Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Educator Spotlight: Melissa Amoabeng

Melissa Amoabeng, a farm educator with the Durham Public Schools Hub Farm recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification. Melissa manages the gardens and landscape of the 30-acre Hub Farm site and teaches hands-on environmental programming for all ages. “Working with a small team, I also help manage volunteers, run community events, and write grants. I love how our work is always different every day - but always outside!” 

Originally from Maryland, Melissa grew up exploring the Chesapeake Bay watershed. She found a new home in North Carolina while studying Environmental Health at UNC-Chapel Hill. After earning a master’s degree in Public Health, Melissa worked in school garden education with Guilford County Cooperative Extension 4-H, taught English in France, and worked on several local farms. Most recently, Melissa received a Master’s in Horticultural Science from NC State University focused on public gardens and landscape design. 

When asked about her favorite part of earning her environmental education certification, Melissa says it was a coastal experience. “I loved going out to the coast to participate in the migratory shorebird count on Topsail Island.” She still hopes to do one of the educator institutes of excellence offered by the NC Museum of Natural Sciences one day. Another outdoor experience also stood out for Melissa. “I loved doing native wildflower hikes with other local plant nerds in Durham and getting to really know fellow environmental educators working in my area.” 

For her community partnership project, Melissa organized a series of family fishing events at the Hub Farm with partners including the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, The Ebony Anglers, Boy Scouts, and the UNC-Chapel Hill APPLES Service Learning Program. “These events engaged a different part of our community that we hadn't been serving before, and also connected us to new partners including local scout troops and the NC Wildlife Resources Commission.” 

Melissa says the fishing events bring families together outdoors to experience the joy and wonder of catching freshwater fish, which creates a feeling of belonging and positive environmental attitudes. “Older visitors to the Hub Farm often say things like, "Oh, I used to fish these ponds in the 1980s." We also know that the local high school agriculture program used to run an aquaculture program to raise tilapia, trout, and catfish in our ponds in the early 1990s. And students on field trips always ask if there are fish in the pond. So, we decided to merge the historical relevance of fishing in this community and the enduring interests of our current youth by offering a family-friendly environmental education opportunity that is culturally relevant to our majority Black and Hispanic student population.” 

When asked if the program changed her approach to teaching, Melissa said, “Before this program, I really didn't understand the importance of teaching people skills for understanding and engaging in environmental issues, as described in the NAAEE (North American Association of Environmental Education) Guidelines for the Preparation and Professional Development of Environmental Educators. The certification program challenged me to add this new component to my teaching practice, and gave me tools to do so through curricula like Project Learning Tree.” 

Melissa also says the certification program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “I learned that it is more important when working with young children to focus on the place where they live - not on faraway places with rainforests and ice caps. I think more locally now about teaching, and that sense of place has become very important to me.”

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