2018 NAAEE Conference Recap!

Our AAEE Affiliate had awesome representation at the 2018 NAAEE Conference in Spokane, Washington last week. We counted at least 12 folks from Arizona (I’m sure there were more unknown to us, yet!) and enjoyed a Coffee Meetup on Friday morning to share ideas for collaborating in the future. Presentations from Arizona members included talks from Molina Walters (Motivating College Students for the Environmental Education Profession; “Sense of Wonder” Nature Journaling); Betsy Wilkening and Caroline Pechuzal (Enhancing Community Resilience to Climate Change through Education); Ellen Bashor and Sarah Foglesong (Equity and Inclusion through Nature Play); and LoriAnne Barnett (You can do it! Accomplishing Strategic Goals with an All-volunteer Board; EE Certification: The Benefits of Being Certified; Natural Resource Volunteer Education: Utilizing an Environmental Education Framework; Fine-tune Your Message for EE Organizations and Affiliates; and Certified Local Phenology Leaders: Creating Successful Communities Through Citizen Science). Several Arizona folks also participated in the Research Symposium held prior to the main event, including Elisabeth Roberts (NAU; PLACE4FEWS: Community-Based Food, Energy, and Water Systems Education for Resilience). Feel free to reach out to us here if you’d like to know more about what was presented. And if you were there and wish to join us, please let me know! We’d be glad to add you to our list of contacts. Email president@arizonaee.org to get connected.

Pepe Marcos-IgaAdditionally, conference-goers paid tribute to one of Arizona’s brightest lights in environmental education. Pepe Marcos-Iga passed away in September due to complications from cancer. Pepe was such a wonderful force in our EE and our Arizona community – he was full of spirit and his innovation will be deeply missed by all. Pepe worked in the EE field for several decades – he joined NAAEE as a Together Green Fellow, served as a member of the leadership team of the EECapacity project, EPA’s National Environmental Education Program, and eventually joined the NAAEE Board of Directors in 2007. He served as the Board’s Chair in 2011. He worked in Tucson at the Environmental Education Exchange as an International Programs Director and, most recently, worked for the Western National Parks Association as their Chief Operating Officer. Pepe served on the Guidelines for Excellence Trainers Bureau and helped to deliver content to Spanish-speaking audiences. He was a champion of community engagement. At the conference there was a beautiful tribute to him delivered by Judy Braus, NAAEE’s Executive Director, stories were shared and fellow friends wrote in a memory book in his honor. You can read part of Judy’s tribute here. In Tucson, over 200 friends and family gathered to celebrate his life earlier this month.  NAAEE launched an awards program in Pepe’s honor this year at the conference as well: The Pepe Marcos-Iga Award for Innovation. The NAAEE Staff have created a GoFundMe Campaign to help support his family during this difficult time and provide for his children’s education. If you wish to contribute, visit the Celebrate Pepe Marcos-Iga Page. If you knew Pepe, your life was richer for it. He will be deeply missed.

Participants learned a lot from over 1300 environmental educators from around the world. We were inspired by Keynote speaker Brady Piñero Walkinshaw from Grist Magazine, a Plenary Panel on Democracy, Civic Engagement, and Environmental Education moderated by David Orr and including Timothy Egan, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, and Janet Tran; a Plenary Discussion on EE: A Force for the Future facilitated by Paul Baribault, including Kevin Chang, Shaun Martin, Sheila Williams Ridge, and Jane Wei-Skillern; and by a closing panel discussion Falls along the Spokane Riveron Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Young Leaders Making a Difference, facilitated by the 2018 30 Under 30 Fellows.

The NAAEE conference is always a fantastic time to connect with other like-minded educators, learn more about what is happening in our field with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and to rejuvenate your programs and courses with new ideas. Conference-goers return with new connections and friends who serve as inspiration for the important work we do in our communities. Next year’s conference will be hosted by the  NAAEE Affiliate in Kentucky during the second week in October. Stay tuned for more details about how you can submit a presentation or become more involved!

Growing Big Ideas in the Garden

A School Garden Story

By Ashley Fine

 Over the past decade, our staff, students, and families at Skyview School (Prescott, Arizona) have been continually expanding our school’s learning gardens. Currently, Skyview has several edible gardens throughout campus, a large native plant and pollinator garden, and an extensive rainwater harvesting system. The gardens around campus are cared for and enjoyed by students from every grade level and the staff have developed curriculum centered around these outdoor learning spaces.

While there are countless benefits to having gardens at our school, there are five main functions of our garden-centered curriculum: Education, Restoration, Sustainability, Empowerment, and Connection.

As a school, Skyview’s main purpose is clearly to educate. Our habitat garden serves as an outdoor classroom and living laboratory where students can learn about subjects across the curriculum. It is a place where students can explore science concepts such as plant and animal life cycles, weather, ecological relationships, nutrient cycles, geology, and technological innovation. The garden is also an environment in which  students learn about culture, history, native people, social justice, economics and labor. Our garden provides an opportunity for mathematics to be applied in real world scenarios. For example, the students took measurements and calculated the projected annual yield of rainwater that we can capture off our classroom roof. They collect data each school day to learn about daily changes in weather, and larger scale climate patterns. Our farm stand, in the fall, gives students the opportunity to market their goods, exchange money, and calculate the income and expenses related to their student-led business.

In addition to education, another purpose of our gardens is restoration. Just over a year ago, our habitat garden was a vacant lot filled with years of buried trash, debris, and invasive plant species. In the fall of 2017, the students from every grade level planted approximately 200 native plants, creating viable habitat for a variety of pollinator species. We are promoting the growth of wildflowers as an important food source for wildlife, and native grasses which play a critical role in the carbon cycle.

One year after planting, our students have witnessed dozens of species of butterflies, moths, birds, insects and reptiles in our garden. In September, we found loads of monarch caterpillars munching on our milkweed! Our students are getting the opportunity to transform our school neighborhood for good, and to experience, first hand, the positive impacts of ecological restoration.

Similarly, another important goal of our habitat garden is sustainability. Having numerous rain tanks in the children’s learning environment serves as a daily reminder of the importance of conservation. The students are learning about passive and active rain harvesting techniques and how to intentionally design a landscape to slow, spread, and absorb the water from the few precious rain storms we get each year. They are learning about groundwater, surface water, and captured rain, and the relationship between these water sources. Our ultimate goal with all of our rain harvesting infrastructure is to sustain our vegetable garden with captured rainwater year round and completely eliminate the need to use city supplied groundwater.

Likewise, in our edible garden, students  learn the importance of growing local food in order to reduce energy use and transportation costs. Small gardens, such as ours, eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides, all of which pose threats to human health and the environment. With changing conditions and a rapidly growing human population, natural resource literacy, and an understanding of sustainable food production, will be among the most valuable intellectual resources our children will need to carry with them into the future.

And this leads us to the next benefit of school gardens, which is empowerment. Some argue that true participatory democracy begins with participatory food production. Most people are passive consumers who simply go to the store to purchase the food they want- or the food they’ve been persuaded to want- rarely stopping to think about quality, process, impact or cost. Wouldn’t it be empowering, instead, to recognize, as Wendell Berry describes, that “the act of eating begins with planting and birth,” and is sustained by humans having a sensitive, responsive, and reciprocal relationship with plants. People with no knowledge or skills in the act and art of producing food lack the opportunity to experience true self reliance and liberty.

As Ron Finley, the gangster gardener of South Central Los Angeles states, “growing your own food is like printing your own money”. When children participate in the act of growing food and saving seeds, they start to recognize that money really does grow on trees!

And this brings us to the final benefit of our school gardens, which is connection. While this article has suggested a lot of idealistic ways our garden can be used as an educational tool and as a catalyst for change, the reality is, our students are probably not going to remember every point and detail of what is taught or discussed at school. What they will remember, though, is getting their hands muddy; holding a snail or earthworm in their palm; their surprise at pulling a giant, oddly shaped carrot out of the ground; the weight of water as they schlep a heavy watering can to their tiny sprouting seeds; and the feeling of simply being alive in a beautiful place.

In the garden, students get the chance to turn their attention away from phones and computer screens, in order to experience things that are alive and beautiful changing each day. They get to feel and appreciate the effort it takes to dig a hole in the ground, under the hot sun. They start to recognize weather as more than just a report, but rather a matter of life and death for tender living things growing in the garden.

When children get the chance to eat food that they were involved in growing, they are consuming more than just nutrients; They are feeding themselves with a story and a feeling of connection to all the resources and events that brought that fresh food to their young, curious mouths.

I had the great fortune of meeting Alice Watters at a Slow Food conference in Denver, CO in 2017. During one of her talks, she said something that really stuck with me. She explained that when children have beautiful spaces within their learning environment, “they know that they are loved without needing to be told.” They know that people who care about them took time to create a special place for them, where they can feel calm, safe, valued, and inspired.

 A colorful, fragrant garden is a place that excites the senses and the imagination, where learning can be visceral, memorable, and delicious. It is these deep-tissue learning experiences that result, later on, in responsible decision-making and stewardship. It is my hope that our gardens at Skyview School are one example of a small beginning, and that the school garden movement will continue to take hold in schools everywhere, especially in places where children would never, otherwise, get these kinds of learning experiences and opportunities.

Education, Restoration, Sustainability, Empowerment, and Connection are among the most important things we should be growing and cultivating in our schools, and gardens are the best place to dig in!

Ashley presenting on school garden programming during a Prescott College professional development institute

Have a school garden story to share? Comment and let us know!

Also, stay tuned for more on: School Gardening in Arizona (our climate brings unique challenges and opportunities!), The Dirt on Green Schoolyards (a growing national movement & why!), Planting Standards (state standards, NGSS, and the EE Guidelines are easy in the garden!) and more.

Is that even STEM?! Early EE & Nature Play

Before the buckets of sticks, branch cross-cuts, rocks, shells, moss, and more were even unpacked the children tiptoed in. As if drawn by an unseen magnetic force, tiny hands reached for the sticks, “tree cookies”, and shells, and we heard the excited question again and again and again, “Are these real?!

Earlier in the month AAEE teamed up with the Center for Nature and Place-based Early Childhood Education to host an early childhood environmental education & STEM space at the Children’s Learning & Play Festival in Scottsdale. We shared the space with many great organizations, including the lead organizer, The Museum of Science and Sustainability (MoSS). We loaded up a truck with nature’s loose parts of all kinds, some paints and brushes, and a whole bunch of enthusiasm. 400+ children, 300+ tree cookies, a couple gallons of paint, and 7 hours of laughter later, we realized parents and early childhood educators alike deeply agree: we need more nature play.


But why nature play?

Why tree cookies?

Is that even STEM?

Is that even EE?

We’re glad you asked!




STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math and is a concept stemming (ha!) from a nationwide push to increase proficiency in these subjects through integrative and innovative approaches. Increasingly, environmental education is seen as one of the best approaches to achieving STEM goals in the United States. STEM for older children can be anything from water quality monitoring to building solar panels. However, STEM & EE in the early years look very different.

At AAEE we always promote developmentally appropriate practice, which is educational practice based on research about how young children learn and develop. Developmentally appropriate early EE & STEM may take the shape of open-ended and inquiry-based explorations or simply playing in and with nature. This might be creating towers or fairy worlds with loose parts, building forts, decorating story stones, making mud soup, watching bugs, or caring for a garden. These simple practices give young children the opportunity to ask questions, test hypothesis, discover the fundamentals of disciplines such as physics or ecology, build early literacy and numeracy skills, and so much more.

Early EE and nature-based STEM learning can also combat the growing concerns about Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD). NDD is not a medical term, but a useful phrase to describe the effects we experience from our increasing disconnect with the natural world, including decreased use of the senses, attention issues, higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses, and indifference towards the natural world.

Play in and with nature is an easy remedy and there are many resources to help parents and educators make a real difference in their children’s lives. For starters, check out AAEE’s Early Childhood Environmental Education resource page, download a free copy of the NAAEE Early Childhood EE Guidelines for Excellence, or visit the website our national early EE partner the Natural Start Alliance.

You can also stay tuned to our blog and subscribe to our newsletter! In response to the growing field of early childhood EE, early STEM, nature play, nature-based preschools, forest kindergartens, and more, AAEE will be partnering with the Natural Start Alliance to increase advocacy and resources for the field here in Arizona. Look for upcoming blogs on topics such as What is Early Childhood EE? Nature Play & the latest research on Nature-based Learning, Nature Play in the Indoor Classroom, Nature Play in the Desert, and more!


If you want to join the conversation and help us advocate for early EE and nature play in Arizona  comment and let us know or follow us on Facebook; we love hearing from you!

AAEE Board Member, Ellen Bashor, to Implement Innovative Educational Program in Arizona


Arizona, August 17, 2018—Thirty-two outstanding Fellows from around the world have been selected by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) in cooperation with U.S. EPA to help address community environmental and social issues around the world. Ellen Bashor, of Prescott, AZ, joins a diverse group of talented educators and conservationists who are using the power of education to help tackle tough issues in their communities and striving to create a more equitable and sustainable world.

The fellowship program is a part of the National Environmental Education Training Program established by the U.S. EPA’s Office of Environmental Education, a national professional development program that has been building the professional capacity of educators since 1992. NAAEE, in cooperation with U.S. EPA, leads a consortium of nonprofit, higher education, and federal partners in the latest phase of the program, called ee360. The consortium works together to provide professional development opportunities for educators and strengthen the field of environmental education. The program also focuses on building leadership skills and providing high-quality resources for the field.

This class of 32 Fellows represents 14 states, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and four countries: India, Nepal, New Zealand, and China. Support for the international Fellows was made possible through a generous grant from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation. The goals of the fellowship are to bring talented and passionate community leaders together to hone their community leadership skills (including strategic communications, fundraising, evaluation, strategic planning, and more) and build a professional learning community that Fellows can tap into as they develop a local community action project. All Fellows are using education to address an environmental threat and improve community well-being.

“I’m blown away by this group of leaders. They are inspiring, passionate, skilled, and committed change makers! As the world continues to grapple with the right strategies to address environmental threats, we can’t forget that community education and action are some of the most effective tools in our toolbox,” said Judy Braus, Executive Director of the North American Association for Environmental Education. “The wonderful exchange of ideas, experiences, stories, and resources, as well as the lasting bonds that were built during their time together at the leadership workshop, have given these fellows an invaluable boost to their projects, scaling the impact of their work to a new level.” “It’s amazing to see that Ellen Bashor’s work in the Arizona Environmental Education community and beyond has made a positive impact and that those efforts are recognized by NAAEE and ee360,” said LoriAnne Barnett, Arizona Association for Environmental Education’s President. “We’re excited to leverage what Ellen Bashor, a member of our Board of Directors, gains through this fellowship to continue to cultivate an environmentally literate community in Arizona, empowering all sectors to improve the collective effectiveness of environmental education.”

Fellows were selected based on four key criteria: experience in environmental education, commitment to community development, engagement in community partnerships, and creation of innovative solutions. These Fellows are working on projects ranging from getting young people engaged in ecologically sound farming practices to building community resilience, promoting citizen science programs to tackling water quality, showcasing the links between sanitation, health, and the environment, and using virtual reality to promote caring about marine issues.  

As part of the eighteen-month program, Fellows benefit from:

  • An intensive five-day leadership and professional development workshop held in July 2018
  • Engaging webinars throughout the duration of the program
  • Access to mini-grant funds to support innovative community action projects
  • Mentoring and networking opportunities, including access to NAAEE’s eePRO professional development site
  • Scholarships to attend the 2018 NAAEE Annual International Conference, a gathering of more than 1,000 environmental education leaders from around the world

To learn more about Ellen Bashor and her planned community action project, visit http://www.naaee.org/ee360fellowship.

About Arizona Association for Environmental Education

As one of the 56 Affiliates within the Affiliate Network of the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), the Arizona Association for Environmental Education (AAEE) supports formal and informal educators providing programming and content to a wide variety of citizens of all ages. As an Affiliate of NAAEE, we host a variety of networking and professional learning opportunities in state, as well as collaborate with other NAAEE Affiliates to host events at the annual NAAEE conference as well as webinars, online discussions, and blogs. AAEE strives to provide professional development opportunities, such as the Environmental Education Certification Program, across the state of Arizona.

About ee360

An ambitious multi-year initiative, ee360 connects and promotes innovative leaders dedicated to advancing environmental literacy for everyone, everywhere. Led by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), ee360 is made possible through funding and support from US EPA and seven partner organizations representing universities and nonprofits across the country, and five federal agencies. Through this partnership, ee360 brings together more than four decades of expertise to grow, strengthen, and diversify the environmental education field. Visit ee360.org to learn more.

School Gardens? AAEE Digs Deeper

“Join the United States School Garden Army; Enlist Now!”  reads the World War I poster of a young girl pushing a plow and looking determined in her red, white, and blue attire. Although the school garden army didn’t last, the battle to get a garden in every school continues. Posters like this were spread across the nation in 1918 by our Bureau of Education during our nation’s first federal initiative to get schools gardening. At the time, the nation responded in full force.

Many believed school gardens were both a solution to the labor & food supply issues in the agriculture industry during the war and a way to teach the basic concepts of democracy and civic duty. Fannie Griscoms Parsons, a school garden advocate of the early 20th century, is quoted in a Smithsonian article as describing school gardens not, “simply to grow a few vegetables and flowers,”  but, “to teach [students] in their work some necessary civic virtues; private care of public property, economy, honesty, application concentration, self-government, civic pride, justice, the dignity of labor, and the love of nature.”

Although remarks like Fannie’s were revolutionary at the time, emerging school garden research from the past two decades indicates Fannie was just discovering the top of the carrot; there were a lot more applications and benfits to be dug up! As we now know, school gardens are not just for vegetables and flowers nor just for imparting civic virtues—school gardens can teach almost any subject, and perhaps, teach it more effectively than Fannie or United States Bureau of Education could’ve ever imagined. Here’s some statistics that rocked our world: In a recent interview between NPR and REAL School Gardens, an organization that not only helps schools get gardens going but trains teachers on using them, REAL School Gardens reported their partner schools see a, “12 to 15 percent increase in the number of students passing standardized tests,” and that’s not just students in the garden program–that’s school-wide! Even in an independent study of these schools, they found that “94 percent of teachers in the REAL School Garden programs reported seeing increased engagement from their students”.

Wow! Those statistics are hard to ignore. But what if you aren’t working with a professional development & training program–will your garden be as effective? The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” And, there’s no need to pour through every article; the University of Georgia did an analysis of all the research connecting school gardens and academic performance between 1990 and 2010 and discovered, “overwhelmingly that garden-based learning had a positive impact on students’ grades, knowledge, attitudes, and behavior”.

Like the university’s analysis discovered, the benefits of gardens go far beyond improving grades. As parents, educators, administrators, or anyone who works with children, we know our students academic performance is a small indication of their overall well-being. A student’s physical and emotional development is deeply tied to their success both in school and throughout the rest of their lives.  Across the nation, children and adolescents are experiencing physical and mental health issues at all time highs. Here’s a few sobering statistics shared by the the Collective School Garden Network (CSGN): They found research that our children are the “first generation of Americans at risk of having a lower life expectancy than their parents,” closely tied to the fact that “less than 2% of US children eat the recommended 2.5 cups of vegetables each day.”

Fortunately, the CSGN and many others have found and proven a simple antidote: school gardens! Not only do children experience academic improvement when engaged in a school garden, their health and commitment to making healthy choices receives a boost as well. In a 2007 summary of a school garden study they that, “students involved in a garden-based nutrition education program increased their fruit and vegetable consumption by 2.5 servings per day, more than doubling their overall fruit and vegetable consumption”! These statistics and effective solutions are hard to ignore.

Digging deeper, we consistently found across all ages and abilities, and the spectrum of personal and cultural identities, school gardens help teachers teach, children learn, and communities thrive. Since the numerous approaches and benefits to green schoolyards and school gardens goes on, we’ve decided to share the latest and greatest in green school action and research with you throughout the rest of this year. Stay tuned for more on: School Gardening in Arizona (our climate brings unique challenges and opportunities!), The Dirt on Green Schoolyards (a growing national movement & why!), Planting Standards (state standards, NGSS, and the EE Guidelines are easy in the garden!) and more.

To really get your seeds started, check out our Environmental Education Certification Program, where you can start today, working online on your own time towards a nationally-recognized, career-building certification. In our certification program, you can integrate your interests in garden-based learning and other environmental education approaches so that your certification portfolio builds resources that best serve you, your students, and your community. Break the soil, check it out today!

…and happy gardening from all of us here at AAEE!

*photos from https://communityofgardens.si.edu, www.kidsgardening.org, and www.childrenandnature.org

A new program at the University of Arizona: Girls on outdoor Adventure for Leadership and Science (GALS)

By Dr. Elise Gornish, University of Arizona Cooperative Extension

Despite recent attention and efforts, there remains a significant lack of women and racial minorities in science-related careers. In fact, women account for only 29% of the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce, while racial minorities account for only 11%. The STEM gender and race gap is largely due to cultural expectations and implicit bias that science is reserved for white men. Reinforcing negative stereotypes about girls and minorities in science lowers their test scores; however, encouraging their intelligence and potential enhances performance. It is crucial to reach girls in high school – before the gender gap in STEM emerges – and empower them to pursue their goals by strengthening science literacy, leadership, and teamwork. Research has shown that hands-on, immersive learning about science and teamwork enhances scientific understanding and enthusiasm.

To address the gender and racial gaps inSTEM, and to empower girls to pursue education and careers in science, four PhD students at Duke University developed a new program: Girls on outdoor Adventure for Leadership and Science (GALS) in 2016. GALS is a free hands-on, place-based science and leadership learning opportunities for female high school students not traditionally engaged as participants in science in an outdoor setting.  The overall goal of the GALS is to address the gender and racial gaps in STEM by empowering girls, especially those from underrepresented groups, to identify with science and pursue education and careers in STEM. Specific objectives of the project include: (1) Increase science proficiency of participating girls; (2) Develop science identity to support participants’ persistence in STEM education; and (3) Increase participants’ self-awareness, teamwork, and leadership skills. During GALS, high school girls learn ecology, earth science, chemistry, and geology by exploring local wildlands on a two week summer backpacking trip in the backcountry with graduate students in ecology programs. GALS participants pose questions, make observations, and design and carry out scientific investigations. As GALS is situated predominantly within backcountry ecosystems, field education (how to use a compass and a map, using vegetation and animal clues for orientation, etc.) is also be integrated into each curriculum. The first session of GALS was so successful, the Duke program reached out to other universities to gauge interest in extending the program nationwide. The School of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona responded to the call and has been working to develop a GALS program in Tucson!

In partnership with several organizations, including Cooperative Extension, 500Women Scientists, and the American Association of University Women, individuals at the University of Arizona are currently planning on deploying the first GALS program this year! Participants will hike on Mount Lemmon and learn about ecology, wildlife, geology, and management of the Catalina Mountains through outdoor science. The small-group setting and place-based curriculum allows girls to learn, develop, lead, and work together in a supportive environment. We expect that the informal science learning experiences facilitated by GALS can foster girls’ STEM identity by enculturating them into a community of science role models and peers to develop science proficiency through legitimate participation in a scientific community of practice. The U of A GALS program expects to expand the current curriculum to include after program mentorship to

Current activities for program development include the organization of a fund raiser at Dragoon Brewery in mid April, curriculum creation and the identification of potential participants. The program will be completely free to all participants (including the availability of hiking and camping gear, food for the trip, supplies to conduct research projects, and travel) and will be funded entirely on grants, in-kind donations, and volunteer time.

If you or your organization might be interested in donating funds, supplies or time to the program, please email the current GALS Director at the University of Arizona, Elise Gornish at egornish@email.arizona.edu.


Photo credits: Duke University

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.

South Mountain Environmental Education Center: Building Community to Build Environmental Stewards!

In February 2016, the Arizona Center for Nature Conservation (ACNC) reopened the South Mountain Environmental Education Center in partnership with the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department. Our joint mission is to offer environmental education to South Phoenix communities and visitors to South Mountain Park.

While celebrating the biological diversity of one of the largest municipal parks in the nation is an important aspect of our work, good environmental education also honors and celebrates the cultural history that has shaped the park and the people that live in the surrounding communities today. In this spirit, ACNC has been focusing on building relationships to help us understand the values, needs and interests of the people of South Phoenix and the great organizations that have been doing work locally for many more years than we have.

With support from local funders and the Flinn Foundation we’ve been hosting networking events to meet community members and seeking out partnerships with local organizations to help strengthen our collective impact. To support our friends at the Parsons Leadership Center for Girls and Women at Camp South Mountain as they launch their first summer camp in the new center, ACNC and South Mountain Park staff teamed together to provide a half-day training for brand-new summer camp instructors about the natural history of the Sonoran Desert, techniques for engaging youth and how to be safe in the hot desert.

Our work together helps ensure that youth are receiving high quality environmental education experiences while we celebrate the strengths of each organization.

Why I EE…

National EE Week is April 23 – 29 and to celebrate we’d thought we’d take a moment to reflect on our work and celebrate everyone that is part of the EE community.

Traditionally environmental educators have been thought of as non-formal educators that facilitate programs and formal educators that use environmental lessons in their classrooms. These individuals are fantastic environmental educators AND so are the many people that work for the environment in many other ways.  Musicians, artists, journalists, biologists, activists, religious leaders are just a few of the types of people that engage others in developing skills, understanding and passion to address local and global challenges. These people, like non-formal and formal educators, inform, inspire and influence attitudes.

Why do we do EE?

Because people have an incredible impact on the Earth and we are also the only ones with the power to make it a positive one. EE helps develop critical thinking skills, sense of place, problem solving and empowerment.  We do EE because we care. We do EE because we want to help others think beyond themselves and care for future generations of people, plants and animals.

There are so many reasons that EE is critical today and every individual that approaches learning or engagement with the intent to empower, inspire and inform about the environment is an environmental educator.

Why do you EE? Tell us why and be part of the conversation online by using the hashtag #whyiee.

Thank you for all that you do and keep inspiring others!

Happy National EE Week!