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 Rebecca 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. She 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 Rebecca's 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, Rebecca 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.