Jessie Kerr recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification Program offered through the Department of Environmental Quality. Jessie works as an Environmental Educator at the Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE) in Tryon.
In her role at FENCE, Jessie coordinates outreach programs to local elementary schools, leads field trips and organizes their summer nature camps. She also develops new programs and cares for the animals that live at the center. “When I’m not fostering a love of nature in area youth, you can find me enjoying live music, chasing waterfalls or in my hammock with my lab puppy, Bear.”
Her favorite part of earning her certification was participating in conferences. “I love connecting with other environmental educators and seeing the wonderful accomplishments of my peers. I always enjoy the informational sessions and guest speakers.” Jessie says the workshops and curriculum guides have proved to be incredibly useful in my work, especially with her summer camps. One of her favorite workshops was Project OWL offered by The North Carolina Arboretum. “My favorite activity being the Microtrek hike with circles of tied yarn to encourage students to explore forest biodiversity on the ground. Having become one of my staples, I always keep pieces of yarn in my pack for this activity during camps and hikes!”
The certification experience that stands out to Jessie was participating in the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher’s first Baja Island Ecology Educator Program. “I was able to connect with some amazing educators across the state and brainstorm ways to bring our experiences back to the students we teach.”
While acquiring her teaching hours, Jessie taught a recycling program at a local elementary school in which they investigated Styrofoam in landfills. Following the program, the first-grade class started a campaign to end the use of the Styrofoam water cups in their cafeteria.
For her community partnership project, she collaborated to create an eco-art installation using the theme of waste reduction focusing on single use plastics. The project included a local trash cleanup during which items were collected and then used as the materials to create the installation. The installation included informational signage and following the project, Jessie provided programming to an after-school group on the topic.
Jessie says she has learned a lot about how environmental education is delivered to students in the classroom. “As a nonformal educator, I was unaware of the discrepancies of EE in the classroom, namely climate change lessons. Exploring information provided in many of the workshops, like the Earth Day 50 session, I learned how little time is devoted each year to related programming and how many classroom teachers are uncomfortable presenting this information. These findings have helped me further understand the importance and need of my role. In my position at a small nonprofit nature center, I travel to classrooms grades K-5 to regularly provide EE programming to schools at no cost. As such, we visit several schools a day, allowing for noteworthy impacts and reach. I am evermore dedicated to bridging that gap in programming and serving as a resource for teachers in my area.”