Thursday, April 22, 2021

Kayla Phillips with the Town of Aberdeen Completes Her NC Environmental Education Certification

Kayla Phillips, Program and Special Events Coordinator for the Town of Aberdeen completed her NC Environmental Education Certification just in time for Earth Day, April 22, 2021!

Kayla coordinates summer camps, festivals, senior citizens classes and other exciting outreach events for the town. She is now working to incorporate environmental education programming into the town’s offerings. 

When asked about her favorite part of the certification program, Kayla said it was all of the amazing places she was able to visit including a weekend at the Bald Head Island Conservancy that really stood out for her. 

For her community partnership project, Kayla created a Story Map for Harris Lake County Park. “The Story Map will allow the community to learn about the park's garden, native plants, pollinators, and some history of the park from either their home or as a guide on their phone while visiting the park.” She also coordinated a garden clean-up day to remove unwanted plants from the garden and planted some native shrubs, including Buttonbush and Beautyberry that provide and important food source for birds.

Kayla says the certification program gave her the teaching skills she needed. When asked if the program changed the way she viewed environmental issues, Kayla said it increased her awareness and knowledge. “I have such a better understanding of the environment and things I can do to protect it.”

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Jason Meador, Fisheries Biologist with Mainspring Conservation Trust, Completes His NC Environmental Education Certification


Jason Meador is a fisheries/mussel biologist with Mainspring Conservation Trust whose service area covers approximately 1.8 million acres in the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee River Basins and is located within the six most-western counties in North Carolina: Cherokee, Clay, Swain, Macon, Jackson and Graham Counties and also Rabun County, Georgia. Jason conducts stream biomonitoring, stream restoration and provides environmental education for schools and summer camps in their six counties. When he is not working, Jason enjoys fishing, kayaking, hunting, foraging for mushrooms and snorkeling.

When asked about his favorite part of the certification program, Jason said networking with other educators. “My role as a non-formal educator came out of necessity since biomonitoring and restoration are seasonal events. In 2012, I needed to find a niche and source of funds to continue to stay full-time. The education piece has become the most popular program and the certification process has allowed me to revise and improve what we can offer.”

Jason says the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education (MOTEE) training offered by the NC Arboretum for the first time as a virtual workshop stood out to him. “Nearly half of my hours were earned in 2020 during COVID. Virtual classes have their pros and cons. However, the virtual MOTEE course with an hour and a half class for five days and homework was a great way to absorb the information.” He also notes the Growing Up WILD and CATCH workshops offered by the NC Wildlife Resources Commission as being hands-on and a lot of fun. He is already thinking of workshops for his continuing education credits, “I'll be taking Project WILD and Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) for continuing education.”

For his community partnership project, Jason examined the impacts of hunting and fishing from an ecological and trophic level viewpoint. “Partnering with NC Wildlife Resources Commission and NC Wildlife Federation we created curriculum appropriate in a classroom setting for students to analyze wildlife populations with and without humans managing certain species.”

When asked if the certification changed his approach to teaching, Jason says it encouraged the use of critical thinking and age-appropriate teaching. “We still have the same core programs, but I have revised everything, so the students are using critical thinking skills rather than listening to a presentation. In addition, I can offer more programs to a wide variety of ages. I was teaching 8-12th grade, now I teach PreK-12th grades.”

Jason says having a strong science background, the certification did not change the way he thinks about environmental issues, but it did influence his approach. “I am slow to jump to conclusions and I try to gather as much information to help make decisions. I am thankful that this course emphasizes a non-advocacy approach to teaching. We are not pushing an agenda, simply teaching students how to find information and make their own decisions.”

Jason Vanzant, Carteret County Teacher, Completes NC Environmental Education Certification

Jason Vanzant, also known by his students as “Mr. Vantaztic” is an elementary STEM teacher and Instructional Technology Facilitator at Bogue Sound Elementary in Carteret County.  He develops engineering and agriculture activities and curriculum centered on the North Carolina Standard Course of Study Standards and Next Generation for K-5 in mathematics, science, and social studies. He also teaches technology lessons that relate to safety, troubleshooting, creation and collaboration.

Jason says as someone who enjoys the outdoors, he enjoyed gaining resources he could share with his students and helping them develop an appreciation of nature and an understanding of how we benefit and learn from the environment.  “My favorite portion of the process was the doing; the hands-on activities and taking those ideas back to the students.”

When asked what stands out most about the program, Jason says, “Meeting others from across the state, sharing ideas and passions about why we were all choosing to become environmental educators stands out the most. Being able to develop relationships based on a common love have carried over into networking experiences and friendships.”

For his community partnership project, Jason focused on limiting the amount of debris on his school’s campus and preventing it from entering their waterways.  He partnered with NOAA's Ocean Guardian School Program, which provides opportunities for kids to get out in their environment to do hands-on, stewardship-based projects and Turtle Trash Collectors, a UNCW MarineQuest outreach program that educates youth about the impacts of marine debris and how to reduce marine debris to collect data on the amount of debris collected on campus. As part of this effort, he created a composting area for scraps from breakfast, lunch, and snack and placed a water refilling station on the playground to promote the use of reusable bottles.  “With Duke University Marine Lab and Cape Lookout National Seashore we conducted beach sweeps.  We teamed with NC Coastal Federation to learn about stormwater run-off effects and developed a rain garden to filter pollutants and catch physical debris.  The overall project encouraged students to continue debris sweeps within their neighborhoods and promoted responsibility as more students now pick up litter without being asked to do so.”

Jason says he decided to pursue his Environmental Education Certification to find more resources like Project WET, a national program administered by NCDEQ’s Division of Water Resources and Project WILD, a program of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. “Since beginning as a teacher, I've always included Project WET and Project Wild lessons because they have a lot of movement activities which is needed for elementary students. I chose the EE certification process because I was looking for more resources like this and other ways I could get students outdoors and connect it to the curriculum they are required to learn.”

Jason says the certification did change his approach to teaching. “The big take away from the certification would be in how to phrase subject matter that is and is not developmentally appropriate based on age. Students should be aware of the natural surroundings and have opportunities to explore in the outdoor world.”

Thursday, March 11, 2021

NCDEQ Hosts Career Panel for Wake County Middle School Students for 11th Annual Statewide Students@Work℠ Program.

On March 9th, the Department of Environmental Quality's Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs held a virtual career panel for more than 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.

The 2021 Students@Work initiative includes approximately 200 employers and 18,000 students statewide. Throughout the month of March, students will engage in virtual programs where they learn firsthand about the careers available in their communities.

During the NCDEQ career panel, students had the opportunity to talk with four professionals from different divisions in NCDEQ including Billy Meyer, an environmental scientist with waste management, Linwood Peele, an environmental engineer with water resources, Ami Staples, a marine biologist with marine fisheries and Heather Wylie, a meteorologist with air quality. 

Heather Wylie, Meteorologist, Division of Air Quality

Panel members shared how they became interested in their career, their career path and some of the challenges while pursuing their degrees in college. They gave helpful advice for how to students can begin connecting 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.

Linwood Peele, Water Supply Planning Branch, Supervisor, Division of Water Resources

Ami Staples, Statistician, Coastal Angling Program, Division of Marine Fisheries

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.

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

Monday, March 1, 2021

Lianna Koberoski, A Nonformal Educator in Haywood County Completes Her Environmental Education Certification


Lianna Koberoski, a nonformal educators in Haywood County completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Lianna has been teaching youth informally for the last few years and recently transitioned to a landscaping and garden maintenance position where she says the plant identification skills she learned in the certification program have become extremely helpful.

Lianna says her favorite part of the certification program was taking classes about North Carolina's native plants and wildlife. She says the experience that stood out for her was the “Investigating Your Environment” workshop which is a program of the NC Forest Service. “It was so much fun, we learned methods and activities to teach certain topics, visited beautiful areas, and got to be at "camp" for a week.”

For her community partnership project, Lianna partnered with Root Cause Farm, Asheville Greenworks and Royce’s Tree Service to install a living fence of fruiting and flowering trees at a community garden in Fairview North Carolina. “The community garden, Root Cause Farm, is in the heart of Fairview and addresses the issue of food insecurity in the community and surrounding area. Root Cause Farm is a unique kind of community garden - it is a giving garden. This means that all the food grown at this garden is given away, for free, to community members in need. The garden accomplishes this by donating produce to the local food pantry, hosting “share markets,” and donating food to another organization, Bounty and Soul which distributes food to the community of Black Mountain.” 

To provide additional resources about this project, Lianna created a section to be added to the self-guided pamphlet with educational information about the trees and their intended uses. These trees will become part of a sanctuary space that community members can visit and connect with, as well as provide fruit to be given away.

Lianna says the program enhanced her knowledge and gave her different methods of asking questions to students. “I am more aware of the social issues surrounding the environment, access to nature as well as education.”

Jean Pelezo, A Teacher in Cumberland County, Completes Her Environmental Education Certification

Jean Pelezo, a 5th-grade science and social studies teacher in Cumberland County recently completed her Environmental Education Certification. 

Jean has been an educator for 32 years teaching 2nd through 6th grades. She has established and taught K-5 science labs in Texas and North Carolina and has provided professional development at the school and district level, as well as at state and national conferences. Her passions include anything related to science and the outdoors, as well as science and art integration.

Jean says her favorite part of the certification program was learning in the field with professionals. “I moved to NC 13 years ago, so this program was a great way to learn and experience North Carolina in-depth and find its many "hidden" treasures. I also enjoyed meeting people and educators with the same passion for outdoor learning!”

When asked which experience stood out for her, Jean says all the experiences were awesome but the one that stands out for her was Explore NC offered by UNC Institute for the Environment. “Explore NC took me to various locations around the state and helped me to experience the bigger picture of how North Carolina's ecosystems work separately but together. The "being there" experience was a huge component of understanding these environments, and that is what I desire to pass on to my students!”

For her community partnership project, Jean created a pollination garden on the school grounds which has a "model" garden for families and the community. Jean’s project also included a pollination party, a family night event, that invited families to come and participate in a variety of hands-on activities related to pollinators and their importance for the environment.

Jeans says the certification helped her teaching career in two ways. “First, it helped me provide richer and deeper environmental education and life science content to my students. I can apply "real-world, local" examples and experiences to my students. The second teaching aspect is that I can share these resources and experiences with my colleagues. If I can teach and share with them these resources, they, in turn, can reach those students that I wouldn't have reached otherwise.”

When asked if the program changed her views of environmental issues, Jean says, “I was born and raised in the desert southwest. It was not until I moved to NC and participated in this program that I grasped the "infinite" vastness of all the land water systems and how they directly impact our ocean. I am more cognizant and aware of the importance of recycling, especially plastics, as well as the need to keep pollutants and pollution out of our streets and waterways.”

Monday, February 8, 2021

Sayrd Price, A Teacher at Stokes Early College High School talks With DEQ Secretary Michael Regan about the NC Environmental Education Certification Program

Sayrd Price, a teacher at Stokes Early College High School completed the NC Environmental Education Certification Program. Michael Regan, Secretary with the NC Department of Environmental Quality spoke with Sayrd about his experience in the program and his work in Stokes County. 

Watch the Interview with Secretary Regan: 

Sayrd teaches honors biology and earth/environmental science at Stokes Early College High. When he is not in the classroom, Sayrd is usually on campus monitoring bluebird boxes, working in the school’s garden, or obtaining resources for their next interactive lesson. “Outside of work I enjoy updating our Little Free Library, tending to the community garden, mountain biking, or spending time with my lovely wife and two wonderful dogs.”

When asked about a program experience that stood out to him Sayrd says it was a toss-up between watching the migratory snow geese and tundra swan with Melissa Dowland during the NC Museum of Natural Sciences Teacher Institute at Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and electrofishing a local stream in Valle Crucis with Kevin Hining from the NC Wildlife Resources Commission. “Both experiences brought on emotions of wonder and curiosity. These feelings are exactly what I strive for in the students that experience nature in and out of the classroom.”

For his community-based partnership project, Sayrd and his students reached out to the local community center and formed a partnership to create gardening experiences with disabled adults and the school's garden club. The edible items grown in the garden are then harvested to our local food bank. Sayrd says the school’s garden club project continues to be a success and offers fruits and vegetables to local food banks and they continue to use the garden as an outdoor classroom and as a study area for NC Envirothon, an annual science competition for teams of middle and high school students sponsored by the NC Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts and the NC Division of Soil and Water Conservation.  

Sayrd says the program changed the way he approached teaching. “I have modified the teaching methods and strategies to facilitate learning in and out of the classroom. “I have gained a better understanding of student backgrounds, expectations, and best learning methods which has created more caring and passionate learning environment.” When asked if the program affected the way he viewed environmental issues, Sayrd said, “I have a greater sense of urgency and an increased passion for helping our environment while educating others the importance of being proactive.”

Friday, January 22, 2021

Cynthia Ramsay, Field Instructor with Muddy Sneakers in Guilford County, Completes Her NC Environmental Education Certification

Cynthia Ramsay, a field instructor with Muddy Sneakers in Guilford County, recently completed her Environmental Education Certification. 

As a field instructor with Muddy Sneakers, Ramsay takes 5th-grade students into public lands to teach the science curriculum using hands-on experiments and activities. In her personal time, she enjoys gardening, mushroom identification, piano, hiking, traveling and cooking.

Cynthia says that one of the things she enjoyed about the program was meeting other passionate educators like herself. She says the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop stood out for her. “It was a valuable class. I did a small presentation at my work on what I learned about the 5E lesson plan. As a former classroom teacher, I had used that lesson plan before, but I had never applied it to my current work.”

For her community partnership project, Cynthia built a mud kitchen for a local preschool that has been working towards a focus on outdoor education. “I received pictures when school began of the children, who were ages three to four, using the space for imaginary play with natural loose parts. These children were just becoming comfortable in the outdoors and this provided a hands-on way for them to connect with the natural world.”

 When asked if the program changed the way she approached teaching, Cynthia says every experience provided her with tools she could incorporate in her work with children. “Some of the courses taught me more content while others taught me pedagogy and teaching culture. Many courses taught a bit of both. My goal is to allow the content I teach to be accessible to all students and have it presented in the most comfortable way for the participants.”

Cynthia says the program further emphasized her understanding of the difference between environmental education and environmental advocacy. “I understood the difference before, but now I know how to apply them both in the appropriate scenarios. Advocacy has its place, but my work is focused on environmental education. I wish I had known this when I was a classroom teacher years ago.”

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Amy Bradshaw, Environmental Educator at Haw River State Park Completes NC Environmental Education Certification

Amy Bradshaw, an environmental education instructor at Haw River State Park recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification. Amy provides programs for students and facilitates team-building activities for students and adults. “I teach students about the environment through hands-on outdoor activities that align with the North Carolina K-12 Standard Course of Study. The wetlands are one of my favorite parts of the park to show students because of its beauty and biodiversity. I also enjoy the wetlands as a birdwatching spot.”

Amy says one of her favorite things about the program were the instructional workshops and the opportunity to meet other environmental educators and to collaborate with them during the workshops. “I really enjoyed the instructional workshops. Environmental educators know how to make training and professional development fun.” 

The community partnership project was the part of the certification experience that stood out for Amy.  “It enabled me to take the lead on a topic that I am passionate about and create engaging curriculum that will help people connect with nature.”

For her project, Amy developed a bird curriculum that will be used in future programming at Haw River State Park with visiting school groups. “Haw River State Park is a great birding spot, so I wanted to add programming specifically focusing on birds to increase visitor knowledge about birds and to inspire visitors to develop an appreciation for the diversity of birds in our area. One part of the curriculum I created was a bird hike around the park. Due to COVID-19, I had to make adjustments but I was able to provide a self-guided bird hike for visitors at the park during August. Visitors enjoyed spending time outdoors looking and listening for birds along the trails. Because this year has been so different with how environmental education programs are able to serve audiences, I also included digital components in the curriculum which include a virtual bird hike video that can be shared with school groups so they can still enjoy having a park experience even if they are unable to physically visit Haw River State Park.”

Amy said the certification program helped her find a balance in her approach to teaching. “Participating in this program helped me to find a balance between content and fun when teaching others. Content should be engaging! When learning, people – especially kids – should have opportunities to explore, make discoveries, and have meaningful experiences.” She also said the program changed the way she views environmental issues. “Instead of stressing about environmental issues, I now look at them as learning and teaching opportunities. Working with community members and other environmental educators, we can make small changes that are impactful. Also, if you want people to care for the environment and help solve environmental problems, you first have to give them opportunities to connect with the environment and learn about it.”

Monday, December 14, 2020

Frances Bozak, Park Ranger at Hammocks Beach State Park Completes NC Environmental Education Certification

Frances Bozak, a park ranger at Hammocks Beach State Park recently completed her Environmental Education Certification. As a non-formal educator with North Carolina State Parks, Frances provides programs for families and school groups.

Frances says her favorite part of the program was traveling around the state and the outdoor, instructor-led professional development. 

For her community partnership project, Frances worked with Coastal Carolina University and Carolina Kids Fish, a non-profit organization to create opportunities for kids and adults in the local community to get outside and fish for free. “It can be expensive to go fishing after you buy all the bait and tackle and some parents do not know where they can go to take their kids to fish. We also saw a lack of children getting out in the community to play. We provided a location, bait, and tackle for community members to use. This gave kids a chance to get outdoors and learn about their local environment.” Frances says because the program was free and advertised on Facebook and to local schools, it gave everyone regardless of their background an opportunity to participate. “It’s a great way for kids to learn about their local environment. By teaching them about the local ecosystem and how they can enjoy it, we give children and parents a connection with the world around them. We provide an opportunity for children to be outdoors and experience nature through all their senses in a safe environment.”

Frances says that participating in the online air quality workshop offered by the Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality, helped her understand how much air pollution has affected our state. When asked if the program had changed the way she approached teaching she said, gave her different strategies for adapting programs for different groups. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Jamie Justice, Education Coordinator for the Museum of Coastal Carolina Completes her NC Environmental Education Certification

Jamie Justice, education coordinator for the Museum of Coastal Carolina recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Jamie is responsible for planning education programming at the museum that focuses on coastal environments. She teaches school groups about coastal habitats and species through interpretive nature walks along the beach and the marsh and by guiding students through the museum’s exhibits. 

Jamie enjoyed going to workshops and networking with other educators to share ideas and learning from other environmental education centers. “I enjoyed going to all of the instructional workshops and getting to participate from the point of view of the student while also learning tips for teaching the curriculum.”

For her community partnership project, Jamie worked with Brunswick Town Fort Anderson to design new trail signs and brochures about the different habitats that are at the site. “I developed a curriculum focused on water quality and macroinvertebrates for fourth and eighth graders that visit the site each year. This project helped the students gain a better understanding of the habitats and species at Brunswick Town in a fun, engaging way and also provided visitors with up to date information about the things they would see as they hiked through the site, while also informing them of some species to look out for that bite or sting.”

Jamie says the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “I’ve changed my focus from the impact humans have on the environment to what we can do to protect the environment and to address the effects we have caused.”

She feels the certification program is well-rounded and covers all areas of environmental education instruction. “It helps keep educators up to date on current issues and provides methods and practice in instructing a diverse audience.”

Monday, November 2, 2020

Mikayla Renn, A Conservation Specialist with the Wake Soil and Water Conservation District Completes Her NC Environmental Education Certification

Mikayla Renn, a conservation specialist with the Wake Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. Mikayla supports the director of the Wake SWCD with office administration and operations. She also provides support to their Natural Resource Conservationists in all aspects of both technical and office work. Mikayla believes the certification helped diversify her skills. 

Mikayla's favorite part of earning the certification was gaining knowledge in various fields and having the opportunity to explore North Carolina. “One of my favorite experiences was a mushroom identification workshop. I have always wanted to learn mushroom identification but never had the time to learn on my own. We found tons of mushrooms that day, some of which I had never seen before. It was such a fun experience trekking through the woods and learning with other educators."

For her community partnership project, Mikayla created three educational resources for the Bailey and Sarah Williamson Preserve. “With these resources, visitors of the preserve will learn about the preserve's pollinator garden and will discover ways they can implement native landscaping at home." 

Although she is not currently an environmental educator, she uses skills she learned in the program while speaking to the public and creating web content and newsletters. “I try to incorporate more visual and auditory components into these resources instead of just written content.”

Mikayla says, “obtaining this certification changed the way I look at environmental issues. It's not black and white. There are multiple viewpoints and cultural dynamics to take into consideration.”

Julia Hardy, a Conservation Program Education Specialist and Administrative Assistant for Wilkes County Soil and Water Conservation District Completes Her NC Environmental Education Certification.

Julia Hardy, a Conservation Program Education Specialist and Administrative Assistant for Wilkes County Soil and Water Conservation District completed her NC Environmental Education Certification. 

When she is not working, Julia enjoys spending time with her husband and two children outdoors, riding horses, playing with her four dogs, and helping with her church youth group. Her favorite part of earning her certification was meeting other educators in the program and learning different ways to educate others about the environment. 

Julia says the certification experience that stands out for her is the NA Bat Acoustic Monitoring Program. For this program she volunteered to drive a North American Bat monitoring route with equipment provided by NC Wildlife Resources Commission attached to her vehicle to collect bat data. The data was based on the sounds from the bats collected digitally at night. “My husband and children were able to go with me when the route was driven and were we able to not only hear the bats being found with the equipment but with the use of a tablet we were also able to see 2-3 suggested types of bats that the system recognized. The best part is all this was going back to research and we will eventually get results to let us know for sure what we heard and saw, also, we never realized how many bats are really always around us or even how many varieties of bats are in our area!”

For her community partnership project, Julia created online folder of lessons as a resource for other educators and students. “When the stay-at-home order began for COVID-19, everyone was in panic mode to do virtual/distance learning. I had already started the process of creating sample lessons to share with my local teachers to help promote my environmental lessons. As time went on, I talked with the local 4-H extension agent, local women’s Farm Bureau group, and other soil and water educators. Everyone I talked with was needing some way to share our resources, ideas, and lessons.” Julia was able to share the resources with other educators and new lessons and modifications are continuously being added. Julia recently added a virtual field trip to for 5th-9th graders. She offers to do all the lessons virtually, in-class, or in outside spaces with students.

Julia says participating in the certification program helped her tremendously. “I changed my approach to teaching others by learning how to read the group and making needed adjustments during the lesson to keep everyone engaged.”

Julia says the program changed the way she approaches environmental issues. “The program provided me with the tools to help others understand and learn from the environment around them including what impacts their environment and how to care for the environment.”

Friday, October 9, 2020

Lillie Reiter, Instructor at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher Completes Her Environmental Education Certification

Lillie is a nonformal environmental educator with a background in marine biology and ecology. She is an outreach instructor at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher currently on furlough due to the pandemic. Her work at the aquarium includes taking ambassador animals and other educational experiences out to students and adults in the surrounding community. Lillie is an AmeriCorps alumni and serves on the board of the Mid-Atlantic Marine Education Association as scholarship chair. She is interested in issues related to environmental justice, equity, and inclusion. In her personal time, she likes to bake, garden and to go on outdoor adventures. 

Lillie says one of her favorite things about earning her certification beyond the knowledge she gained was the networking opportunities. “I met wonderful environmental enthusiasts and educators which led to making friends and career network connections. I'd look forward to seeing the same people class to class and would often fall into a comfortable discussion of the topic quickly.” She says another exciting part of certification was the actual fieldwork included in the classes. “I've participated in activities such as bat mist netting, dissecting owl poop and counting flower buds for national data collection. I was able to put the skills into use after having just learned them and it was very helpful.”

The community partnership project was the aspect of the program that stood out for Lillie. Her project was at Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve in Wilmington NC. The nature preserve is used for recreation as and as a learning forest for the college of UNC Wilmington. Hurricane Florence flooded a large section of the preserve which devastated recently planted native longleaf pine trees and changed the course of the many walking trails. “Working with my Conservation Trust of North Carolina AmeriCorps host site, The Coastal Land Trust, and UNCW's Environmental Studies program, I organized multiple volunteer workdays to plant hundreds of new longleaf pines, clear trails, and bring awareness to the wonderful teaching space. Members of the community engaged in place-based environmental volunteering, the Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve got a spotlight in the community for being a teaching forest, and native trees were given a boost in the ecosystem.”

When asked how the certification changed her approach to teaching Lillie says there was one workshop that really had an impact. “Multiple classes during this process had a hand in shaping the way I teach environmental education currently, however, I feel the biggest impact came from K-12 Guidelines for Excellence (offered by Environmental Educators of North Carolina). The main lesson I learned was how to teach for environmental literacy, going beyond the state standards. I also learned how to assess my own environmental literacy, encourage critical thinking skills in students, and how being interdisciplinary can improve programs.”

Lillie says the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “The way I think about environmental issues has deepened and become more multi-faceted. I'm able to research topics more thoroughly because I have more resources and engage in a discussion considering all sides. One big topic I've become aware of that's changed my life drastically is single-use plastics. I've changed the way I store food, the items I purchase at grocery stores, and the way I talk about it to students after learning so much through this certification.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Iredell County Volunteer and Docent Whit Strunk Completes His NC Environmental Education Certification

Whit Strunk recently completed the NC Environmental Education Program. Whit is a volunteer and docent for multiple organizations including Catawba Lands Conservancy, Carolina Thread Trail, Mecklenburg Park and Recreation Department, Friends of Lake Norman State Park and Catawba Riverkeeper. When he is not volunteering, he enjoys nature study, meteorology, kayaking, canoeing, boating, hiking, camping and surf fishing.

Whit says his favorite part of the program was the wealth of knowledge shared by instructors, colleagues and peers. “The creative ways educators are using to present scientific information was invaluable. My two favorite programs were the Leopold Education Project and Certified Interpretive Guide Training.”

When asked if the certification program changed his approach to teaching, Whit says prior to pursuing certification his only teaching experience was with adults. “During the Spring and Summer of 2019, I served as a volunteer educator at Allison Woods Outdoor Learning Center. Most of the participants in the programs I taught were 5th and 6th graders. This presented an enriching challenge in preparing and delivering to learners of an age different from what I was used to. I do believe that teaching young people has made me a better adult educator because I am using new and creative methodologies I learned during certification coursework.”

For his Community Partnership Project, Whit led a team of Allison Woods Outdoor Learning Center staff and volunteers in building a greenhouse and a raised bed garden. Both were then used by the Aqua Sprouts 4-H Club in Iredell County. The produce grown was donated to a local food bank located in Harmony, NC. “The Aqua Sprouts 4H Club was formed to teach its members about the scientific theory and practical application of aquaponics and hydroponics. Teaching was conducted in a traditional classroom with an indoor laboratory. The club wanted to expand its program offerings to include traditional gardening techniques.  When the leader made me aware of the club’s plan for expanding their program I offered to take the lead on planning, designing and constructing a greenhouse and raised bed garden.”

When asked if the way he thinks about environmental issues changed after participating in the certification program, Whit says he more clearly recognizes the importance of presenting well researched and credible scientific information. “While I believe I always presented credible scientific information, teaching in our current political environment makes it even more important. Today I advocate less in my role as an educator, and inform more using the best scientific information available.”

Small Business Owner Honor Muralt Recently Completed the NC Environmental Education Certification

Honor Muralt, an educational business owner, recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification. Honor recently started a business called Educational Adventures and hopes the certification will enhance her programming. Honor designs curriculum aligned with the state's education standards for public and private schools. Her 15 years of experience as an art literacy teacher and her experience as a vocalist means that her lesson includes art and music as ways to teach educational concepts, hands-on science activities, art and create interactive presentations. When she isn’t creating fun educational experiences, Honor enjoys going on hikes in nature.

Honor says her favorite part of earning her certification was connecting with people and nature. “I loved exploring the coastal, piedmont and mountain regions of North Carolina, and I learned a lot about the different organisms that live here. I enjoyed all the workshops that taught about specific animal species like bears, amphibians, raptors and mammals. I gained a lot of knowledge to share with students.

She says the certification experiences that stood out the most were the experiences with live animals. “I enjoyed Turtle Exploration Workshop at Fort Fisher State Recreation Area where I was able to see live sea, terrestrial and aquatic turtles. At Advance Wild Raptors I was able to see a Barred Owl, Mississippi Kite and Great Horned Owl. The Wild Amphibians workshop provided me with the opportunity to see NC native frogs and salamanders up-close. I love these experiences, and I am looking forward to registering for more in the future.”

For her community partnership project Honor worked with students at a local elementary school to clean up overgrown trails, the outdoor classroom space, and docks overlooking a pond. “My goal was to provide teachers with an opportunity to teach NC state standards out in nature, instead of the classroom. The project increased awareness and use of this space by teachers and students. Unfortunately, the closing of schools due to COVID-19 has halted the use at this point. My hope is that the outdoor space will continue to become more popular with teachers, and they will use this amazing opportunity to continue to connect students to nature.”

Honor says participating in the certification program changed her approach to teaching. “Participating in the EE Certification process helped me to recognize the importance of adding more inquiry and collaboration time for students, so I have adjusted my lessons to allow time for appropriate grade level discussions to occur. The Five E's Instructional Model taught at the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop taught me great strategies to direct my teaching time. I have become a lot better at assessing student’s knowledge by asking more questions.”

The program also increased Honor’s awareness of environmental issues. “I learned about the affect light pollution has on sea turtle hatchlings, sound pollution has on animals, soil contamination that invades our water supply, and littering that endangers the health of birds. I have learned a great deal of information attending the environmental education workshops, and I share this information with my children, family members, friends, teachers, and students.”

Monday, September 21, 2020

Dana Thomason with the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island Completes Her Environmental Education Certification

Dana Thomason, the Lead Special Activities Instructor and Summer Camp Coordinator at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island recently completed her NC Environmental Education Certification.

Among her many responsibilities at the aquarium, Dana develops and leads curriculum-based public environmental educational programming, both indoor and outdoor, facilitates special educational events and conducts program evaluation. When not working, she enjoys beachcombing for unique sea glass and Mollusca sea treasures, taking hikes through the maritime forests, uploading photographs of nature to iNaturalist, reading books and traveling to new places.

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Dana says she benefitted in some way from all the components of the program.  “Instructional workshops aided me in gaining further knowledge on certain environmental topics/issues, build positive relations with fellow environmental educators, and have access to hands-on activities with keeping booklets provided at the workshop. Outdoor experiential learning allowed me to emerge myself into nature and use a practical application to identifying certain shorebird species, leaf-mining insects, and nature play learning to the test. Teaching reinforced the fact that my unique educational interpretation style and skills reach participants at a level that helps them find a connection to nature and want to act to protect it. Perhaps my favorite part was traveling to other NC regions and attending conferences/seminars that served as a platform to foster collaborative efforts in EE interpretation/skills for educators.”

Dana says that she gained a wealth of knowledge on the many environmental topics during the program and seeing the passion of workshops facilitators like CC King and Becky Skiba with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission for informal teaching made an impression on her. “Embarking on the EE Certificate Program led to many memorable experiences and the ones that have stayed with me are the instructional workshops led by enthusiastic facilitators such as CC King and Becky Skiba. Many interpretation techniques I witnessed from the two educators, are now added to my programs and activities.”

For her community partnership program which is required for certification, Dana created "Earth Fair OBX VII", a free event held annually in the Outer Banks and organized by a member of CEEN-Coastal Environmental Educators Network of North Carolina. Members of the Outer Banks community were invited to attend this free event where local organizations hosted a table showcasing what they do to educate, promote sustainability, and protect the environment. “Earth Fair OBX VII event shined light on environmental awareness, individual and community action, and the sheer joy of celebrating the valuable resources our planet gives us. Adults and children were able to enjoy interactive and informative tables, a live band that created a friendly, fun-loving vibe and the chance to enter in a few locally donated raffle items that support future Earth Fair OBX events! The community gained knowledge on the many local organizations that value, appreciate and protect our coastal habitats and ways to support, volunteer or participate.”

Dana says the program changed the way she teaches. “Participating in the EE Certification program led to the fine-tuning of my interpretation skills and expanding my knowledge on topics my Marine Biology degree did not cover in my college career. Before embarking on this program, I was fortunate to have had three years of informal educational teaching experience, but never truly had the opportunity to get trained on environmental hands-on workshops. The program helped me to recognize that by understanding my target audience, I could then work to build a positive connection for them and the natural world. As an active listener, I taught my programs and activities with my audience's needs and questions at the forefront.”

Dana says that her mindset on environmental issues did not change because of the certification program but that it did change her interpretation techniques and hands-on activities to help the audience understand, connect and care about environmental issues. “If not presented correctly, many environmental issues can be seen as "doom and gloom" where an individual's actions may not be portrayed as making a positive impact. Or the general misunderstanding of scientific data can negatively curve the audience's outlook on these issues. It is the interpreter's role to help build a foundation of awareness, knowledge, relevancy and potential action to help change the tide of some of these issues.”

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Highlighting and Incorporating Environmental Justice, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Environmental Education Programs

Governor Roy Cooper’s Executive Order 143 tasks the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality with the “integration of environmental justice considerations into current and future policies, programs, and procedures,” and here at DEQ, we believe environmental education plays an essential role in that effort. 

“Environmental education connects people to the state’s rich natural resources and empowers them to bring positive change to their communities,” says DEQ Secretary Michael S. Regan. “This program is for everyone and we want to make sure it represents the diversity of our state and includes the voices and perspectives of often underserved communities.” Secretary Regan serves on the Environmental Justice Subcommittee of the Andrea Harris Social, Economic, Environmental, and Health Equity Task Force meeting established by the Governor’s Executive Order. 

To better represent the importance of environmental justice in environmental education, our office of has modified its 
mission statement and is seeking new partnerships and opportunities for our programs. “The goal of environmental education is environmental literacy for all residents of North Carolina and should include environmental justice and its history,” says Lisa Tolley, program director for the Office of Environmental Education. “To achieve this goal, we must focus on increasing access of diverse communities to natural areas and environmental education programs.”

One way we plan to meet this goal is to provide environmental educators with better access to training in justice, diversity, equity and inclusion. We currently encourage and accept professional development in these topics for credit in the NC Environmental Education Certification, a professional development program for educators, and we are already working to highlight more quality workshops, resources and training. Our office also plans to partner with organizations such as Environmental Educators of North Carolina (EENC), the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), and others to build training and professional development in justice, diversity, equity and inclusion into the certification program.

“By providing this training, we will increase educators’ cultural competency and ensure that environmental education programs are inclusive and relevant to diverse communities. We want to help more educators incorporate justice, diversity, equity, and inclusion in their teaching strategy, relationships with students, lessons, projects, and resources,” says Lauren Pyle, Executive Director of EENC. 

And these are just the first steps. The office will also continue working with community colleges and universities to increase diversity in the conservation fields and in environmental education by reaching out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities and minority-serving organizations and include them in a conversation on how to reach students. We plan to leverage existing university partnerships, such as the NC State University environmental education minor, as a model for other institutions and programs.

We are already using our existing platforms such as the successful Lunchtime Discovery Series partnership with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences to highlight current environmental justice work and the people and organizations that are engaging underserved communities and youth in the outdoors. Our most recent guest speaker was Tatiana Height, Doctoral Candidate in Agriculture and Extension Education at North Carolina State University, who discussed park and green space inequity in marginalized communities.

The series will also feature the museum's Coordinator of Accessibility and Inclusion, Jessie Rassau talking about the 
November 17 STEM Showcase for Students with Disabilities

As these plans develop, we will be using our new “Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion” page on our website, as the main information hub for these resources and opportunities. We’ve also developed an interactive database of related webinars, workshops and resources that can also be found here and on the new page. Visit it often for new content and updates on this new effort, or consider subscribing to the Teachable Moments blog or the office email list.

Read the press release

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Kristin Rosser, Outdoor Recreation Specialist for Mecklenburg County Completes Her N.C. Environmental Education Certification

Kristin is an Outdoor Recreation Specialist at Latta Nature Center in Mecklenburg County where she teaches environmental education courses and leads adventure tours. She is also completing a Master of Science in Environmental Education at Montreat College.

Kristin says the certification program has provided her with skills she will continue to use as she provides programs and tours. “It is a well-respected and difficult certification to receive and I am proud to have completed it. I think it will definitely help me professionally in the future.”

When asked what she liked best about the program, Kristin says it was the level of organization in the program’s curriculum, the accessibility and application of standards, and the variety of activities provided for each set of lesson plans.
For her community-based project, Kristin created a geocaching lesson plan to introduce students to maps, orienteering, geocaching, and nature. Children are taught how to read, create, and follow a map as they use Global Positioning System (GPS) to find caches with nature facts. “This lesson plan has been used by schools visiting Reedy Creek Nature Preserve. It gets them outside while still sharpening their technological and naturalist skills.”

Kristin says the program gave her many more tools to pull from and that she is more prepared and practiced at educating as a result. “Since every workshop I completed touched on environmental issues, I am well versed in basic environmental issues. While I am more prepared to teach about them because of the certification program, I am also more motivated to make changes in my own life!”

Monday, July 27, 2020

Union County Educator, Breanna Walker, Completes the N.C. Environmental Education Certification

Breanna Walker, education specialist for Union County Soil and Water Conservation District recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program.

As the environmental educator for her department, Breanna is responsible for creating and providing programs and workshops for both children and adults. She also does community outreach and education within her county which includes festivals and field days. When Breanna isn’t working she enjoys reading, crocheting, and exploring new places.

Breanna says being able to travel to new locations and meet other wonderful environmental educators was the most enriching part of the certification program for her. “As a new resident of North Carolina, this program allowed me to quickly build connections with other like-minded people and provided me with the opportunity to see more of what the state has to offer overall in the field of environmental education.”

When asked what experience in the program stood out to Breanna, she said it was the extremely quick response that other educators and the Office of Environmental Education had to the COVID-19 shutdown. “Several of my certification hours were acquired during this time, and I was particularly impressed with the Criteria II (outdoor instructor-led) programs that were provided virtually by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Having these activities to focus on during the shutdown helped me stay centered and focused on environmental education. As this pandemic continues, I look forward to seeing what other ideas and opportunities emerge.”

For her community project, Breanna wanted to find a way to reach various small communities within her county during the COVID-19 pandemic. She put together a DIY Bird Feeder Contest for elementary school students and partnered with Union County Public Schools to get the information about the contest to the teachers and children. Once the students had submitted their feeders and the contest was complete, the feeders were placed at various nursing homes, senior centers, and assisted living facilities throughout the county. The residents at these facilities were provided with educational materials on common birds and the significance of feeding songbirds. She was even able to present to one group of seniors via Zoom. “It was a great experience, and I feel that it not only provided the children with a way to get involved with environmental education, but it also provided joy to the senior citizens in our county,” says Breanna.

Before participating in the certification program, Breanna says she often focused on environmental issues when teaching environmental education, but the program changed her approach to teaching. “This program has helped me take a step back and look at the communities that I am working within and has enhanced my understanding of how I can connect with them to provide programs that are better suited to their needs while still teaching about the environment. I have gained so much knowledge about different programs that can be used, and I have so many ideas for the future!”