Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Educator Spotlight: E.J. Dwigans

E.J. Dwigans, an Educational Ranger with the NC Forest Service at Holmes Educational State Forest in Hendersonville recently completed the NC Environmental Education Certification.

E.J. helps manage the 235-acre property that includes educational exhibits as well as picnic and camping facilities in addition to providing public and school programming. “We educate students of all grade levels as well as the general public about a variety of nature related subjects including forest management, fire ecology, water quality, wildlife, and the history of our site going back to the 1930's.”

E.J. says his favorite part of the program was meeting other nonformal educators from across the state and learning from their experiences. “Listening to some of the limitations and challenges others face at their site has helped put some of the things I consider problems here at Holmes ESF into perspective.” He particularly enjoyed the overnight workshops such as the Investigating Your Environment and Project Learning Tree facilitator trainings. “I've made some great friends in the EE community by talking around a campfire after hours.”

For his community partnership project, E.J. rejuvenated an old nature trail at Atkinson Elementary School in Hendersonville to turn it into a tree identification trail. This was a large project that involved collaborating with the school to remove dead trees, removing invasive species, clearing the trail of overgrown vegetation, and laying gravel on the trail. E.J. says his main priority was to provide a tree ID guide along the trail focusing on ten species of trees. “I made ten wooden tree ID signs with numbers corresponding to the information on the trail guide. The signs include the common and scientific name of the species. From the trail, only the number is visible, and you flip the sign to see the name of the tree. The tree ID guide I provided to school staff includes information for identifying the ten trees on the trail.”

E.J. said the project was a continuation of an already great partnership between Atkinson Elementary School and Holmes Educational State Forest. “Although the school is close, field trips are not always an easy thing to initiate. With the newly restored Tree ID trail, school staff can expose students to environmental education within a brief period and without having to arrange buses for a trip off site. The project also turned out to be beneficial to the non-profit group Muddy Sneakers. After talking with their educators, they will now be using the trail and creek when they visit Atkinson for fifth grade education.”

E.J. said that no one at the school could tell him the name of the creek that flowed through the property and that the trail crossed over so he handmade a "Perry Creek" sign for the bridge crossing the creek and provided educational resources to school staff to help them teach students about their local watershed.

When asked if the program led to any changes in his approach to teaching, E.J. said, “Throughout the certification process I have continually added things to my skill set allowing me to reach my target audience more effectively. The leaders of every workshop I attended were great and it seemed like I would always pick up a new teaching method from one of the instructors that I had not thought of before.”

E.J. says the program also changed the way he views environmental issues. “I've advocated for environmental issues since I was a kid. If anything, this program has expanded my understanding of complex environmental issues and helped me think more realistically when it comes to solutions as opposed to reading about an issue and its suggested solutions without knowing anyone that is affected by the issue.”

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