|Annette at Grandfather Mountain|
Annette Steele is a teacher at Lincoln Heights Environmental Connections Magnet Elementary School in Wake County. Lincoln Heights has received numerous distinctions including Wake County Watershed Stewardship School, NC Green School of Excellence and is a 2020 US Department of Education Green Ribbon School. Annette says the Environmental Education Certification has helped her develop lessons and prepared her to move into a coaching role within the school helping teachers develop environmental education lessons and activities.
In her current role as an elementary educator, Annette works with students in grades Kindergarten through fifth grade. “I spend my weekdays helping students to learn how to love the outdoors and nature and the weekends camping in nature. I am passionate about the environment and enjoy traveling. State Parks are my favorite place to visit.”
Annette says her favorite part of earning her certification was participating in a wide variety of workshops and working with so many new people. “Each different class offered another viewpoint and learning experience. There are so many talented people who work in the State who are willing to share their knowledge and help me become a better educator.”
When asked what experience stood out for her during the certification process, Annette says it was the access to a diversity of topics and educators. “I started working on my EE certification during the COVID lockdown and luckily for me, many of the classes were offered virtually. I remember one day when I went to a whaling class led by an instructor in the Outer Banks, and that same evening I participated in a class about bats led by an instructor in Asheville. These virtual classes opened my access to so many different experiences and classes that I might not have even participated in if it were not for the pandemic. My hat goes off to the instructors who adapted and pivoted to make these experiences possible.”
For her community partnership project, Annette created a nature trail, called Discovery Woods, right in the middle of the Moccasin Branch Campground at Raven Rock State Park. Discovery Woods is located within the wooded area at the center of the Campground which is primarily used by curious campers, and children exploring the woods. “Discovery Woods has fifteen interpretive signs starting at the high traffic bathhouse that invite people to learn more about the park's history, ecosystems and the flora and fauna found within Raven Rock State Park. Each sign has questions which give the visitors clues to information on the next sign and most of the signs contain QR codes and websites that link to additional information to further engage their explorations.”
Annette says the program changed her approach to teaching. “I try as hard as possible to make activities hands-on and outside. Exploring in nature and being able to physically create a nature journal, observe a butterfly, or help with citizen science projects are so rewarding for all learners. I know this has been a virtual year, but some of the best instructors managed to incorporate outside experiences into their virtual classes. If they can do that, so can I.”
She says the program changed her attitude towards environmental issues and how we teach the issues to young children. “As an elementary educator, I learned that creating a love of nature through hands-on outdoors activities is crucial to help students learn to love and appreciate the world they live in. I am now very cautious about creating environmental ecophobia in our young learners. I want them to love the natural world rather than fear it.”