Wednesday, March 13, 2019

DEQ Secretary Regan Recognizes Environmental Educator Cynelsa Broderick

On March 12, DEQ Secretary Michael Regan visited SEEDS, an urban garden and kitchen classroom in the heart of Durham, to recognize SEEDS staff member Cynelsa Broderick for completing the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification.

Founded in 1994, SEEDS has a mission to develop the capacity of young people to respect life, the earth, and each other through growing, cooking, and sharing food. SEEDS is located on a two-acre plot in Northeast Central Durham. Over the past 25 years, SEEDS has grown and developed to meet the changing needs of the community, particularly by adding an after-school program for children in first through fifth grades.

Cynelsa currently serves as the Operations and Administrative Coordinator for SEEDS, where she staffs the front desk, manages the office, and works in the educational garden and kitchen classroom. Cynelsa started the certification program while serving as an AmeriCorps member at the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. She has also worked in the NC State University Sustainability Office. Cynelsa is an accomplished visual artist and calligrapher and is passionate about making connections between STEM and the arts.

For her community partnership project, Cynelsa developed and presented 14 classes as part of the SEEDS summer camp. During the classes, students recorded observations in a nature log and worked together to design a new mural for the SEEDS building. The classes helped the youth participants experience nature, gardening, and cooking in a new way that combined art with gardening and environmental education.

Describing the classes, Cynelsa stated, "The objective was for students to learn what important details to capture in their observations and how to transfer them to our mural. Each week, I worked with about 20 young farmers and went through lessons that touched on topics from environmental stewardship to color theory, patents to biomimicry." As a result of Cynelsa's project, SEEDS has new curriculum materials and a colorful new mural on what was once a dull, blank wall.

Cynelsa said her favorite part of the certification program was traveling to different parts of the state. "Visiting so many state parks and meeting new people was a good way for me to become familiar with North Carolina."

Her experiences in the certification program also led Cynelsa to become a more versatile teacher. "I discovered various styles and ways people learn through this program and that has helped me be more aware of my methods in teaching others."
Participants in the SEEDlings after-school enrichment program for grades 1-5 students gave N.C. DEQ Secretary Regan some hands-on agricultural education! SEEDS also has programs for middle and high school Students and workshops and volunteer opportunities for adults. 

For more information about SEEDS, visit For more information about the NC Environmental Education Certification, visit the NC Office of Environmental Education website.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Department of Environmental Quality Hosts Wake County Middle School Students for Students@Work℠

On March 5, the Department of Environmental Quality's Office of Environmental Education hosted over 30 students from Moore Square Magnet Middle School for Students@Work Month.

Students@Work serves a critical role in our state's work-based learning efforts by helping local students become aware of potential careers and the necessary skillsets for those careers. Throughout the month of March, students will hear from guest speakers and take part in worksite visits where they learn firsthand about the careers available in their communities.

Upon arriving at DEQ's Green Square building in downtown Raleigh, students heard an inspiring speech from DEQ Secretary Michael Regan. Secretary Regan told the group about how we became involved in the environmental field and explained the career path that led him to DEQ.

Next, students participated in informational breakout sessions with staff from different DEQ divisions. Elliot Tardif and Tira Beckham from the Division of Air Quality showed the middle school students how the division forecasts the air quality index and explained why data manipulation is an important skill for many careers.

Students joined Amanda Mueller, Kristie Gianopulos, and Greg Rubino from the Division of Water Resources on an exciting journey through North Carolina's wetlands through the use of an online, interactive map. Marty Wiggins and Sarah Sanford from the Office of Environmental Education led a building tour where students learned about the Green Square building's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

The morning concluded with an informative session with Human Resources Director Ursula Hairston. Ursula helped the students connect their passions and interests with potential careers and explained the types of qualifications necessary for working in the STEM field.

The Students@Work program is a joint initiative between the North Carolina Business Committee for Education (NCBCE) and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. The 2019 Students@Work initiative includes more than 280 businesses and 46,000 students statewide.

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

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 Ms. Masters 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. Ms. Masters 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 Ms. Masters' 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, Ms. Masters 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.

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Molly Nelms

Congratulations to Molly Nelms for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Molly is a creative specialist who uses art and environmental education experiences to connect people with the natural world.

Molly, a North Carolina native, said her favorite part of the certification program was the rediscovery of her home state. "The awareness and richness I rediscovered in NC was heart warming and reminded me of how special it is to have grown up here and to have been raised in this wonderful place of natural beauty and biodiversity."

She found that the program opened up new possibilities in her work as an educator and interpreter. When asked how the certification program changed her approach to teaching, Molly said, "The EE Certificate program redefined the way I will use my leadership and teaching skill set." Molly particularly enjoyed the personable experiences created by the instructors in the certification program. She said she appreciated "experiencing nature through their eyes."

For her community partnership project, Molly worked with Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck, N.C to expand and enhance the park's natural outdoor play area. Molly's goal was to support Sylvan Heights in bringing more creative play opportunities and resources for education programming to the children visiting the park. To do this, Molly used her expertise as a creative specialist to work with the park's Education Coordinator on designing several outdoor play resources. 

With help from Sylvan Heights staff members, Molly painted and installed bird houses, added components to the park's sand cafe, created a mural about dinosaurs and fossils, and enhanced a nature trail around the playground.

Molly found that participating in the certification program also changed the way she approached environmental issues. "I became more engaged and participated in more action oriented community programs that bring about awareness and education for North Carolinians." 

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

Friday, November 9, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Leah Farr

Congratulations to Leah Farr for completing her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Leah is a park ranger at Jordan Lake State Recreational Area near Apex, North Carolina. At Jordan Lake, Leah teaches informal education programs, maintains campgrounds, and enforces park regulations. Leah is also a Girl Scout leader, and she said the skills she gained in the certification program helped in both of her roles.

Leah's favorite part of the certification program was the variety of learning opportunities. In particular, she enjoyed that every workshop and class offered something new. "Before this program, I didn't give myself enough opportunities to teach," Leah said. Through hands-on courses in teaching methodologies, Leah learned about age-appropriate environmental activities. Leah said she now has a better understanding of how to break down educational programs for younger audiences and provide more rigorous programs for adults.

For her community partnership project, Leah partnered with the UNC Institute for the Environment's Caterpillars Count program. Caterpillars Count is a citizen science program for measuring seasonal variation and abundance of caterpillars, beetles, spiders, and other arthropods. Leah set up Caterpillars Count survey sites at Jordan Lake and invited both visitors and park rangers to help her search for and identify arthropods. 

Leah's community partnership project was inspired by a need to expand the knowledge of local species at Jordan Lake. Leah realized that a citizen science project would be the perfect way to engage visitors in environmental education. "Our community varies daily because of the nature of our location. We have some repeat patrons but we also needed a better way to reach out to the rotating patrons." To conduct Caterpillars Count surveys at Jordan Lake, participants simply shake designated trees and let the arthropods in the trees fall onto a "beat sheet," a large white sheet that allows participants to easily see the organisms. Participants then document all the arthropods they see and identify the species if possible, although species identification is not required. "This flexibility takes pressure off those who just want to search for new species and not worry about identifying every type of arthropod."

Leah also involved the public through the use of the N.C. State Parks system's online database. The N.C. State Parks System Natural Resources Inventory Database allows users to view lists and photos of plants and animals found in all of North Carolina's state parks. Leah uploaded pictures and other biological information about the arthropods found during Caterpillars Count surveys to Jordan Lake's species list. As Leah pointed out, "This database is a great way to reach out to people who are just looking for a check off list for their hiking or camping trip." 

Leah said her time in the certification program changed her understanding of the natural world. "I believe I have a broader understanding of how to approach and learn about environmental issues. I pay more attention to species, habitats, and changes happening in our environment."

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

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Angela Roach

Congratulations to Angela Roach for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Angela is a park ranger at Falls Lake State Recreation Area near Wake Forest, NC, where she works to improve visitor experiences and protect natural resources.

Angela enjoys learning and teaching about wildlife, and when asked what stood out to her about the certification program, she stated that it was the chance to work with other passionate wildlife conservationists. "I love reptiles and amphibians and this certification program paved a way for me to interact with and become cohorts with some of the key conservationists in the state." Angela also benefited from the certification program through a course in teaching methodology. "The Methods of Teaching EE class really showed me that everyone learns differently...I have now tailored my teachings to a variety of teaching styles so I can reach a much broader audience."

For her community partnership project, Angela partnered with a boy scout troop and other park rangers at Falls Lake to design and build a podium containing fish identification information. Angela said that the project was inspired by her first few months working at Falls Lake, during which the most common question she fielded was, "What kinds of fish can I catch here?" This made her realize that there was a lack of publicly available information about fishing and fish species at Falls Lake.

A local boy scout working on his Eagle Scout Project designed and constructed the wooden podium, while Angela designed a mini flip book to help people identify and learn more about the fish species found in Falls Lake. The weather resistant flip book will go inside the podium, and the podium will be placed on a day use fishing pier inside the park. Angela also kept younger children in mind while designing the project, and created a special activity for kids that might be too young to fish. "The podium was finished with a chalkboard paint and a chalk box will be located near the podium so smaller children will have something to do while their parents fish."

Angela said she was thankful that she was able to start the certification program prior to becoming a park ranger, and that she looks forward to incorporating all she learned into her career at Falls Lake. She concluded by describing the certification program as "a great way to meet professionals in the field, gain contacts, share ideas and establish a network."

Monday, October 15, 2018

Educator Spotlight: Lily Dancy-Jones

Congratulations to Lily Dancy-Jones of Asheville for completing the N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Lily is a Biology and AP Environmental Science teacher and the sponsor for the Eco Club at Clyde A. Erwin High School. Lily also chairs the steering committee of Youth for Environmental Stewardship (YES), a collective of environmental clubs across high schools and colleges in the greater Asheville area.

Lily said she enjoyed building relationships with other environmental educators during the certification process. "It is inspiring to learn about what others are doing across the state and exchange ideas and resources." Her favorite part of the process was having a chance to be a student again. "Being able to be the student, not the teacher, and experience high quality, thoughtfully planned programs was a great change from leading my traditional classroom and gave me more energy and inspiration as an educator."

For her community partnership project, Lily established an educational pollinator garden at Erwin High School. Lily put an impressive amount of thought into her project, making plans for the garden long before building it. "It was years in the making, starting with a workshop I took in the first year of working on my certification, and blossomed into a beautiful and amazing source of inspiration for conservation in my community."

To build the garden and provide educational opportunities for the Erwin community, Lily partnered with the North Carolina Arboretum, UNC Asheville, and Asheville Greenworks, among other partners. Her goal was to increase awareness about the importance of pollinators in the rural community of Erwin, and to bring a strong conservation ethic to the community. "I wanted to reach more students, as well as our faculty and visiting community members, to change the conversation about the purpose of gardens and the importance of pollinators and the impact individual actions could have."

Lily worked with a wide variety of K-12 students, UNC Asheville undergraduates, and other community members to build the pollinator garden. Students in the Eco Club and the AP Environmental Science class helped to collect native plants and create educational flyers about pollinators for other students at the high school. Local K-12 and college students built bee hotels for the garden. Lily also partnered with the N.C. Arboretum to help students learn to monitor monarch butterfly populations and eventually raise their own monarchs in the classroom. The garden is now a certified Monarch Waystation (through, a Schoolyard Habitat, and a Pollinator Pitstop (through the National Wildlife Federation).

Lily's community partnership project and her overall experience with the certification program made her reassess the way educators can instill environmental values in students. "I try to cultivate a conservation ethic in my students but I now think more carefully about how I do that, and have them come to their own conclusions with information I've shared rather than asking them to have the same viewpoint as I do."

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