Thursday, May 25, 2017

Educator Spotlight: Julia Soto

As a nonformal educator, Julia Soto uses her spare time to educate her community about the environment around them. Soto is a volunteer/docent with the Central Carolinas Master Naturalist Program who recently earned her N.C. Environmental Education Certificate. As her day job, she is a childcare subsidy caseworker.

Soto’s favorite part of the program was that it allowed her to travel. “I loved traveling to all of the beautiful places around the state where the workshops were held and the sheer joy of discovery as I moved through the program,” said Soto. “It brought back all the excitement I used to experience when I was a child playing in the woods.”

For her community partnership project, Soto helped her daughter’s Girl Scout troop plan an Earth Day Celebration at a local park as part of their Bronze Award Project. In celebration of Girl Scouts’ 100th Anniversary, girls from all over the county came together to plant 100 pine trees at the park. Soto found it very rewarding to see how excited the girls were about the tree planting.

Looking back at the program, the moment that stands out to Soto was an event she may never have experienced otherwise. “I attended the sea turtle workshop on the coast,” reflected Soto. “The park ranger was checking one of the nests and found a hatchling straggling behind. The experience of watching that lone little hatchling make its way to the sea was something I’ll always remember.”

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Educator Spotlight: Tori Carle

Tori Carle poses with "plarn" hair.

A recycling education specialist with the City of Greensboro’s Field Operations, Tori Carle is positive that obtaining her N.C. Environmental Education Certification has helped her career advancement. Not only did it help her find a job, but it also has improved her confidence in planning and executing programs at that job, where she works with schools, businesses and residents to increase recycling participation and decrease contamination.

Carle’s favorite part of the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program was the opportunity it provided to network with other environmental educators at the various workshops. “I’m also a super nerd, so I love learning and teaching new things that I have learned to others is always fun,” added Carle.

For her community partnership project, Carle created Operation Bed Roll, a program that has helped spread the word about the non-recyclability of plastic film in residential recycling containers. Operation Bed Roll is a collaboration between Greensboro’s Field Operations and Police departments to keep non-recyclable materials out of our landfills – and help some of our neediest residents have a safe place to sleep. Operation Bed Roll aims to transform thousands of plastic grocery bags into “plarn,” or plastic bag yarn used to create crocheted sleeping mats that provide an insulated barrier for those who sleep on the ground. Carle trains residents how to make the plarn and Greensboro police officers will distribute the mats to the homeless throughout the winter. The Interactive Resource Center, a non-profit that helps people experiencing homelessness, helped us set a goal of 200 bed rolls per winter.

“Greensboro residents have shown up to share love with our neediest residents by crafting plastic bag yarn into more than 243 bed rolls and counting,” said Carle. “That’s about 170,100 plastic bags kept out of city streets, landfills and recycling! Residents have also learned where to properly recycle plastic bags – at retail store collection bins. The plan fever has spread so much that other communities have started their own Operation Bed Roll.”

What stands out most to Carle from completing the program is how helpful it is for anyone working in an environmental education position. “Getting educators free resources for our programs has been a huge help in every environmental education job I’ve had,” Carle reflected.

For more information about Operation Bed Roll, click here:

Monday, May 8, 2017

Educator Spotlight: Jessica Metz-Bugg

Jessica Metz-Bugg is a fourth-generation teacher with a specific interest in multicultural education who recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Metz-Bugg started her teaching career in the Cherokee Central School System, where most students are members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. She initially taught fourth and fifth grade, then added to her certification and started teaching sixth grade science.

Metz-Bugg already has great experience with environmental education. In 2013, she started an after-school garden club for sixth and seventh grade students, which partners with community organizations and tribal members to create traditional food and pollinator gardens. In 2014, she became the Education Project Coordinator for Seeking Paths in Nature, an educational partnership between Great Smoky Mountains National park and Cherokee Middle School. In this role, she created a middle school curriculum which integrated Cherokee culture and National Park resources. She planned and led field trips to multiple National Park service sites across the Southeast, presented in-class and in-park programs for K-12 students, provided professional development for park rangers and educators, and presented information about the project at conferences across the country to help build interest and sustainability for the program. She has since switched back to a formal educator role and is teaching 4-6 grade science and math at New Kituwah Academy, a Cherokee language immersion school, where she enjoys learning about and integrating Native American culture into her lessons to empower her students as she helps them to explore, understand and connect to the world around them.

Metz-Bugg says her favorite part of earning her certification was the networking and brainstorming opportunities that arose from the program. “I have met and developed close working relationships with some truly amazing people in the field of environmental education,” said Metz-Bugg. “The ideas and collaborations that have come from meeting people during this process have been invaluable and will continue to influence me personally and professionally for years to come. There have been so many favorite parts, but truly the people are what have made the greatest and most lasting impact.”

For her community partnership project, Metz-Bugg created educational garden space on the campus of Cherokee Central Schools. Starting with just two beds, a few kids and a handful of donated seeds the project has grown to twenty-two beds managed by school staff, students, and community volunteers. The space includes a pollinator garden and traditional Cherokee plants for various uses and vegetables. This garden is unique in that it focuses on plants related to Cherokee culture. Through the garden, students of Cherokee Central Schools learn cultural information about foods, traditions, folklore, and crafts related to plants. However, she is also integrating that traditional knowledge with modern information on plant science, non-native foods and nutrition. Part of being an educator for Native American students in the 21st century is teaching the traditional knowledge, but also teaching the science that supports it and help students connect in ways that fit into the student’s life and identity. This garden is always working on helping students understand this larger idea.

Reflecting on the program, the experience that stands out most for Metz-Bugg is her trip with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences to the Land of the Long Leaf Pine. “Experiencing an ecosystem so drastically different from anything I knew and learning both the history and science side-by-side made the information so meaningful and engaging,” she said. “Seeing carnivorous plants in the wild for the first time was one of the coolest things ever! I had also never been to the ocean in the winter and it was a deeply calming and restorative experience. This trip really had it all.”