Growing up I always knew I wanted to “save the planet.” Not that I knew exactly how to do that. As I started college I decided one avenue was to work for the government- those who make the rules and laws that protect the environment, particularly at the national or international level.
So, I ended up pursuing an Environmental Studies degree at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Not a science degree, but a bachelor of arts. I took classes like Natural Resource Management and History & Philosophy of Natural Resources. After graduating, I began working for the county government doing environmental management at the county landfill and was involved in the local Keep America Beautiful affiliate. I also helped to organize an annual Earth Day festival which brought together over 100 exhibitors working to protect the environment and the general public eager to learn what they are doing and how they could get involved.
After a couple of years I decided to go back to school for a master of public administration at UNCW. I reconnected with a previous professor who told me all about how the Environmental Studies program had grown since I had graduated. This persuaded me to simultaneously get an environmental studies graduate certificate. I thought the combination of public administration and environmental studies would better prepare me to work get the job I wanted- working for the government creating rules and laws to protect the environment.
During my time in graduate school, however, I learned about the field of environmental education. Turns out I had been doing some of it myself through tours of the landfill, giving presentations to the public, and the annual Earth Day festival. I just didn’t realize it could be a career! So, this realization started me on another path.
Post graduation, I worked as an AmeriCorps member for the N.C. Division of Air Quality, where I developed an outreach campaign for older adults. I also started working on my EE certification and taking lots of workshops, classes, etc. This work, and the campaign were incredibly rewarding, a wonderful learning experience, and solidified my passion for environmental education.
I currently work for Chatham County Solid Waste & Recycling as the Waste Reduction Coordinator. I manage our recycling and special disposal programs and provide education and outreach to the community. I provide presentations to classrooms and community groups of all ages, table at events to answer the public’s questions, and create our signage and educational materials. Helping residents of Chatham County understand how to properly dispose and recycle right is my way of trying to “save the planet.”
I'll never forget my first glimpse into what my new position at Chimney Rock Park would include. At this time in 2005, it was still a privately-owned entity and I was visiting to shadow the Spring Girl Scout Day. I would be returning in the summer to begin my new job and be part of these programs, which was both exciting and a little overwhelming.
Watching the event I was stoked to see Girl Scouts from a variety of areas, learning new things together and engaging with nature in such an inspiring setting. Although at that time it was fairly small, maybe 50 folks, they were all given the opportunity to participate in a variety activities throughout the morning and then enjoy the park on their own after lunch. As a former Girl Scout myself could appreciate what the staff, leaders and girls were experiencing.
Fast forwarding 14 years our scout days are still one on my favorite activities throughout the year. They've grown in attendance to hundreds of participants including scouts, parents and siblings The last couple of years they have become so popular they now require a waiting list. We spend the morning in hands-on programs pertaining to topics such as outdoor cooking, tree identification and appreciation of native snakes. After lunch our 32-foot climbing tower opens for the scouts and many of them head out with their troops to do a couple miles of hiking or searching for the best view. As the park closes to regular visitors we set-up camp for the night. Fire rings are lit, dinner is cooked and girls from around the southeast make new friends. As the evening draws to a close there's nothing like falling asleep under the stars and, of course, sharing that experience with my daughters and now, too! From my first Girl Scout day to the most recent earlier this summer, I am grateful to be a part of such a wonderful event.
My name is Elissa, and I am the Eastern Section Chair. As a child, I spent countless hours outdoors. I was born and raised in rural Georgia, and the outside world was my playground. Climbing trees, catching frogs and salamanders in creeks, hiking, hunting, fishing, swimming in ponds, helping my parents in the garden, and so many other activities. These early adventures helped shape me into an adult who has a passion for environmental stewardship and a desire to share that passion with others.
I strongly believe in connecting children to nature at a young age by providing them meaningful outdoor experiences. Today’s children spend too much time indoors and on devices, and we’re at risk of the next generation losing the respect and connection to Mother Earth that is so important for her survival. People who are not taught to love the Earth do not nurture, provide, and take care of her. It seems that almost every day we see something on the news about climate change, animals perishing from consuming discarded plastic, and extreme weather. The environmental problems we are facing as a society are numerous, and it’s up to us and the ones who follow to change the path we have been on of not having a loving, respectful, and caring connection to our planet. I strongly feel that if we do not change our actions and work to ensure others change theirs, we will be the cause of our own extinction. This is why environmental education for all is so important.
With children, instilling a love and respect for our environment in children at a young age helps them grow and develop into responsible adults who feel a personal sense of stewardship to help protect our environment now and in the future. Many educators focus on children, but adults are need of education as well. We all, as humans, have the capacity for change. I’ve found that with many adults and caring for our environment; it’s not that they don’t care, they simply don’t know. Take cigarette butts for example. Many people believe that cigarette butts are made of paper that will biodegrade if thrown on the ground. While this may be true of hand-rolled cigarettes, the reality is that commercially produced cigarette butts are made of a type of plastic called cellulose acetate. This plastic takes 125-150 years to break down, and it leaks toxic chemicals into the environment during this time. I’ve found that simply educating adults on this one major environmental issue causes many of them to change their actions regarding throwing their cigarette butts on the ground. Taking the time to have a simple conversation often results in positive change if we’re willing to take that educational leap.
One of my favorite ways to get children outside is a simple one: Go outside with them! Most adults don’t spend as much time in nature as they should (since nature is proven to be therapeutic on so many levels), and taking a kid outdoors is beneficial to you both. It’s amazing the things that can be found and explored together. Take for example this past Memorial Day weekend. We recently got married, and my husband and I went to Georgia over the weekend for a party with friends and family back home. We set the party up outside at the campsite. Yes, it was hot. Yes, it was muggy. Summer came early in Georgia this year. But, we did it. We set up tents for shade, had plenty of food and refreshments, and encouraged people to dress for the weather. During the party, I taught several children how to fish. While fishing, one little girl found a snake. As soon as she hollered my name, I came running over. It was an Eastern kingsnake, and I quickly grabbed it for an environmental education lesson. After a quick talk, we released the snake where we found it, and it went about its day as did I.
The universe presented me with an opportunity to enhance young (and old!) minds, and I took it. As an environmental educator, I jump on these opportunities when they are granted. We all have a responsibility to our planet, self, and each other to be environmental stewards and to nurture a world where humans have a mutually symbiotic relationship with nature. We are the warriors in this silent battle for saving the planet, and we must commit to the charge. As the saying goes, “We cannot force someone to hear a message they are not ready to receive, but we must never underestimate the power of planting a seed.”
Are you interested in making #EEforAll? Do you want to provide more equitable and inclusive spaces for your students and your co-workers? Do you need additional support to help make the case for diversity, equity, and inclusion in your workplace? Are you looking for partners in this work?
EENC is thrilled to announce our new "Equity and Inclusion in Environmental Education" online database. We have organized articles, research, videos, podcasts, books, people, and organizations from across the internet into five categories:
Our goal was to help bring together resources so you can spend your time learning, rather than searching. This collection is open and accessible for anyone to use - so please free to share these links widely!
If you have additional resources to share or if you have feedback to help improve the collection, please contact our executive director.
Middle school is hard. And for many educators, middle school kids are even harder. When I tell people I teach middle school they always give me “that look.” What many don’t count on is the energy and attitude often associated with teaching middle school age kids can be channeled and shaped and used to create some of the most passionate environmentally literate students.
Want to know the secret? Put them in charge. It’s scary. I know. But it works.
Recently, in a search for 4-H service projects, our 4-H coordinator introduced the 6th grade class to the Pepsico Recycle Rally program. The students reluctantly agreed, with rolling eyes, that yes, everyone knows recycling is important. Then I said, “You know we don’t recycle here at our school at all, right?.” They looked a little shocked. They asked some more questions, started a discussion, and I could see them getting a little fired up so I simply said, “So what are you going to do about it?” And just like that I handed it over to them.
From there I stopped talking and started listening. I answered questions when asked, but tried as much as possible to use the “guide on the side” methodology.
The first task was taking an audit of how many trash cans and recycling bins we had in our school. After practicing how they would approach classroom doors, the students counted and came back furious because so many classes were using blue recycling trash cans as (gasp) REGULAR TRASH CANS! They were hooked and ready to take action! They created a plan and got the entire school, including administration and the cafeteria to start recycling cans and plastic. There were militant about it! On a field trip when they saw cans in the trash they dug them out and shoved them in their backpacks to recycle back on campus. I had parents calling and saying that their students were making everyone at home recycle more carefully too.
As always happens though, two weeks in a row our recycling collection shrank in size. As middle schoolers will do, the students started to freak out. How could they keep it going? Once again, I let their knowledge of their own community and school climate lead them. A competition! They made flyers and announced it in the cafeteria. And boy were they right!
The entire community came together to help with this recycling competition! We had grannies dumpster diving and moms lugging in bags from home, and every kid in the school keeping a close watch. In just one week, the students collected 3137 pieces of plastic and 864 cans! It took two teachers with pickup trucks stacked high to take it all to the Cherokee Recycling Center. When we showed up, and explained where it all came from the workers gave us a tour of the entire recycling facility. A perfect way to wrap up the project for the school year.
So, yes, middle school is hard. Middle school kids are a tough audience. So take them out of the audience. Trust your kids. Know that when given the opportunity, when given the chance to lead, they can and will do amazing things for our communities and our world.
Special thanks to Sally Dixon of Cherokee Tribal Cooperative Extension 4-H, Pepsico Recycle Rally, and all the students and families of New Kituwah Academy. .
By Partnership Chair Brad Daniel
“You’re going to need a bigger boat,” an iconic line from the classic movie Jaws, was spoken by the Police Chief after seeing the size of the great white shark they were hunting. More recently, the importance of building a bigger boat has emerged as a common theme for making a greater impact in the environmental education community as well as others. But why is this important and, if it is, how can we actually do it?
It has long been noted that organizations and institutions sometimes become more internally focused over time as a function of organizational growth. This sometimes leads to mission drift or a shift in direction that is more tangential to the original mission. Greater internal focus on the individual organization and its success can also breed two other consequences often unnoticed – territoriality and fragmentation. Territoriality can be seen in a reluctance or even resistance to connect with other likeminded groups, organizations, or institutions. Fragmentation involves smaller organizations working independently in their own silos.
The environmental community consists of many people and organizations doing great work individually, yet it has sometimes been criticized for being too fragmented, a quality that impedes speaking with a louder, more unified voice about environmental issues and concerns. It has also been criticized, somewhat ironically, for organizations and institutions working in silos and resisting working together to make a larger impact. There are many reasons for this including fear of loss of individual organizational identity, concern over additional time commitments and, in the case of businesses, losing market share due to sharing ideas that lead to a replication of their services. If organizations can move beyond these concerns, the ability to have a greater impact increases substantially. How can this be accomplished? How can organizations maintain identity while connecting to other likeminded entities? A primary way is through partnering.
The first step in developing partnerships is to identify likeminded organizations or institutions and bring them together. Sometimes magic happens when you get people from different organizations together around the same table. Ideas are generated, trust and understanding are enhanced, fears and concerns are diminished, and the work moves forward in creative, powerful ways. Partnering is a strategic way to build a bigger boat without losing the identity of the individual organizations.
Over the last six years, the Environmental Educators North Carolina (EENC), have been working to bring people and organizations together from across the state. It has hosted two summits in which various North Carolina environmental organizations came together to network and generate ideas for collaboration. These initiatives have resulted in a joint event planning calendar on the state EE website, a three-day mini conference cosponsored by the North Carolina Association of Environmental Education Centers (NAAEEC) and EENC, and collective opportunities to support each organization’s good work. EENC has been working at local, state, regional (primarily through the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance - SEEA), and national levels (through the North American Association for Environmental Education - NAAEE) to strengthen relationships and build interconnections among people and organizations. Current projects include developing a database of EE-related faculty and programs at NC colleges and universities and organizing gatherings for the faculty to come together, network, and discuss collaborative initiatives.
Environmental Education is a field that values a systemic ecological perspective. Consequently, EE would rarely view an ecological community solely in terms of its individual components because it understands and appreciates the interconnections between abiotic and biotic factors, producers, consumers and decomposers, food chains and food webs, habitats and microclimates. How ironic would it be if the work of EE took place only in individual silos? There are many wonderful organizations out there doing great work at multiple levels of scale and yet the individual voices may never have the same impact as our collective voice. Partnering creates an ecological web of practitioners and organizations, a web that is stronger as a result of its many members.
Like the shark in Jaws, some of the environmental challenges we face appear quite large, even daunting. We need a bigger boat to face these challenges, to build capacity, to create change, and to magnify impact. In order to move the work forward, all organizations concerned with protecting and conserving the environment need to collaborate and communicate, not simply coexist. Doing so will help the environmental community speak with a more unified and collective voice… and will help build a bigger boat.
Over the last three years, EENC has been recognized as a leader in the field of environmental education within North Carolina, the southeast, and the nation through our participation in the ee360 Leadership Clinic. Past President Shannon Culpepper, Partnership Chair Brad Daniel, and Executive Director Lauren Pyle spent the last week of June in Monterey, California presenting on our state's successes, getting to know other state leaders, and learning through collaboration.
Through our participation in ee360, in 2017 EENC board members took the plunge to develop our first staff position. In 2018, we sought to professionalize the field of EE by growing a stronger board and membership; this included providing diversity, equity and inclusion trainings to our memberships and partners. In 2019, we will build on the past by continuing to improve our board operations and providing another diversity, equity, and inclusion training in the Asheville area in November.
EENC has come a long way in the last three years. We've gone from being the state with the most questions to one that can share our results and experiences to help others. We all still have a lot to learn and much to do in order to grow, but we should all celebrate just how far our state has come.
Thinking of joining us at the 2019 conference at the Schiele Museum in Gastonia September 19-21? Registration is now open for #EENC2019, MemorEEs Make Us!
Register by July 19 for the best rate as rates will increase on July 20. Members receive an additional discount! Be sure to login to your EENC account during registration and you'll see an option to select the member rate.
We have a block of rooms available at the Hilton Garden Inn in Gastonia, about 2 miles from the Schiele. Instructions for how to contact the hotel to receive the group rate are available though the lodging section of the conference webpage. For the more budget minded conference attendee, or for anyone who simply enjoys camping, we also have two camping options this year, listed on the website under the hotel information.
Want to see what's happening at this year's conference before you register? The preliminary conference schedule is available online now! On the conference schedule page, you'll find a general outline of the conference and the title of the presentations that will be offered each day.
We hope you'll join us for this conference full of networking, learning, and fun!
My name is Trent Stanforth and I am an environmental educator. I’ve been an advocate for the environment my whole life, but only decided to teach about it around a decade ago. My journey to EE started back in 2009-10, which is right after I graduated from NC State with a degree in Natural Resources and had no idea what career I wanted, just as long as it had something to do with the outdoors. This was also a tough time period for new graduates, as the economy was recovering from the recent housing market crash and jobs were incredibly limited. This, however, was an opportunity in disguise, and gave me the chance to reflect on what my passions were and how to utilize them in a career.
I mentally listed my passions, starting with my love of the outdoors. Looking back at my youth, my fondest memories were connected with being outside; whether it was visiting the Blue Ridge Mountains in the fall or climbing trees with my friends after school. I then progressed to more recent memories of pure joy; recalling recent college courses I took, particularly Dendrology and Forest Science. I’ve always enjoyed trees and knew of their importance, but after studying them in depth, I came through on the other side with a deeper sense of stewardship and appreciation. And then it hit me. That’s what I want to do; teach the importance of the environment and stir that sense of protection and stewardship within others. So I did some research.
A simple Google search brought me along something I had never heard of; the North Carolina Environmental Education Certification program. I was ecstatic to see that anyone can sign up, even someone that’s never taught anything to anyone in their life. I dove head-first into the program, signing up for the next available Methods of Teaching EE course, collecting workshop hours along the way, and at the same time searching for a way to truly get into the EE field with some hands-on work and teaching opportunities. Fortunately, a new City of Raleigh park opened recently and was looking for part-time staff members. I applied and found myself working at Wilkerson Nature Preserve Park; maintaining trails, participating in various citizen science projects, and eventually getting my first taste of teaching. My first ever program was a Tree Walk tailored toward family audiences. Only a father and daughter showed up, but we had a blast, walking along the trail and looking for oaks, pines, and tulip trees. Despite my nerves, I knew then that this was a thrill that will never go away, and I was hooked for life.
During my time at Wilkerson, I completed my certification, and also started volunteering at the Museum of Natural Sciences teaching to school groups through their Curiosity Classroom. However, my next goal was to do this full-time, which became quite a journey of itself. My first break was working at Imagination Station Science & History Museum as their Education Programmer. Working at a small non-profit museum, staff was limited, which led me to be exposed to teaching different subjects to different audiences in different settings, which in hindsight was exactly what I was looking for. That exposure sculpted my teaching methods and created confidence in my teaching ability. However, after 2 years there, I had limited opportunities to teach outdoor and environmental education, which led me searching for other job openings.
At this point in my journey, I relocated back to the Triangle and started working at the Museum of Life + Science. As a program facilitator, I taught school programs to school groups, with more chances to teach subjects I was passionate about. At the same time, I started working at Prairie Ridge Ecostation as one of their Natural Science Education Specialists, working weekends and developing and teaching my own environmental education programs. With a need of giving back to the EE field, I joined the EENC board in 2017 as Membership Chair, a volunteer position that started (and has continued) that need to this day. Even though both positions gave me ample experience and confidence, I still pursued that dream of full-time work. That opportunity came earlier this year, as I applied and was given the role of Environmental Education Manager at Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center. With this new position, I am able to pull together all of my previous experiences and skills and manage all facets of education within a true EE center.
It has been a long road to where I am today, but it is one I would not change for anything. I have created friendships and contacts along the way that I treasure dearly. To the readers that are new in this field, I will tell you this: don’t get discouraged. Being an environmental educator isn’t easy and the road to being one can be full of frustration and disappointment, but if this is where your passions lie, go after it no matter what. Keep this quote in mind by Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I’ve found that through environmental education, and if you have too; welcome. You’re gonna like it here.
EENC has developed a resource detailing how funding from the federal “Every Student Succeeds Act” can be used to support environmental education as part of a well-rounded education. EENC developed the document in partnership with the NC Office of Environmental Education and many of the state’s environmental education program facilitators to highlight how funds can be used by local education agencies for field trips, after-school programming, professional development; citizen science in the classroom and more!
We are thrilled to share that the NC Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has posted the resource to on their website under the Federal Program and Monitoring Support section. EENC and the office are working with DPI on an official plan to share this news with school district officials, but we're pleased to be able to provide this resource to school districts who will be working on how to budget funds in their ESSA plans. Stay tuned for more updates!
Find the "Environmental Science using ESSA Funding" document online at http://www.ncpublicschools.org/program-monitoring/resources/
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