John Jung: K-12 Educator of the Year

John Jung, environmental science teacher at Mesa High School, was recently recognized by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) as the recipient of the K-12 Educator of the Year Award. The award is given to educators who promote environmental education and utilize the environment as a context for learning in their teaching.

AAEE’s President, LoriAnne Barnett, recently caught up with John to find out how he came to have such an impactful career in the field of environmental education.

How long have you been involved in environmental education?

Over 30 years ago, my friend, Larry Langstaff, invited me to an Arizona Association for Learning in and about the Environment annual conference. That was very early in my career as a public school science teacher; I has very little knowledge of or experience with teaching EE. Back in the 80’s and 90’s, the conferences were well attended, and the sessions were almost always presented outdoors. The classroom activities I learned at the AALE conferences were the reasons I originally became interested in EE.

What was your inspiration for becoming an environmental educator?

I brought these lessons back with me and attempted to integrate them into the curriculum whenever possible. To me, the topics and themes of the lessons were fascinating, and the lessons themselves applied the best practices of teaching.

What steps did you take along your career path that have helped you get where you are today?

I remember very well the drive back from an AALE conference and talking with my wife about the pointlessness of attending the conferences because I couldn’t use the EE activities in the highly structured curriculum of the courses I was teaching at the time. The very next day, I began the steps to create a course at Mesa High School strictly devoted to Environmental Education/Science. And the next year, close to 25 years ago, Environmental Science was offered for the first time at Mesa High.

I was fortunate to teach this subject where no standard curriculum existed at the district level; this gave me the freedom to experiment with curricular structure and outcomes (ie. Outcome Based Learning). Never totally satisfied with the results of the experiments, I began a Master of Natural Science degree program at ASU in 2000. That’s where and when I discovered “concept mapping”. This graphic organizer supports the main themes of EE and can be used for instruction, learning, and assessment. My students construct a series of concept maps throughout the year that eventually interconnect into one giant display of an entire year’s worth of learning.

The last chapter of my professional life has been devoted to my direction of the development of Mesa High’s “Garden of the B’s.” Our award-winning Garden began 4 years ago as a concept when I was moved to a classroom near a vacant acre in a remote corner of campus. After obtaining permission from the superintendancy, planning, grant writing, planting, and weeding filled the next two years with the initial planting in April of 2015. The Garden is nearing three-years-old and is arguably one of the best things I’ve done for EE.

What are some of the main components of the EnviSci Program?

The titles of the major units would be Ecology, Sustaining Biodiversity, Food and Water, Mineral Resources and Energy, and Pollution and Health.

Were there any major hurdles in developing or getting the program approved? From your school or your district?

The College Board requires the prospective AP teacher to write and submit a course audit, which includes the scope and sequence, curricular objectives, and classroom resources. Only after the audit has been approved can a school offer a course (ie. Advanced Placement Environmental Science) with an “AP” label. That was the first hurdle. Once a course is listed in the district’s course catalogue, students may choose APES during Jan./Feb. registration for the following school year. I was fortunate to have a principal at the time when APES was first offered to approve a class roster of only five kids. After that first year, the word got around that APES was a better choice than other courses, and enrollment grew year by year. I’m proud to report that now in the 11th year of APES being listed in the Mesa Public Schools course catalogue, five out of six Mesa high schools offer the course.


I’ve taught lots of different subjects in my 35 year career as an educator. Math, English, other sciences, PE, and computer programming come to mind. None of these come close to Environmental Science in fun-factor, relevance, and interesting topics.


How does EE drive the content you share with you students in your EnviSci course?

When I began Mesa High’s program a long, long time ago, the only resources I had were a previously adopted textbook and 160 text-based worksheets (from the only other Environmental Science teacher in the district), and the growing collection of activities from AALE/AAEE conferences. It was the work of NAAEE that drove the content into a cohesive framed curriculum. NAAEE’s “Excellence in Environmental Education: Guidelines for Learning (Pre K-12)” became my number one resource during the early development of Environmental Science at Mesa High.

Do you provide any opportunities for students to learn skills like critical thinking, communications, and understanding bias? If so, what are they?

All the time! I have scores of activities that force students to think outside their little bubble. For example: my APES class is currently learning about mining. After a week’s worth of activities, they will role-play characters in a court case involving permission to mine in an environmentally sensitive area.

What advice would you share with formal or non-formal educators just starting a career as an environmental educator?

I’ve taught lots of different subjects in my 35 year career as an educator. Math, English, other sciences, PE, and computer programming come to mind. None of these come close to Environmental Science in fun-factor, relevance, and interesting topics. I know a number of fellow educators who changed from other subjects to EE, but I’ve never met someone who purposefully changed from EE to anything else. EE is the oldest educational topic and the only one other than perhaps communication skills that crosses into other species. It’s too important to teach the youth of today why and how to save the Earth.

Meet AAEE Volunteer Ellen Bashor

Volunteers have played a vital role in the history of AAEE for over 40 years. Their giving of time, energy, and enthusiasm helps move the organization forward to fulfill our mission and support environmental educators. This quarter we recognize a volunteer that has gone above and beyond lending her expertise in early childhood environmental education, and her superior editing and content building skills to help us offer quality resources through our website. Meet Ellen Bashor!

AAEE Volunteer, Ellen Bashor

Ellen Bashor

Raised in the prairies of Southern Minnesota, in the little town of “Cows, Colleges, and Contentment,” Ellen Bashor fell in love with the world. On the shores of 10,000 lakes, she built mud homes, and stacked the soft golden grasses into nests where she could fall asleep with her Beanie Babies in the sticky summer sun. Cursed with insatiable curiosity and blessed with adventurous parents, Ellen spent much of her childhood summers paddling and portaging her way through the Boundary Waters, slapping mosquitos, backpacking Western mountain ranges with her father, and helping her mother tend and eat the snap peas in the family garden. Yet, trapped inside by blizzards & burning wind chill, every October-March she would daydream of a place where winters didn’t hide the land.

With this dream in mind, she packed up an old minivan and moved to Prescott, Arizona in 2011 to attend Prescott College and, hopefully, say goodbye to winter forever. Needless to say, her research was inadequate, and she was more than surprised as the first snows rolled in over the Bradshaw Mountains. Yet, as an aspiring rock climber and mountain biker, she was already in love with the landscape: the scent of the Ponderosas, the shining pink granite, and the familiar prick of bushwhacking the chaparral. At the college, she found an inspiring community and began to pursue the roots and emerging trends of Environmental Education, and develop her personal philosophies and passions in the field. Working with professor Mariana Altrichter and her company Educational Expeditions, Ellen assisted in the design and creation of All Children in the Woods: a nature camp for children ages 5-9.

Continuing her work with the nature camp, Ellen graduated from Prescott College in 2015 with a bachelors in Transformative Education, a self-designed major that wove her personal philosophies into a critical & place-based pedagogy. After working for a year at Skyview School, a local multiple-intelligence theory based charter school in Prescott, Ellen affirmed for herself that her true passion lay in working in Early Childhood Education (ECE): a world where magic still exists.  Focusing her personal studies on the history & methodology of nature-based ECE, and the direct benefits it provides, she began integrating new theory and approaches into her work with the young “Bobcats” at the nature camp. In 2016, Ellen became the program coordinator for the Prescott College Nature and Place-based Early Childhood Education Center (NPECE Center) and began assisting in the design & facilitation of their annual Summer Institute for early-childhood educators and administrators from around the country.

“whoever you are, no matter how lonely, / the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—over and over again announcing your place / in the family of things”

Along with her continued work with Educational Expeditions and the Prescott College NPECE Center, Ellen became a member of the Arizona Association of Environmental Education (AAEE), and began volunteering there in 2017, helping with various tasks, including developing early childhood education content for their website. Her vision for a vibrant and sustainable future continues to motivate her work. Currently, she is pursuing her masters in education at Prescott College and will be teaching the undergraduate Fundamentals of Environmental Education course this Spring. She is also the children’s programming coordinator for the City of Prescott’s Earth Day celebration, mentors youth & undergraduate students, is pursuing her Environmental Education certificate through the AAEE. Ellen dreams of creating an “Explorer Mobile” that could travel to underserved communities across the state, honoring Arizona’s natural and cultural history by facilitating holistic connections between the land & its inhabitants through pedagogy and play. For the future, Ellen envisions a world where the Southwest is supported by ecologically and culturally relevant educational opportunities for children, grown folks, and families, and where positive connections with our local landscapes cultivate and unite a community dedicated to preserving our earth and our heritage.

“Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ” Lakota phrase meaning we are all related.