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Educator Spotlight: Anganette Byrd


Anganette Byrd, education coordinator with Mecklenburg Soil and Water Conservation District, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. As an education coordinator, Anganette works with both classroom teachers and nonformal educators throughout the year and is responsible for promoting and coordinating contests and programs such as North Carolina Envirothon and the Resource Conservation Workshops.

Anganette says her favorite part of earning her certification was learning about bears and spiders. “I enjoyed learning in an outdoor setting because it really opens up the mind. When I attended school, it was very structured and we only went outdoors for recess. I also enjoyed learning how to customize presentations to appeal to specific audiences such as students with learning disabilities or autism.”

When asked about the certification experience that stands out for her, Anganette says it was a raptor workshop at Grandfather Mountain during which she had to cross the mile-high swinging bridge. “Sharon Becker (the district interpretation and education specialist for N.C. State Parks) had already warned everyone in advance that if you have a fear of heights it might be best that you not attend. I made up my mind that this was my opportunity to overcome my fear of heights. With the help of my fellow classmates encouraging me I made it safely across the bridge and back! What a great experience and I plan to cross the mile-high swinging bridge again someday.”

For her community partnership project, Anganette completed a storm drain stenciling project and litter pickup in her community. Her focus was to educate community members about the connection between the storm drains and the neighborhood creek and how allowing grass clipping, debris, and other pollution to enter the storm drain affects the health of our local creeks and rivers.

Anganette says learning the instructional vision of environmental education and three important concepts: systems, interdependence and the importance of where one lives, shaped the way she approaches education. “We, as educators must take a balanced approach to instruction.”  

To learn more about the Mecklenberg County Soil and Water Conservation District, visit their website. To find out more about the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs, visit

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Educator Spotlight: Ashley Hamlet


Ashley Hamlet, an education coordinator for Sylvan Heights Bird Park, recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Ashley teaches programs on birds, ecology and wetland conservation, coordinates the park’s summer camp, leads guided tours, and does outreach in eastern North Carolina.
Ashley says the favorite part of the certification program was learning from other educators from all over the state. “I’ve met some incredible people and everyone brings their unique experience to the table.” Of her experiences in the program, Ashley says that the knowledge of resources component stood out for her. “It required me to get out and visit some of our wonderful Environmental Education Centers I don’t always get a chance to see. I love traveling to EE centers to see the work that others are doing and after I experience these wonderful places, I can recommend them to others!”

For her community partnership project, Ashley partnered with the City of Rocky Mount Parks and Recreation Department to create a pollinator habitat within the Rocky Mount parks system on an area of unused green space near the community gardens to attract bees, hummingbirds, butterflies and other insects. “The pollinator habitat was designed to not only increase the biodiversity of the park, but to also give park visitors and local organizations access to the habitat for use in educational classes, activities, and citizen science projects. I enjoyed being able to create a project reflecting my interests and also creating a beautiful habitat in a vacant space. Several of Rocky Mount’s parks have designated open space that was acquired through the FEMA buyout program after the severe flooding damage the community received during hurricane Floyd. These areas, including a portion of Sunset Park, must remain as open space as a part of flood hazard mitigation and are routinely mowed to maintain only grass. As I learned this information, creating pollinator habitat seemed to be a beneficial way to utilize some of the park’s green space, provide habitat for pollinators, and beautify a portion of the park.”
Ashley says participating in the certification program helped her expand her “teaching toolbox.” “Through the classes I’ve taken in the certification program, I’ve learned teaching techniques for environmental education that incorporate science – but also reach into other areas like art, math and language arts. The flexibility of environmental education is the fun part! You can employ any number of different active and hands-on teaching strategies to reach your audience.”

Ashley says the program also changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “The certification program has expanded my view on environmental issues, not only in gaining a better grasp on the science behind the topic but also on the interpretive side. As science-minded professionals, I think we can sometimes struggle to explain complex data to the public. The certification program has made me more aware of the need for interpretation and given me the tools to tackle those issues. The training helps you to see both sides of the issue.”

For more information about Sylvan Heights Bird Park visit

For more information about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program visit

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How I Use Project WET: Whetting Kids’ Appetites for STEAM


In North Carolina, Project WET is coordinated by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Water Resources. Project WET workshops provide educators with credits towards the department’s EnvironmentalEducation Certification Program, administered by the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs. Jason Vanzant is currently enrolled in the EE Certification program.

How I Use Project WET: Whetting Kids’ Appetites for STEAM

By Jason Vanzant, STEAM lab educator, Newport, North Carolina

Editor’s Note: In a recent post on his Vantaztic Learning blog, Jason Vanzant (a.k.a. @MrVantaztic on Twitter) called his new job as a science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics (STEAM) instructor a dream come true. It’s a dream he’s worked hard to achieve, applying for and winning a grant for just over $50,000 from Lowe’s Education Toolbox earlier this year. The grant allowed him to turn a classroom in Bogue Sound Elementary School—a K-5 school in Newport, North Carolina, where he had been teaching fourth grade—into a functional STEAM lab. After we contacted him via Twitter, he wrote a guest post telling us how and why he uses Project WET, as well as why water education is important to him. 

Water is and has been important to me since I was a kid. I remember watching Sesame Street's snippet on brushing your teeth and why turning the faucet off was important. When I was in 5th grade, I began to consciously select water instead of soft drinks as my beverage of choice, and that has remained a constant in my life to this day.
As a kid I swam in quarry ponds, and now I live in an area of estuaries and Atlantic waves. Water is part of our life force: Nearly three-quarters of our planet is covered with water, and our bodies are made up of 60 percent water. It's important for our future that young people be aware of how much water we have to share, compared to the increasing population it must provide for, and know what responsible measures we must take to ensure its continuous use.  

I have been fortunate in many aspects of my career. Receiving a grant through Lowe's Toolbox for Education to renovate a classroom into a full functioning lab encompassing areas of science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics has been an incredible opportunity. The STEAM lab serves as the hub for all elementary grade levels, offering students an opportunity to create, explore through hands-on experiences and develop critical thinking skills. The lab also provides educators the opportunity to co-teach and gives students alternative methods to learn from one another.
In the lab, all students have access to various forms of technology that allow them to voice their findings and discoveries on social media platforms, learn to code, operate robotics and track and record data. They can apply the data that they track and record to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program, while also being able to explore by means of interactive digital labs and supplement as a resource for research.
Overall, the goal of the STEAM lab renovation project is to have each student increase their appetite for one of the many fields science has to offer, and pique those interests by supplying young minds with an environment that engages and stimulates. 

As a full-time STEAM instructor, my role allows me to co-teach with grade levels K-5, meeting their science content, assisting as a math coach and leading students in engineering, problem-based and project-based learning activities. Project WET, Project WILD and Project WILD Aquatic play large roles in many of the lessons I integrate into our learning. All of these resources are my "playbook". What I love about Project WET's activities is that they cover an array of skills and topics within a lesson. The integration of math skills, tied with environmental science, tied to problem-based learning and critical thinking is incredible. What I love above all else is that the activities are hands-on. They reach those students who are the “do-ers”.

There are so many activities to choose from that picking my favorites is tough, but here are three of my particular favorites:

A Drop in the Bucket: This activity is a great way to make students conscientious about water while also showing metric volume measurement and practicing basic subtraction facts. Students can create graphs to match the visuals from the graduated cylinders and can compare how much water is on our planet versus how much water the human race actually has at our disposal. With an ever-increasing population, this one's a wake-up call to my students.

The Incredible Journey: I love that this gets the kids outdoors and moving. It’s an awesome way for students to move through the water cycle and learn important vocabulary, like evaporation, transpiration and sublimation. I use this activity as a precursor to discussing physical changes for fifth graders. Students roll the dice, keep a record of the stations they travel to (groundwater, glaciers, the ocean, clouds, animals, plants, rivers, soil) and then we gather back to analyze the data and compare results. 

What’s the Solution? This one's a forensic investigation, as students use their knowledge of water's solvent properties and chemical changes. They read a case and explore through three hands-on stations (Dissolving Solids in Water, Dissolving Liquids in Water, Dissolving Gases in Water) to figure out that the butler might actually have done it (or not).  It’s another great critical thinking lesson.

Thank you, Project WET.  Thank you for the cross curricular lessons, the hands-on experiences you provide, the awareness of why water is so vital to our existence and the fun that comes with learning.  You've made my job that much easier and more enjoyable.

Jason was also featured on WNCT 9 video and story Bogue Sound teacher gets grant to turn classroom into STEAM lab:

This post appeared on the national Project WET website and is posted here with permission.
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DEQ leader meets with students from Salisbury Academy, a North Carolina Green School of Excellence


Secretary Michael Regan recently met with 4th-grade students visiting Raleigh from Salisbury Academy in Salisbury, NC. Students, their teacher, and parent chaperones arrived by train and toured the State Capitol, the Museum of History, the General Assembly, the Museum of Natural Sciences and the Executive Mansion. Their final stop was the Department of Environmental Quality’s Green Square building for a visit with Secretary Regan.
Salisbury Academy was named an N.C. Green School of Excellence earlier this year, so the opportunity for the students to visit a LEED Certified “green” building and meet the leader of the state’s top environmental department was a special opportunity.
Salisbury Academy has developed many environmental initiatives. Some include a zero-waste recycling policy and a large-scale LED lighting upgrade where they replaced existing lights with LED lights and equipped restrooms with motion sensors, all which contribute to energy savings.
The students are involved in school energy audits and helped design an outdoor learning space for the school. In addition to the school’s commitment to a sustainable campus, the students perform outdoor science investigations that incorporate the school grounds including an on-site garden. The Green Schools Program is administered by the Center for the Environment at Catawba College.
“It’s inspiring to meet with a group of students who are engaged in using their school and school grounds to study science,” said Secretary Regan. “These students are knowledgeable about how their school is connected to natural resources and they have experienced first-hand how they can make a difference in their school and community.” 

The highlight of the visit was when Secretary Regan asked one student what he did at the Executive Mansion and the student replied, “We visited your boss.” The event culminated in a group photo and Secretary Regan signed a few autographs.
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Educator Spotlight: Jennifer Fenwick


Jennifer Fenwick, an interpretation and education specialist with North Carolina State Parks, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification, a program of the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in the Department of Environmental Quality. Fenwick conducts educational programs for school groups and the public and assists with special projects. Some of her programs include pond dipping, owl prowls, birding, moth nights, canoeing and butterfly and tree identification.

In her position with State Parks, Fenwick serves as the coordinator for Neighborhood Ecology Corps, a partnership between N.C. State Parks, the Center for Human-Earth Restoration, N.C. State University, Raleigh Parks, Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department and the National Park Service. “My role is to take kids to various parks across the state, engaging them in activities that create a better understanding of the natural world and their place in it. We’ve canoed the serene swamps of Merchant’s Millpond State Park, learned about water quality by catching macroinvertebrates at Eno River State Park, fished and viewed eagles at the Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, “eaten clouds” off the summit of Mount Mitchell, witnessed the boisterous waters of Linville Gorge and my favorite, camped for the very first time while exploring the multi-state views of Grandfather Mountain State Park.”

Fenwick has been able to take teens from the Neighborhood Ecology Corps to the mountains, swamps, and coasts of North Carolina. The Neighborhood Ecology Corps is an afternoon middle school program focusing on nature and community. The program is designed to develop environmentally literate citizens and help students create a holistic view of their community. Activities include outdoor introductions to state parks, the ecology of the local community, and eco-restoration activities. This program is led by CHER (Center for Human-Earth Restoration) and offered at no cost to students or their families. “These trips increased their knowledge of our state's rich natural history along with equipping them with recreational skills in the outdoors. However, many of the participants stayed in the Neighborhood Ecology Corps program for a second and third year and needed something more advanced. From this group, the Outdoor Leadership Academy was born.” 

Fenwick’s community partnership project involved developing the Outdoor Leadership Academy which provided the Neighborhood Ecology Corps with an enhanced leadership experience through a week-long camp at Haw River and Hanging Rock State Parks. The students participated in interactive leadership discussions, increased their outdoor skills (camping, campfire cooking, canoe basics, orienteering, CPR certification, and learning the fundamentals of leading a hike), and spent ample time preparing and teaching a nature lesson. Through this camp, participants were empowered to become counselors for younger kids within the Neighborhood Ecology Corps program.

In addition, Fenwick has led a week-long overnight Outdoor Leadership Academy for the past two summers for the program participants and also she also serves as the coordinator for Wake Audubon’s Young Naturalist Club. “In North Carolina, there’s a gap in much of environmental education for kids who are ages 12-18 who are interested in the natural sciences. This club presents kids in Wake County opportunities to explore the state through visiting parks and learning from experts in the field." 

Fenwick says her favorite part of earning her certification was the workshops with experts in different fields. “I was impressed with the amount and breadth of workshops available to North Carolina educators. Reading a book is helpful but to learn from an expert in the field is invaluable.” When asked about the experience that stands out for her she says it was the HERP Project (Herpetology Education in Rural Places and Spaces), a project led by Catherine Matthews through UNCG's School of Education in partnership with Elon University and UNC Pembroke and supported by the National Science Foundation. “The HERP Project was by far the best workshop I’ve ever been to.” 

Fenwick says the certification has changed the way she views environmental issues. “Through the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education and other workshops I have attended through the certification program, I learned that environmental issues are best discussed when encountering the issues at hand. For example, water quality is more easily approached when participants are catching and identifying aquatic macroinvertebrates in a river. Through this fun activity and handling these small creatures, they learn that some need clean water to survive. As an extension, we begin to discuss water quality for humans. If you go straight into the environmental issues without having a shared experience, then discussion usually falls flat with people stating their ready-made responses. I am now more comfortable introducing environmental issues in my programs. Before it felt as if environmental issues were too polarizing/political. But I found that if you leave space for discussion and not just right and wrong answers, then the program is more enriching for everyone.”

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Educator Spotlight - Chelsea Sloggy


Chelsea Sloggy, a conservation education specialist with Union County Soil and Water Conservation District, recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program.

Chelsea provides educational programming and information centered around natural resources conservation topics to the public in Union County. She notes that her job "looks different every day, but includes presentations at schools and libraries, information for landowners, professional development for students and adults alike, and so much more.” She is currently working to grow their N.C. Envirothon program and conservation contests for students as well as the environmental education opportunities they offer educators. 

Chelsea’s favorite part of earning her certification was networking with other educators and the opportunity to visit new places. “My favorite part of earning my certification has been meeting amazing people from across the state and being inspired by the work of people who share my passions. The EE certification program has taken me to places I may have never gotten the chance to see and introduced me to people who I now call good friends. I have met people who I now work closely on exciting projects with and get to share ideas and gain new knowledge alongside. I am extremely grateful for the new people and partnerships it has brought into my life!”

When asked what experience in the program stood out, Chelsea says it was participating in the Children and Nature Network’s Natural Leaders Legacy Camp. “This workshop opened my eyes to the importance of introducing our youth to the outdoors and the value of not only being an educator but a mentor. It was during this workshop that I realized that the knowledge and experiences that I had weren't worth much if I didn't share them with others. This experience opened my eyes to the possibilities that environmental education and nature hold for people from all walks of life, and made me realize that EE wasn't just an interest of mine but a passion.

For her community partnership project, Chelsea created environmental education resource boxes that can be checked out by educators. The boxes are aligned with the N.C. Envirothon curriculum and include a box for each of the Envirothon subjects including wildlife, aquatics, soils and forestry. “These resource boxes have everything an educator needs to help their students study natural resource topics through hands-on activities. I hope that these boxes will allow educators to more easily integrate environmental education into their lesson plans and programs and expose more children to the wonders of the natural world.”

Chelsea says participating in the program helped her become a more understanding, prepared and creative educator. “Throughout the program, I learned that environmental education can impact everyone, regardless of the walk of life they are coming from. But for a presentation or activity to make the greatest impact possible, you need to be the best educator that you possibly can. This means being prepared to give any participant the best program you can, whether they be young or old, from a rural area or an urban area, or they spend every day outside or rarely get to experience nature.”

She also says the way she thinks about environmental issues has been shaped through the certification program. “I now see issues from a much fuller perspective than I did before. When thinking about or discussing environmental issues, I consider more heavily how someone from a different background than my own might feel about or be impacted by those issues. The program has definitely broadened my horizons in this way, reminding me to bring people from all walks of life into the conversation about environmental issues. We all have something to learn from one another, and being mindful of this has helped to shape my programming, as well.”

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Educator Spotlight - Creeden Kowal


Creeden Kowal recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification program. Creeden is the Education Coordinator for Swain Soil and Water Conservation District and works closely with teachers, other Soil & and Water Conservation Districts and agricultural/environmental agencies in Western North Carolina to deliver environmental education through hands-on activities.

Creeden says her favorite part of earning her certification was all the time she spent outdoors exploring new places and the networking with fellow educators. “The certification experience that stands out for me would be camping overnight at Purchase Knob during the Air Quality workshop. The sunset and sunrise were unforgettable.

For her community partnership project, Creeden converted a trailer to a mobile soil exhibit. The exhibit is a hands-on experience for children to learn about the importance of soil as a natural resource highlighting soil as an ecosystem, causes of soil erosion, best management practices and agricultural commodities in Western North Carolina.

Creeden feels the certification program provided her with valuable skills for teaching. “I had zero experience with teaching or leading groups and had never taken any education classes. The program gave me tons of ideas to incorporate into my programs and helped me feel more comfortable teaching all ages.”

She also describes ways participating in the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “The certification program has a strong emphasis on understanding more so than calling people to action. I have definitely incorporated this into my teaching style allowing students to develop their own unique understanding of the environment and their role.”

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Educator Spotlight - Martha Bizzell


Martha Bizzell, a graduate student at North Carolina State University, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Martha is working on her Master’s in Elementary Education and has taught math and science in elementary and middle school. She also provides science and engineering education programs to schools as a nonformal educator. In her free time, Martha loves to visit state and national parks and enjoys painting.

Martha says her favorite part of earning her certification was "hands-down" meeting amazing instructors and classmates. “The environmental education community is a wonderful group of passionate people concerned for the sustainability of our world and the education of our future leaders and decision-makers.”

Two of the experiences that stand out for Martha was the Project Food, Land and People workshop and the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education at Haw River State Park for the excellent teaching skills of the facilitators. “These were two outstanding classes which covered a wealth of material in a memorable, inquiry-based and reflective manner.”

For her community partnership project, Martha created a tree identification trail at Fox Road Elementary School with an accompanying guide. “On the second day of school, the students noticed the plaques and begged for a tour! It will be used by the afternoon science club and during classes when the teachers need/want to take their students on a nature hike.”

Martha noted that the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop also included new pedagogy in teaching that are skills and techniques also taught in her graduate education classes. “It is nice to see both programs on the same page. A positive trend, I believe, in education. 

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Celebrate Take A Child Outside Week September 24- September 30


The N.C. Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs invites you to take part in a nationwide effort to connect children to the natural world. “Take a Child Outside” is designed to help children develop an appreciation for the outdoors by giving parents, grandparents, caregivers and teachers information on nature activities and places to visit.

Take a Child Outside Week is coordinated by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences with participation by partner organizations throughout the U.S. and around the world. The program encourages all citizens to participate in outdoor activities and occurs annually from September 24 to September 30.

You can find ideas for outdoor activities to do with children of all ages on the NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ Take a Child Outside website. The program is designed to help break down obstacles that keep children from discovering the natural world, and to provide resources and recreational activities for exploring local habitats.

Organizations and agencies across the state including parks, nature and science centers, museums, aquariums, botanical gardens, and other environmental education centers are hosting events during the week. There are many opportunities to take children, grandchildren or students outdoors. Events include nature hikes, story walks, bird calling, hawk watching, fishing, spider sniffing and pond explorations. You can visit the North Carolina Environmental Education Calendar to search for Take a Child Outside activities being offered across the state.

And don’t worry if you are new to exploring the outdoors with children. The Kids in Parks program has installed a network of hiking trails throughout North Carolina that are designed to get kids and families outdoors for both their health and the health of our parks and public lands. Each of their TRACK Trails has a series of self-guided brochures children kids can use to learn about and connect with the resources that make that place unique, converting an ordinary hike into a fun-filled, discovery-packed adventure. Kids that complete TRACK Trails can register their adventures through the program’s website and earn prizes designed to make their next outdoor adventure more meaningful and keep them engaged in the program. For a complete list of TRACK Trail locations, and for more information about the program, please visit their website

Do you and your kids wish you had more opportunities to play outside when TACO week is over? Then consider signing them up to become a NC State Parks Junior Ranger! (Geared for kids ages 6-12). Earn unique park patches at each of the state parks by completing the self-led activity guide, attending park programs, and helping with a kid-friendly stewardship project. See if you can collect all 41 patches!  Or sign up for the quarterly Junior Ranger e-newsletter for fun activities and articles to stay on top of the latest with NC State Parks. Learn more about NC State Parks Junior Rangers on the website.

North Carolina has many environmental education centers and other public lands that are great places for children to explore September 24-30 (and year-round). So, whether it is at a national, state or local park; your neighborhood or your own backyard--Take a Child Outside!

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Educator Spotlight: Sandy Fowler


Sandy Fowler, a former middle school teacher, recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Sandy has been teaching science for the last 15 years and last year she started an Envirothon Team 
at High Point Friends School that qualified for the N.C. State Competition. When she is not teaching Sandy loves to hike the Mountains to Sea Trail and she hopes one day to teach at an environmental center or park. 

Sandy says the N.C. Envirothon Leadership training was the certification experience that stands out for her. She says the training helped her understand the expectations and objectives of the competition and curriculum and therefore, helped her students become a successful team. 

For her community partnership project, Sandy worked with Kelsie Burgess, a stormwater specialist with the City of High Point, to create backpacks for the Piedmont Environmental Center in High Point and learning boxes for Salem Lake Park. Kelsie was the lead on the Salem Lake Park project while Sandy spearheaded the Piedmont Environmental Center project. “The Piedmont Environmental Center has already put their backpacks to use during a camp this month. They will loan them out to families and teachers to use while they are at the center. Salem Lake is starting up their educational program and will be using theirs to jump start that program, as well as loan them out to families and teachers. These learning packs make it easier for the public to gain a better understanding of the environment.”

Sandy says the certification program led to changes in her approach to teaching others. “Environmental education has been a tremendous help in my methods of teaching. I have always been a hands-on teacher. The workshops have provided me with countless activities and resources to incorporate into the classroom and outside. It has also increased my knowledge on many topics. I started the Envirothon Team and the team placed 6th in the region and competed in the state competition. This team will continue to work together to improve their knowledge and scores.” 

Sandy says she is also more mindful of her how her actions affect the environment. She feels the certification program needs to be heavily promoted among teachers. “It would be so beneficial to teachers, students, parents and schools if the majority of the teachers were certified. 

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Fall lunchtime lecture series promises some “spooky” surprises


The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs is offering several engaging and in some cases “spooky,” topics for their fall lunchtime speaker series.

With a nod to the season, October’s sessions include “Soring Talons of Death,” “Oddities from the Vault,” “Our Mysterious Night Flyers,” “Spooky Spiders” and “Howling Misconceptions.” Today's talk, “Ghosts Forest of the Sounds” with Marcelo Ardon Sayao of N.C. State University, will feature a unique citizen science project to investigate the changing shorelines of North Carolina.

Other presentations in the series include how to safely eat locally-caught fish, how living shorelines are helping control erosion, Raleigh’s efforts to “green” the Capital Boulevard corridor, the role of rivers in art and history and a tour of the Oakwood Cemetery featuring several of the cemetery’s conservation and green initiatives.

The guest lecture series is hosted by the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in the Dept. of Environmental Quality and features professionals from a wide range of environmental and science backgrounds. These folks represent local and state agencies, college and universities, and other organizations throughout the state. The series is designed to provide professional development for employees and educators and to give attendees the opportunity to interact directly with experts in their respective fields.

The lectures are held from noon until 1 p.m. on Wednesdays in the Environmental Literacy Center located in the Nature Research Center.

Check out the entire schedule and the incredible lineup of experts the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs is excited to welcome this fall. We look forward to seeing you there!
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Educator Spotlight: Mandy Nix


Mandy Nix is a nonformal educator who had a very busy year. In addition to working in several seasonal positions, Mandy used her training and experiences to complete her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. She worked as an environmental education instructor at Mountain Trail Outdoor School in Hendersonville where she actively engaged 2nd to 8th-grade school groups in high adventure and discovery-based curricula throughout 1400 acres of southern Appalachian bogs, ponds, streams and forests. She taught a hands-on, “minds-on” natural science curriculum on native flora and fauna for the Nature Explorers Camp at the N.C. Botanical Garden. In September, Mandy will begin a year of service as an AmeriCorps member with Trout Unlimited. She will serve as a West Virginia Volunteer Restoration and Monitoring Organizer engaging volunteers from local communities in the restoration, monitoring and protection of the cold, clean water in our Appalachian waterways.

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Mandy points to the teaching resources. “I’m laughably greedy about new curricula - books, educational posters and advanced field ID training - and the environmental education certification program left me breathless with such invaluable teaching resources. I’ve never felt more equipped to forge daily connections between communities and backyard flora/fauna.”

For her community partnership project, Mandy developed the Lemur S.C.O.U.T. Patch Program at the Duke Lemur Center to engage local youth, ages 6 to 12, in lemur science and conservation. The program gave the participants a toolkit of skills during the five-step program to “Study, Conserve, Observe, Understand and Teach.” The program also allowed her to create connections between the program and the Piedmont Girl Scouts and Y Guides.

Mandy says the program changed her approach to teaching others. “The program was hugely transformative for both my teaching and my perception of environmental education. It reinforced that we’re not teaching our communities to be scientists; we’re teaching them to be science lovers and science literate, thus empowering them to be intimate participants in conservation.”

She feels that the program further supported her views about the importance of working with communities and engaging youth early-on. “The certification program fortified my belief that conservation is rooted in deep, personal connections in and with nature. My own relationship with the natural world was born from sticky summers in the North Carolina Piedmont, where Kerr Lake was a quick hop-skip through the mixed hardwood and pine forests I called my backyard. But while I was lucky to have a childhood that kept dirt under my fingernails and between my toes, many lack my own experience and exposure. It’s important that I play an active role in growing that accessibility and engaging our communities in wild, green spaces. Moreover, those connections should begin early – with our youngest citizens.”

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Educator Spotlight: Cheryl Michalec


Cheryl Michalec, a 2nd grade teacher at Sandy Ridge Elementary School with Durham Public Schools, recently earned her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Cheryl teaches reading, math, science, social studies and writing. Her school has a visual and performing arts focus and the students often enjoy the outdoor space on their campus and use art and writing to reflect on their experiences outdoors. 

Cheryl credits the certification program with helping her start an “encore” or post-retirement career. She says that there were two favorite parts of earning her certification. One was going on the educator treks offered by the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. “My experiences on educator treks taught me so much about the beauty of our state. I could not believe that I grew up in North Carolina and had never seen the snow geese and swans migrating.” Her other favorite part was creating a pollinator garden at her school. “I loved planting the pollinator garden with our second grade students. They demonstrated amazing teamwork and commitment to providing a habitat for bees and butterflies. I cannot wait for them to come back this fall and see how it has grown.”

The trip Cheryl took to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center at Topsail Beach was the experience that stood out for her. “I was inspired by the work of the turtle hospital and by Karen Beasley herself who took the time to speak with us. It is still difficult to believe the amazing experience. We saw a nesting mother, a nest boil and a Kemps Ridley hatchling that was still in a nest. To have seen one of these events would have been wonderful but all three in one trip just beats the odds.”

For her community partnership project Cheryl received a grant from the Keep Durham Beautiful: Healthy Bee, Healthy Me program which provided plants, soil, mulch and expert advice she need to install the pollinator garden on the school’s campus. “It is a beautiful sight, and is already blooming and covered in bees and butterflies. In addition, we have a blue bird living right there in a house that a student painted. The garden has an abundance of life on the ground and in the air. The project made me more aware of the resources available in our community. The people from Master Gardener Program, Soil and Water and Keep Durham Beautiful in addition to our school community all worked together to make this an amazing project. Our students learned from experts and have access to extra resources.”

Cheryl feels that participating in the program changed her approach to teaching. “I feel that I am more relaxed teaching about the natural world. I do not feel as pressed to give the students facts and figures. I want them to become active observers and questioners. My focus is to give them some background on a topic and let them run with their new knowledge. For example, "Create Your Own Butterfly," has become one of my standard lessons.”

Cheryl says the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “Making small changes of my own have been difficult, and I feel that I do care about the environment. So, reaching out to help others notice how they can make a positive impact is not going to be instantaneous. Working with children is an opportunity to build that relationship with the environment, and then I hope that when they see opportunities to care for the world around them, they will take them. My students were beginning to look around OUR community and thinking of what they could do.” 

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Educator Spotlight: Teresa Andrews


Teresa Andrews, a stormwater specialist in Randolph County, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Andrews is responsible for managing NPDES (
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) Phase II Permit Programs for several municipalities in the Piedmont. The Phase II Permit Programs require stormwater education for all ages and Teresa coordinates, plans and implements environmental education programs for the citizens in the communities where she works. In her personal time, she loves to fish, garden and quilt and has been a beekeeper for five years.

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Teresa says she enjoyed the community partnership project and the workshops she attended. “The partnership project allowed me to utilize the skills that I gained throughout the certification and to create something that has a positive lasting impact on my community. All of the workshops I was able to attend were so creative and inspiring, whether through the materials and lesson plans I received or new ideas, they helped me become a better educator.”

For her community partnership project, Teresa built a pollinator garden in Fair Grove Park in the City of Thomasville. She partnered with the City of Thomasville Parks and Recreation Department, Watts Lawn and Garden, and Piedmont Environmental Center for the project’s location, materials, and native plants. “The Thomasville Parks and Recreation summer camp kids came out to the garden where we had a lesson on pollinators and why they are important and how creating habitat and food sources for our pollinators is very important, then the kids helped plant all of the native pollinator plants in the garden. This pollinator garden will reach many citizens of Thomasville, whether they are driving by the garden, or stop in the park and read the signage around the garden, I hope it educates people on the importance of pollinators, and encourages them to plant their own pollinator garden.”

Teresa says participating in the program led to changes in her approach to teaching. “I definitely learned different ways to teach different topics. Not being a formally trained teacher I think that the EE Certification program helped me figure out different ways to teach different types of audiences, which is extremely helpful for my position. Whether it's adults or children I feel confident in my ability to adapt a program to suit the needs of my audience.”

Teresa found the Basics of Environmental Education Independent Study helpful when considering environmental issues. “In the Basics of Environmental Education workshop, I found all of the articles to be very inspiring and their messages extremely important to environmental educators everywhere. The way that the articles discussed how to handle teaching about environmental issues and the different ideas of the goals of environmental education inspired me to focus my topics and remember to help maintain the difference between education and advocacy.”

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Educator Spotlight: Suzy Greene


Suzy Greene, a teacher at York Elementary School in Wake County, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Greene, who teaches 2nd grade, serves as the head coach for the school’s N.C. Science Olympiad Team and is the lead teacher for York’s after school service club, the CreekKeepers. Greene credits the certification program with increasing her knowledge base and enhancing her teaching.

Suzy says learning to correctly identify macroinvertebrates in creeks and streams was the experience in the certification program that stood out for her. “I knew nothing about these creatures before and never believed that I would gain enough experience or knowledge to be able to correctly identify them. After a few environmental education courses that got me in the creek working with experienced individuals, I can say that while I am no expert, my skills have vastly improved. Possessing this skill is very important as a leader of the CreekKeepers and this is probably the experience I am most grateful for.”

Suzy’s community partnership project was leading the York CreekKeepers as an after school service club. The club prides itself on committing to projects that help to increase the ecological knowledge of the immediate community and to do their part in making sure the little stream behind their school--a tributary of the Neuse River Basin--is in good health. The club's projects so far include monitoring their creek, composting in the school’s cafeteria, speaking to a local gardening club about ways they can help protect the watershed and holding a drug take-back event at the school in partnership with the Raleigh Police Department.

Suzy says she never thought about the distinction between environmentalism and environmental education before the certification program. “It helped me to understand that when addressing an audience, it is best to be prepared and knowledgeable about facts, allow for discussion and remain calm when faced with dissent. Offering avenues where further learning can take place is paramount when educating others about the environment.”

She says the program had an impact on her teaching. “I have become more motivated as an educator to increase the hands-on experiences in nature for those that I instruct. This I know will help them to become better environmental citizens.”

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Educator Spotlight: Erin Staib


Erin Staib, a park ranger at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park in Goldsboro, completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification this summer. In addition to her law enforcement duties, Erin has lots of opportunities to create and teach educational programs and conduct natural resource management at the park. She also enjoys incorporating her hobbies beekeeping and paddle boarding into some of 
her programming.

For her community partnership project, Erin worked with the Arts Council of Wayne County to create a new arts festival with nature focus for Cliffs of the Neuse. “It was a rewarding experience creating a space for local art in the park and it helped connect people to parks who may not otherwise go out into nature often.”

Erin says the certification program led to changes in her approach to teaching others. “I realized it was more important to create a sense of wonder in my audience. Facts are great but you don’t have to be an expert on a subject to inspire someone.”

Erin says she also thinks differently about environmental issues after completing the program. “If you want people to care about environmental issues you have to encourage them to invest in their community. One of the best ways to do this is to get kids outside early. They’ll notice what spaces are naturally wonderful and which spaces are not. They’ll gain an appreciation for nature and years from now, when they are running things, they’ll make better decisions than we did.”

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Collaboration + Good Coffee = Connected Science Learning Success - State Agencies Partner to Unite Formal and Informal Educators in North Carolina


The Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs and the N.C. Public Schools Science Section have coauthored an article that touts the unique collaboration between the two agencies to unite formal and informal educators in the state. The article, Collaboration + Good Coffee = Connected Science Learning Success was published in the spring edition of the Connected Science Learning journal, a publication of the National Science Teachers Association and the Association of Science-Technology Centers. The journal highlights Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education experiences that bridge the gap between in-school and out-of-school settings. 

Beginning in 2011, the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (N.C. DPI) began hosting a meeting that allows educators from environmental education centers and science museums, as well as other informal science education providers, to meet directly with N.C. DPI science curriculum specialists and a panel of classroom teachers. The collaboration has encouraged in-school and out-of-school educators to share knowledge, engage students in learning opportunities and develop learning communities to advance science education in the state. The impacts of the collaboration are highlighted in the article about success stories from partnerships between classroom teachers, schools, school districts and informal science providers across the state.

The article also highlights the office’s efforts to provide teachers with access to professional development opportunities offered by informal educators and facilities throughout North Carolina. As one science teacher from Northwood High School in Chatham County put it, “All the coastal ecology that I know, I learned by going out into the coastal environment with informal educators and getting dirty. This allows me to bring a rich experience into the classroom when I can’t take the students to the coast.”

The agencies plan to continue their collaboration to support the outstanding formal and informal educators in the state and their efforts to improve science education for K–12 students.

Read the article

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Educator Spotlight: Marissa Blackburn


Marissa Blackburn, education program specialist at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Marissa says working toward her certification in environmental education has allowed her skills as an educator to grow, making her a more competitive candidate for employment in the field.

As an educator at the aquarium, Marissa presents public programs to visitors on a variety of marine topics through dive shows, live animal encounters, auditorium lectures and exhibit feedings. She coordinates both a year-round and a summer teen volunteer program in addition to a senior project program and a college education internship program. When she isn’t presenting a program or training or supervising and coordinating volunteers and interns, Marissa has the opportunity to interact one-on-one with visitors at the exhibits. 

Marissa says one of the highlights of her experiences in the certification program was taking seasonal birding workshops with Mike Campbe
ll, an outreach education specialist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “I think these were my favorite workshops because we were outside all day, learning field skills for identifying different species of birds. With each workshop I attended, my appreciation for birds grew greater. I am by no means a bird expert now, but I enjoy watching, listening to, and identifying birds when I can and teaching others to do the same. Plus, Mike’s ability to identify any species of bird based on its call is awe-inspiring!”

For her community partnership project, Marissa created a recycling program for the local Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington. She created lesson plans, developed a program manual and held a staff training for the program in addition to teaching lessons to children.

Marissa says participating in the program helped her become a more engaging and interactive educator. “Learning about methods and best practices in environmental education and applying these principles to my teaching has resulted in more impactful, memorable programs for my audiences. I have also been able to share methods, principles, and best practices with interns and volunteers I coordinate increasing further the impact of the certification program.”

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Educator Spotlight: Megan Chesser


Megan Chesser, teacher education specialist with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences recently earned her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Chesser works on the Teacher Education Team at the museum, where she provides professional development workshops for educators of all kinds - in the field, at schools and at the museum. Her job allows her to take educators outside to learn about the many connections to the natural world, whether on their school grounds or in a new habitat or ecosystem they have never explored before.

Chesser’s favorite part of the program was the networking opportunities it provided to connect with so many like-minded people who are also dedicated to educating the next generation about the natural world. The experience that stands out most to her took place during one of her workshops at Haw River State Park. Several participants were informally surveying the plants and animals around the building during a break when they discovered a beautiful, abundant flower that looked like a dogwood that had them completely stumped.

“After scouring field guides, comparing notes and thoughts, cross-checking, and with everyone’s help, we were able to identify it as an invasive plant; Houttuynia cordata, a fishy smelling plant!” said Chesser. “The park didn’t even know it was there! This experience stands out because our relentless dedication to identification and education at the onset brought them together, and every time I see those colleagues we remind each other of the mystery we solved together!”

For her community partnership program, Chesser created a set of backpacks, each full of activities and resources, that could be checked out by members of the public visiting Walnut Creek Wetlands Center. She hopes the backpacks will be a tangible way for families with young children, youth, or even adults to actively engage in outdoor exploration and to build connections with the natural world. Chesser said of the project, “The fun activities in the backpack make it safe, approachable and entertaining to explore the outdoors for people with little experience.”

Chesser is excited to use her new EE Certification in her career educating teachers at the museum. She reflects, “If teachers are inspired themselves, they are more likely to create opportunities for their students to connect to the natural world, too!”
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Lunchtime Program Teaches Employees How to Compost at Home


The DEQ Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs took their Lunchtime Discovery Series to the Archdale Building recently to show DEQ and other state employees the benefits of composting.  The workshop was held outside on the Halifax Mall where a small composting program has been in place since 2012.

The workshop was led by Corinne Law, Environmental Specialist with the DEQ’s Division of Waste Management. Corinne has been teaching backyard, community and farm-scale composting for over a decade including work in Haiti and Egypt. In 2016, she led Atlanta’s first comprehensive composting course before joining the Solid Waste Section in Raleigh. She’s been a presenter at the U.S. Composting Council’s annual conference and at Georgia Organics’ annual conference.

The workshop was well attended and the questions raised were thoughtful. A lot of people are nervous about composting or have tried and felt like they failed but the truth is the amount of effort required for backyard composting is minimal while the benefits are numerous!

The reasons to compost are the same as the rewards and almost everyone can relate to at least one of them. Backyard composting:

  • Diverts organic material from landfills where it decomposes anaerobically and creates methane. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is a precursor to ozone.
  • Reduces a family’s carbon footprint by reducing the material hauled to a landfill.
  • Creates aggregates in soil which increases the pore space in clay soils and binds together sandy soils. This allows for better transfer of air, water, and nutrients.
  • Creates a valuable soil amendment that builds healthy soil by increasing soil biology and healthy plants by returning nutrients to the soil. Compost also buffers pH which affects nutrient availability and can eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Conserves water, mitigates erosion, and deters garden pests.
  • Offers a hands-on learning opportunity for children (and adults!) that teaches environmental stewardship. 

There are a thousand ways to compost and the important thing is to find the way that works for you and your household. It may be vermiculture (composting with worms), an enclosed tumbler, or an open pile. It may even be a collection service that picks up your food scraps and composts them for you! Either way, it’s well worth the effort. Send your backyard composting questions to Corinne at For more information and composting tips, click here.
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Educator Spotlight: Christine Brown


Christine Brown is an environmental educator for Asheville GreenWorks where she focuses on urban forestry, water quality, pollinators and waste reduction through recycling and composting. GreenWorks’ clean and green programs add service learning opportunities for students with tree and pollinator garden plantings and river/roadside cleanups. Through a partnership with Land of Sky Regional Council, Brown coordinates the Recycling Education Vehicle that promotes waste reduction education in four counties including Madison, Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania County.

Brown recently earned her N.C. Environmental Education Certificate, which she feels helped her become a better educator by introducing her to different curricula and adding “more tools to her belt” for working with children at GreenWorks. Before completing the program, she had a science background but was not fully confident in her teaching abilities. Environmental education certification gave her the knowledge and skills to design a lesson plan and teach children of all ages.

Brown’s favorite part of the program were the outdoor experiences at local state parks and educational state forests. “I would not have been aware of some state parks if it was not for the certification, including ones in my area. I especially enjoyed the tree and wildflower identification hikes at Holmes Educational State Forest,” said Brown. Another favorite feature of the program was meeting other educators from across the state, which was a great networking opportunity and a way to foster new partnerships and collaborations.

For her community partnership project, Brown partnered with the N.C. Arboretum to install one of their ecoExplore HotSpots at the North Asheville Library. She designed and planted a pollinator garden as well as installed a bird feeder and bird bath. The HotSpot will provide a space for children to explore and take pictures of nature for the citizen-science program, iNaturalist. It also beautifies an urban area while providing habitat for native pollinators.

Reflecting on her time completing the program, the experience that stands out most to Brown was a field trip to Mt. Mitchell and the guided hike with Dr. Daniel from Montreat College. “He did a teaching exercise called ‘Rotation Station’ that I will never forget and will use for the rest of my teaching career,” said Brown. “He started the field trip by teaching a group of people in the front facts about a plant, rock or something interesting he saw. That group became a ‘station’ and had to stay behind and teach the others in the hike. Dr. Daniel would continue to assign ‘stations’ to the next people in front until the entire group was constantly rotating between stations. I enjoyed this exercise because the back of the line soon became the front and I will always remember my station because I taught it to others.”

To learn more about Asheville Greenworks, visit For more information about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program, visit
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Environmental Educator Spotlight: Deanna Alfaro


Deanna Alfaro recently completed her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Deanna currently teaches nature programs at White Deer Nature Center in Garner and at the Clayton Community Center, and credits the program with expanding her knowledge base and increasing her available library of environmental education resources. "It has given me many more resources to tap into for future programs." She also enjoyed the trainings, notably the "Investigating Your Environment' workshop provided by the North Carolina Forest Service.

For her community partnership project, Deanna partnered with the Town of Garner Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, coordinating volunteers to turn several large sewer main access portals in White Deer Park into very attractive public works of art that educate visitors about native animal tracks. You can see Deanna's work along the South Garner Greenway/White Deer Loop trail on the west side of the park. As you can see below, it made quite a difference!


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Summer Lunchtime Speaker Series Kicks Off June 7


What do bees, bears, crime and chocolate have in common? They are all part of the environmental education summer lunchtime speaker series which kicks off on June 7! Come prepared to explore one of North Carolina’s unique ecosystems as Larry Earley, photographer and author of Looking for Longleaf, speaks on the “Saga of the Longleaf Pine.”

The upcoming series will include a variety of interesting presentations, including Dr. Walt Wolfram from N.C. State University discussing how dialects define us as North Carolinians; Justin Maness from Bee Downtown on the honey bee decline and rise of urban beekeeping; Bill Lea, nature photographer and bear advocate who has been photographing black bears in the wild for two decades and Hallot Parson, co-owner of Escazu Artisan Chocolates on getting the cacao bean from the farm to his Raleigh chocolate shop.

The guest lecture series is hosted by the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in the Department of Environmental Quality and features professionals from a wide range of environmental and science backgrounds representing local and state agencies, college and universities, and other organizations throughout the state. The series is designed to provide professional development for employees and educators and to give attendees the opportunity to interact directly with experts in their respective fields.

The lectures are held from noon until 1 p.m. on Wednesdays in the Environmental Literacy Center located in the Nature Research Center.

These are just a handful of the many experts the Office of Environmental Education is excited to welcome throughout the summer. Click here for the full Lunchtime Discovery lineup. We look forward to seeing you there!

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Educator Spotlight: Julia Soto


As a nonformal educator, Julia Soto uses her spare time to educate her community about the environment around them. Soto is a volunteer/docent with the Central Carolinas Master Naturalist Program who recently earned her N.C. Environmental Education Certificate. As her day job, she is a childcare subsidy caseworker.

Soto’s favorite part of the program was that it allowed her to travel. “I loved traveling to all of the beautiful places around the state where the workshops were held and the sheer joy of discovery as I moved through the program,” said Soto. “It brought back all the excitement I used to experience when I was a child playing in the woods.”

For her community partnership project, Soto helped her daughter’s Girl Scout troop plan an Earth Day Celebration at a local park as part of their Bronze Award Project. In celebration of Girl Scouts’ 100thAnniversary, girls from all over the county came together to plant 100 pine trees at the park. Soto found it very rewarding to see how excited the girls were about the tree planting.

Looking back at the program, the moment that stands out to Soto was an event she may never have experienced otherwise. “I attended the sea turtle workshop on the coast,” reflected Soto. “The park ranger was checking one of the nests and found a hatchling straggling behind. The experience of watching that lone little hatchling make its way to the sea was something I’ll always remember.”
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Educator Spotlight: Tori Carle


Tori Carle poses with "plarn" hair.

A recycling education specialist with the City of Greensboro’s Field Operations, Tori Carle is positive that obtaining her N.C. Environmental Education Certification has helped her career advancement. Not only did it help her find a job, but it also has improved her confidence in planning and executing programs at that job, where she works with schools, businesses and residents to increase recycling participation and decrease contamination.

Carle’s favorite part of the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program was the opportunity it provided to network with other environmental educators at the various workshops. “I’m also a super nerd, so I love learning and teaching new things that I have learned to others is always fun,” added Carle.

For her community partnership project, Carle created Operation Bed Roll, a program that has helped spread the word about the non-recyclability of plastic film in residential recycling containers. Operation Bed Roll is a collaboration between Greensboro’s Field Operations and Police departments to keep non-recyclable materials out of our landfills – and help some of our neediest residents have a safe place to sleep. Operation Bed Roll aims to transform thousands of plastic grocery bags into “plarn,” or plastic bag yarn used to create crocheted sleeping mats that provide an insulated barrier for those who sleep on the ground. Carle trains residents how to make the plarn and Greensboro police officers will distribute the mats to the homeless throughout the winter. The Interactive Resource Center, a non-profit that helps people experiencing homelessness, helped us set a goal of 200 bed rolls per winter.

“Greensboro residents have shown up to share love with our neediest residents by crafting plastic bag yarn into more than 243 bed rolls and counting,” said Carle. “That’s about 170,100 plastic bags kept out of city streets, landfills and recycling! Residents have also learned where to properly recycle plastic bags – at retail store collection bins. The plan fever has spread so much that other communities have started their own Operation Bed Roll.”

What stands out most to Carle from completing the program is how helpful it is for anyone working in an environmental education position. “Getting educators free resources for our programs has been a huge help in every environmental education job I’ve had,” Carle reflected.

For more information about Operation Bed Roll, click here:
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