pollinator garden and small wildlife viewing station at Kensington Elementary School in Union County. She wanted to create an outdoor space for environmental education. “My vision was to create a green space within the school setting providing students with an area for learning, reflecting, and journaling. This project allows for engagement between important members of our community, our teachers, and students. The garden is a beacon for connectivity, becoming more environmentally conscious, and inspiration in expanding environmental awareness throughout the community. The garden provides a space where participants can glean ways to garden sustainably, providing immeasurable benefits to countless organisms and the environment. The school community members will benefit from a space that fosters inclusivity, decreases stress, and increased socialization opportunities.”

Yolanda says that the certification program changed the way she taught. “Having access to tools, resources, and opportunities to participate in hands-on learning has been instrumental in changing my approach to teaching. These educational aids allow for experiential learning events. I feel more comfortable with not ‘having all the answers,’ but still being able to facilitate programming that promotes inquiry-based learning.”

She also says the program changed the way she views environmental issues. “Discussing environmental topics can be depressing and sometimes it seems individual efforts are insignificant. Furthermore, there are no easy solutions to these daunting issues. Through my experiences with this program, I have witnessed how the smallest efforts are significant. Planting the pollinator garden took weeks to finish, but over that short period of time I could see so many benefits from one garden, one effort, one act.”

Yolanda says that her Environmental Education Certification will help her in her new position as she prepares for a lead trainer role to help companies increase their environmental stewardship efforts through the ESI Program.