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.”