A Nature-Based Preschool in the Desert?! You Bet!

By AAEE Member & Volunteer: Diona Williams

I am a full-time Early Childhood Education Professor a few days out of the week at a Tribal Community College called Tohono O’odham.  However, I have worked with children birth to age 8 for the last 17 plus years in many different capacities. My career has allowed me to work as an Infant/Toddler Mental Health Clinician II (behavioral health), Arizona Early Intervention Program, and CHILD Find Team/Public Educator as an Early Childhood Special Teacher.

What inspired me to open Out Back Learning LLC is truly my desire to grow my knowledge in the profession in Early Childhood Education and discover new and innovative ways to work with young children. I had an opportunity to attend a conference a year and a half ago at Prescott College, where I was able to learn about Nature-based Place and Play in Early Childhood Education. I was so inspired by the movement that I implemented the ideas and knowledge with my students the following school year, which led to gardening and outdoor lessons. I decided to leave public education to pursue higher education and to start this Nature-based Preschool Program. I love teaching college students about Early Childhood Education, but I absolutely love working with young children and families. The program is a passion project, but I have witnessed first hand how children can benefit from outdoor nature-based preschools.

Offering a Nature-Based preschool in the desert is unique from the typical nature-based and forest schools in the northwest, northeast, and midwest programs, because the desert environment is so different. In the desert we have everything from giant mesquite trees, prickly pear cactus & their fruit, to the scorpions & poisonous spiders.

So, how do the Out Backers survive the desert?

 

In Out Back Learning I have discovered the beauty of nature in a different way with my students, also known as the Out Backers.  For instance, one day the Out Backers discovered the Mexican Bird of Paradise plant has seed pods, and they could create, count, snap, build, and grow seeds. However, this plant has led to many other discussions beyond that. One example would be, when Leo asked, “Why do we not water this plant, but we water the jalapeno plant?” Or, when Isaac wondered, “Why does this plant have so many seed pods?”. This plant has led to even more conversations about pollinators, the importance of bees, and why butterflies hang out by the Mexican Bird of Paradise plant.

Life in Out Back Learning also gives the Out Backers an opportunity to take nature walks daily, even in the desert! I remember the first time the Out Backers took a nature walk, and we learned the importance of signs, landmarks, and directions. Now, the nature walks take twice as long because the Out Backers have discovered the wonders of every part of nature such as the pine needles, different rock varieties, flowers, leaves, cacti, etc.

Out Back Learning LLC also offers gardening opportunities for the Out Backers in the fall and spring, another easy way to connect with nature in the desert. Our fall garden currently has corn, herbs, cabbage, strawberries, jalapeno, cucumber, tomatoes, and sunflowers.

Every Monday the Out Backers get to harvest any item from the garden that they like to eat, take home, or cook. There are so many ways for young learners to safely play in and with nature in a desert environment. Knowing there are so many benefits to spending time in nature and nature-based learning & play, it’s important that we give all learners these opportunities, no matter what environment they’re growing up in!

You can follow the Out Backers’ adventures on their Facebook page and their Instagram @outbacklearning2019

 

 

Do you want your program featured in AAEE’s newsletter, on our website, & on our social media platforms? Contact us on our Facebook page, Instagram @EEinArizona, or comment on this article!

Be part of our Community of Practice at the conference!

In 2018 we launched the Environmental Literacy Community of Practice (ELCoP) to bring together people from across the state to help solve the challenges around improving environmental literacy for Arizonans. Current ELCoP members will be hosting two special conference sessions and we’d love for you to join the conversation.

EE and the Well-Rounded Student: Accessing Title IV-A Funds to Support Programs

The ELCoP PK-12 Working Group has been in conversation with the Arizona Department of Education to help demonstrate the value of EE programs for supporting well-rounded students, a requirement of the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA). Join us at the conference on Saturday at 10:45 to hear what we’ve done, learn how you can contribute to the conversation and understand how to access Title IV-A funds (support for well-rounded students) to support your programs with PK-12 classrooms. 

Arizona Green Chamber Roundtable

The ELCoP Stakeholder Working Group has been exploring how to bring more voices to the conversation about environmental literacy. One particular voice that is often overlooked in education-focused conversations is that of green businesses. Partnerships for environmental literacy between green businesses and environmental educators have the potential to broaden reach through EE messaging to customers, and to strengthen educator capacity by applying business strategies to EE programs. Help us explore this potential with members of the Arizona Green Chamber in a roundtable and panel discussion during Saturday’s lunch.

Are you a green business owner? Arizona Green Chamber members can register for the AAEE Conference at the AAEE member rate. Email elp@arizonaee.org for more information!

Learn more >>

Preparing to Build Capacity – AAEE Board Members at the 2019 ee360 NAAEE Leadership Clinic

AAEE Board of Directors at Asilomar State Beach

This June, AAEE’s Board of Directors was honored to be selected as one of ten NAAEE Affiliates to participate in the second ee360 Affiliate Leadership Clinic. Our five board members traveled to beautiful Asilomar State Park Conference Center for five days of workshops, discussions and planning sessions (plus some beach time!) all focused on helping us create an action plan for capacity building.

Together with other first-time Affiliate attendees and team members from the first ten Affiliates that participated in the 2017 Leadership Clinic, we explored transformative leadership, diversity, equity and inclusion, fundraising best practices and action planning, while networking with board members, staff and community members of the19 other Affiliates and NAAEE staff and colleagues.

ee360 Leadership Clinic participants

 

 

 

A highlight of our time with the other Affiliates was the Share Fair, an evening where each team shared their strengths and conundrums so we could all learn from and support each other. Inspired by this event, we plan to host a similar opportunity at our Conference in September.

AAEE’s booth at the Share Fair

The AAEE team was proud to share our successes with EE Certification, the re-launching our membership program, our new website and resource section, our strategic plan, strong collaborations with other organizations and the upcoming state conference. Our conundrums were very similar to other states in that we are missing a lot of voices from communities throughout our state in our conversations, and funding and people power are continually limited.

One of the most rewarding aspects of the clinic for the AAEE Board Members was to have such a concentrated amount of time to be together in the same space, getting to know each other better and most importantly, thinking deeply about EE in Arizona. For an all-volunteer organization, opportunities like these are rare and we tried to savor every moment – including the beach time.

AAEE Board bonds at the beach

Ultimately we recognized as a team that an important key to our capacity building is to make sure we are deeply listening to all EE voices in Arizona, so that everyone is included and can help shape AAEE to be what is most needed for the diversity of practitioners and audience members in our state. That includes persons of color, people of different-ability, and folks who do not necessarily consider themselves environmental educators but are doing work to educate community members about our world’s natural systems and environmental challenges. 

The more people that feel valued and can see the value of AAEE, the stronger our capacity will be. We were already on this path with our focus for the September state conference, Arizona We are EE, and have started working to strengthen our focus on inclusion at the conference and beyond.

We recieved great feedback for our conference planning

We’re so grateful for NAAEE, the US EPA and the seven other partner organizations for providing the resources to strengthen what we do in the field via the ee360 Program, with goals designed to drive excellence, be more inclusive, cultivating collective impact, and mobilizing access to high-quality resources and networks. We are also thankful for the time the NAAEE staff puts into creating these opportunities for and for doing so much to help strengthen Affiliates across the network. Keep an eye out for future updates and ongoing evidence that your AAEE Leadership Team is listening! Have a question for us or a suggestion on how we can do better? Contact LoriAnne at president@arizonaee.org

I’m an Early Childhood Educator — Is EE for me?

ALL DAY Saturday is for YOU!

 As early childhood educators know, the experiences in the early years continue to shape a person’s identity, ability, and attitudes throughout the rest of their lifetime. According to First Things First, 90% of a child’s brain develops by age 5, and researchers have learned that the human brain develops the vast majority of its neurons, and is most receptive to learning, between birth and three years of age.

As environmental educators–it is imperative we serve the ECE community! Yet, many traditional EE models are simply not developmentally appropriate for young children. Things like discussing deforestation ethics, studying animal population models, or doing invasive species removal are often just too advanced or can trigger feelings of fear and disempowerment in young children. That’s why we wanted to turn our focus towards what the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) deems one of the best methods for teaching & learning in early childhood: PLAY! Recently, NAEYC has turned their attention specifically to nature play. Responding to the national trends, we want to offer you the low-down on the details & best practices for nature play, how to play in Arizona’s unique environment, and how to manage risks and hazards when taking young children outdoors.

We start the day off with Cheryl McCaw, preschool teacher and adjunct faculty at both the Arizona State University and Prescott College. Cheryl will be giving and introduction to nature play–what is it? Why is it important? Along with taking children outside, Cheryl will be talking about how you can bring nature play into your classroom. And, for those of us just starting, with small budgets, limiting locations, or just not enough time, Cheryl has some great tips on how you can take what you’re already doing in your classroom and easily “tweak it” to fit the nature play approach. 

Then we’ll be learning with Melissa Mundt, owner of Garden PlaySpace, certified Permaculture designer, and active gardener from Tucson. As many of us are coming from desert or high desert areas, the endless stories of “forest kindergartens” where kids play in the shade under towering trees and with gushing streams just isn’t cutting it for us. However, Melissa is here to talk about how nature play is alive and well in the desert. She’ll discuss ways young learners can safely explore our arid lands without the fear of spines, stings, scorpions, and snakes and share some really unique models from Tucson. Come explore designs and activities that celebrate our natural desert environment and make nature play possible no matter where you are!

After that we’ll be putting our plans into action with Sarah Foglesong, coordinator of the Early Childhood & Early Childhood Special Education Program at Prescott College and director of the Center for Nature and Place-based Early Childhood Education. As anyone working with children knows, we spend much of our time somewhere between the “Oh no! You’re gonna get hurt!” and the “Oh wait, you’re fine” moments. Sarah will be sharing tips and concrete tools you can take home for doing risk assessment and hazard management in nature-based settings so you can take your young learners outdoors without all those ups and downs. Sarah defines the difference between a risk and a hazard and discussing how you can allow your students to have healthy perceived risks while still easily preventing real injuries. In her presentation, you will learn how to perform an outdoor risk assessment, manage for hazards, and advocate to your education team about why it’s important to give children the benefits of healthy risky experiences and not just eliminate these from your nature-based or outdoor program.

We wrap up the day with two ECE-focused options for field trips. However, you’re welcome to go on any of the field trips that spark your interest!

The first one is with Nikki Julien, member of AAEE’s Board of Directors and owner of Nature Play Learning

She’ll be taking folks on a tour of the Highlands Center for Natural History and sharing her expertise in both interpretive naturalism (how to use the current landscape to foster learning & connection) as well as nature playscape design. Nikki is a certified playworker, playground inspector, desert landscaper and more! Her unique perspectives and breadth of experience will help you learn how to critically examine an area and envision & actualize projects, dreams, learning, and play anywhere. Nikki believes nature play will save the world, and we agree with her!

The other ECE-focused option is to explore the ways in which various educators have leveraged the power of learning gardens. Thanks to local cooperation between a variety of schools, non-profits, extension offices, and dedicated community members, Prescott is a vibrant hub for learning gardens of all shapes and sizes. Travel around Prescott with NPECE Center director, Sarah Foglesong and see a spectrum of initiatives and learn how gardens & green space can be used as outdoor classrooms that can support developmentally appropriate learning for all the domains! Contemplate the potential for your program’s own spaces and get inspired to get your hands dirty!

See you there!

For more information about ECE at the statewide EE conference contact npece@prescott.edu

To see the conference schedule or to register visit: https://www.arizonaee.org/event/2019-aaee-conference/

Don’t Miss These Field Trips!

Thinking about coming to the 2019 statewide Environmental Education conference? I sure am! Although I love a good presentation, as an experiential learner, I also love getting out into a community and seeing real models that WORK! I know AAEE has put a lot of time into collaborating with local educational, recreational, environmental, outdoor, institutions & business to pull together an amazing set of field trips. Since each field trip will have a limited number of spaces (for example, finding 130 kayaks turned out to be impossible!) — I wanted to make sure you had a chance to get to know the locations & options so you can be sure to sign up for the field trip you want most before it fills.

Watson Lake & the Granite Dells

Just 4 miles from Prescott, located in the heart of the Granite Dells, this beautiful lake is an oasis to escape the desert heat. This grey-blue lake is surrounded by rolling pink granite boulders, and is a vital part of the Granite Creek riparian corridor and an important migratory bird stopover. The 380 acres of park contain stunning rock formations, secret inlets with a myriad of birds, mammals, reptiles, and insects to admire, and small islands to pause upon and soak in the view. Bring sunscreen, a hat, clothing that can get wet, sturdy shoes, and your binoculars for the ultimate paddling experience at Watson Lake! NOTE: this trip costs an extra $30 to participate.

Learning Gardens

Thanks to amazing cooperation between a variety of schools, non-profits, extension offices, and dedicated community members, Prescott is a vibrant hub for learning gardens. Ranging from native gardens to outdoor classrooms to food production gardens, come see some ways in which outdoor areas have been transformed into learning spaces for all ages. See a spectrum of initiatives and learn how gardens can be used as outdoor classrooms that align with learning objectives for all subjects. Contemplate the potential for your program’s own spaces and get inspired to get your hands dirty!

Natural History Institute

The Natural History Institute provides leadership and resources for a revitalized practice of natural history that integrates art, science, and humanities to promote the health and well-being of humans and the rest of the natural world. Located in downtown Prescott in a beautifully restored historic building, the Institute provides a fascinating array of educational opportunities such as in-house explorations of their thousands of preserved plants (over 9,000 in the herbarium alone!) as well as insects and birds, visual & performance art installations, and unique community field trips around the state that provide creative and engaging environmental education to participants of all ages. The Natural History Institute is dedicated to changing the way we view our evolutionary relationship with the world around us and will inspire anyone who strives to connect others to our world’s unique and irreplaceable natural wonders.

Highlands Center for Natural History

Immersed in the beautiful Prescott National Forest near Lynx Lake, the Highlands Center for Natural History is a Prescott nature center, a hub for lifelong learning, and designed to invite discovery of the wonders of nature. This field trip is lead by interpretive specialist and nature play space designer, Nikki Julien. See how the Highlands Center has worked with their landscape to create interactive spaces such as the James Family Discovery Gardens and kept the focus on inclusive & accessible design. Their programs range from Arthropalooza, to Shakespeare in the Pines, Knee-High Naturalists, naturalist certification classes, and more. Nikki will guide you through the beautiful ponderosa forests of Prescott, and help you think about your landscapes and the ways in which you can design & interpret for better engagement with learners of all ages.

Heritage Park Zoo

Summer Zoo Camp 2016 - Wallabies 5Situated on ten acres north of Prescott and overlooking the Granite Dells & Willow Lake, the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary has a wide variety of opportunities for visitors. HPZS is a non-profit wildlife sanctuary, dedicated to the conservation and protection of native and exotic animals. The sanctuary provides a source of recreation, education, and entertainment for all ages, especially with their large, naturally landscaped enclosures for the animals, interactive paths, daily programming, special events, and camps. With the mission of “Conservation through Education,” Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary provides a unique and up-close experience with animals that visitors may see nowhere else. Animals at Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary all have a story and a lesson to teach so come by and learn the story of a small sanctuary making a big difference in their community.

Embry-Riddle Planetarium

Located in the grasslands nearing Granite Mountain, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University does STEM right. Integrating science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into all their degree programs, they have recently been focused on expanding their community offerings and providing increased engagement with their STEM Center & Planetarium for all ages. Their STEM Educational Center and the Jim and Linda Lee Planetarium host field trips, community education events, and tours of the universe through year-round planetarium shows such as Tour of the Solar System and 46.5 Billion Light Years. Check out their incredible spaces and get inspired with new ways to grow the whole STEM in your environmental education program.

See you there!

For more information on the conference, including the schedule outline & registration, visit: https://www.arizonaee.org/event/2019-aaee-conference/

Environmental Education from a Taxi Cab Driver in Bermuda?

Bermuda! The British oversees island territory, home of the Rum Swizzle, Crystal Cave, several protected species such as the white-eyed Viero, the endemic Shield Fern, and where men wear high socks paired with Bermuda shorts.

What started out as merely accompanying my partner for a corporate work trip turned out to be an impactful education about the local environment.

We took a taxi cab ride from our hotel in the capital city of Hamilton to tour the famous Crystal Cave and hike Walsingham Nature Reserve, aka “Tom Moore’s Jungle”.

Bermuda Roof

Our taxi cab driver was a local named Craig. Ten minutes into the drive he pulled over on the road to show us the unique Bermuda roof that is designed to catch and purify rain water. He stopped at a trash incinerator plant to show us where non-plastic rubbish is burned and the ash used to make cement for building around the island. The plastic waste is separated out and recycled. In his strong creole slang he told us about the salt water desalination plants, and how climate change has been increasing the frequency and strength of hurricanes on the island, but that thankfully the reefs protect it somewhat.

He also pointed out the Bermuda Aquarium and Natural History Museum where we can go to learn more about sustainability efforts on the island. All of this was completely unprompted. We had no idea that getting from point A to point B would include a heartfelt discussion about the sustainability of his island home.

The EPA defines Environmental Education as having the following components:

  • Awareness and sensitivity to the environment and environmental challenges
  • Knowledge and understanding of the environment and environmental challenges
  • Attitudes of concern for the environment and motivation to improve or maintain environmental quality
  • Skills to identify and help resolve environmental challenges
  • Participation in activities that lead to the resolution of environmental challenges

By these standards, our cab ride certainly had elements of environmental education.

Shawn McCrohan

Crystal Cave

The EPA also says that environmental education does not advocate a particular viewpoint or course of action. Rather, environmental education teaches individuals how to weigh various sides of an issue through critical thinking and it enhances their own problem-solving and decision-making skills.

I sometimes wonder if these parameters are slightly at odds with the human experience of integrating our hearts and minds to create the world we want, because the attitudes we model as a society are impactful and important, and sometimes that includes advocating a particular viewpoint. Participation in activities that lead to the resolution of environmental challenges may indeed include a course of action. By these standards, whether we received environmental education from our taxi cab driver becomes more grey, as is often the case when exploring the fascinating realm of non-traditional EE.

Never the less, as part of my exploration of environmental education efforts around the world I decided to use this EPA checklist to decide if what I’m experiencing is environmental education, or environmental information.

Environmental Education

Environmental Information

Increases public awareness and knowledge of environmental issues

Provides facts or opinions about environmental issues

Does teach individuals critical-thinking

Does not necessarily teach individuals critical-thinking

Does enhance individuals’ problem-solving and decision-making skills

Does not necessarily enhance individuals’ problem-solving and decision-making skills

Does not advocate a particular viewpoint

May advocate a particular viewpoint

So, did we receive environmental education from our taxi cab driver in Bermuda? I’m not sure! But I will say it was impactful, and it made me appreciate the environmental efforts taking place on the island of Bermuda. It also got me fired up to want to help protect this beautiful landscape.

Hamilton, Bermuda

The area of non-traditional environmental education may be the next frontier for the field of EE to embrace and support.

The North American Association for Environmental Education lists the following careers as being environmental education related on their jobs and career page.

Zoos and Aquarium Educator, Park Naturalist, Architect, Environmental Engineer, Journalist, Youth Worker, Artist, Environmental Educator, Conservation Biologist, Farmer, Musician, Religious Leader, Fashion Designer, Forest Ecologist, Community Liaison,  Activist, Teacher, Director, Education Manager, Development, Volunteer Manager/Coordinator, Botanist/Horticulturalist, Journalist/Communication, Camp Staff, Consultant, Formal Educator (Professor, teacher, etc.).

I think that makes our taxi cab driver Craig a community liaison extraordinaire!

Also while in Bermuda we were able to catch up with environmental educator and interpretive guide at Cooper’s Island Reserve, Lynn Thorne. We asked her a few questions relating to environmental education in Bermuda. Here is what she shared.

Environmental educator, Lynn Thorne.

The field of environmental education(EE) encompasses many professions and interests. How do you define EE?

I would define environmental education as a constant state of awareness about our stewardship role in protecting our resources through sight, sound, taste and smell mainly accomplished by trips into the field and studies within the context of the whole.  No matter what the interest or profession in EE, collaboration and sharing information functions as the catalyst for growth and a more complete picture.

What is the most successful EE program or initiative in Bermuda?

Probably the most successful EE program here is within the schools who liaise with the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS), the Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI) and the Bermuda Zoological Society Education Department, all vested in teaching the young to care and appreciate their island environment.

What has been the biggest challenge connecting people to nature?

The biggest challenge connecting people to nature is getting them away from their electronic devices!  Fear of the unknown can be a factor too.  Also, giving up or modifying conveniences to be more eco friendly is uncomfortable and some people simply don’t want to do it.  Recycle, Reuse!

What professional development opportunities have you found to be most useful in your field of work? 

I have found the best professional development opportunities are environmental conferences like the BirdsCaribbean conferences, the World Seabird Conference and the International Sea Turtle Symposium for example.  A great way to “network learn” and share experiences in an energizing setting.

Check out this list of Bermuda flora and fauna under the protected species act: https://www.gov.bm/sites/default/files/PSA-booklet-June.pdf

Building Cross-Age Environmental Education Collaborations

Collaboration between Fountain Hills Charter School & Prescott College’s Environmental Education Certification Course Students

Middle School students from Fountain Hills Charter School (FHCS) learn about environmental education using the outdoors as their classroom.

In October, the students spent three days at Tonto Creek Camp, which is north of Payson. The students participated in multiple learning modules including the amazing race adventure challenge, the low ropes course, STEM archery, stream & pond ecology, a nocturnal hike, wilderness survival, a hike to a waterfall, and a visit to a fish hatchery.

In November, the Fountain Hills Charter School 4th-8th grade students were partnered with Ms. Ellen Bashor’s students from Prescott College who are part of AAEE’s Environmental Education Certification Course. Together the FHCS and Prescott College students visited the Desert Outdoor Center, which overlooks Lake Pleasant. They experienced hands-on learning about edible plants in the Sonoran Desert, map skills using a compass, ecology around Lake Pleasant, microscopic aquatic life, invasive species, and desert survival.

December’s field experience took the FHCS students to Prescott. They first visited Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary where they learned about endangered animals like the black-footed ferrets. Next, they visited Watson Lake where their Prescott College buddies taught them about the lake, the native plants that grow around it, and the Save the Dells movement to preserve the iconic Granite Dells landscape. Afterwards, the college students gave the FHCS middle school students a personalized tour of Prescott College. One of the most impressive places was the warehouse where the college keeps all of the equipment for their outdoor adventure classes. The building houses supplies for camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, climbing, rappelling, search & rescue, and more.

Forming the cross-age collaboration made the hands-on learning opportunities even more meaningful and impactful. FHCS and Prescott College hope to continue the collaboration and help students of all ages develop valuable skills and become knowledgeable about the amazing natural resources we have in Arizona.

 

 

Joining Together To Celebrate Conservation Efforts

On January 19th, 2019 over 30 organizations joined together for a Conservation Expo hosted by OdySea Aquarium Foundation. The event was free to attend and taught guests about the amazing things local organizations are doing to help protect animals and the environment.

The Phoenix Zoo, Heritage Park Zoological Society, Phoenix Herpetological Society, Liberty Wildlife, Arizona Humane Society, Arizona Game & Fish Department, Rattlesnake Solutions, ASU DeNardo Lab, Fallen Feathers, Scottsdale Community College’s Center for Native & Urban Wildlife, and OdySea Aquarium brought animal ambassadors for guests to learn about.

Keep Scottsdale Beautiful & Keep Phoenix Beautiful taught people about reducing, reusing, recycling, and repurposing and the Adopt-a-Road program. Arizona Wildlife Federation encouraged guests to create sustainable gardens for wildlife. STORM (Stormwater Outreach for Regional Municipalities) explained that only water should go down the storm drains.

Plastic Pollution Prevention educated guests about the harmful effects of single-use plastics on marine life and the environment. Guests signed a pledge to reduce single-use plastics and were given a free reusable straw, straw cleaner, and travel pouch.

Youth for Troops and Tempe Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution showed guests how to make plarn out of plastic bags and crochet them into mats for the homeless. The American Cancer Society showed guests how to make reusable bags from old t-shirts.

CEDO (Center for the Study of Deserts & Oceans) Intercultural Research Institute came from Tucson and Mexico to teach people about the vaquita, which is the most critically endangered marine mammal with less than 30 left in the world.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program taught people about sustainable fishing and making informed seafood choices. Blu Culinary Creations and Santa Monica Seafood made free sustainable fish tacos for guests.

Other organizations that brought information and interactive activities included: Aramark, ASU Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, Audubon Center, Butterfly Wonderland, Clean Air Make More, Event Network, North American Native Fishes Association, Project WET, Reid Park Zoo, SRPMIC CDD Environmental Protection & Natural Resources, Tonto Creek Camp, UofA’s Marine Awareness & Conservation Society (M.A.C.S.) Club, White Mountain Nature Center, and more.

Local students participated in a conservation art challenge and displayed their artwork at the Expo. Boy Scouts created the wooden organization signs from recycled pallets.

A survey showed that 99% of the guests surveyed said that they learned something new about conservation during the Expo and 98% of the guests surveyed said that they learned about organizations that they weren’t aware of before the Expo. There are so many great organizations working to protect animals and the environment. Together we can make a difference!

Higher Education Collaboration Boosts Exemplary Certified Environmental Educators in Arizona

As many of you know, the Arizona Association for Environmental Education’s (AAEE’s) environmental educator certification program has been growing for over a decade now. Beginning in 2007 & 2008 with knowledgeable and dedicated volunteers (Lisa Herrmann, Julie Gidley, Karen Schedler, and Lynn Fleming), the first pilot program ran in 2010. After the release of the program’s online platform in 2015, the number of certified environmental educators in the state grew to 40 by the end of 2016. Since then, enrollment and excitement for Environmental Educator certification has steadily increased.

 

And, so does awareness of this opportunity. Currently only 13 states offers EE certification pathways.  As a result, AAEE increasingly finds itself responding to national inquiries from other state’s looking to our program as a model template. As the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) asserts, “Professional certification ensures that individuals are fully prepared for work within a specific field of expertise. Certified environmental educators meet stringent requirements for proficiency in both the interdisciplinary content and pedagogy necessary to develop and deliver high quality, effective EE programs.”  This is exactly what AAEE’s program delivers. Here in Arizona, AAEE’s accomplishment has been drawing increased attention from higher education institutions as well.

Early in 2018, Prescott College environmental education instructor and AAEE board of directors member, Ellen Bashor, pointed to this clear opportunity for collaboration between Arizona institutions. Prescott College, a small and mighty college with the mission, “to educate students of diverse ages and backgrounds to understand, thrive in, and enhance our world community and environment,” quickly agreed to launch a pilot program. Their institutional goals clearly aligned with AAEE’s vision of, “a vibrant and ecologically sustainable future for Arizona with  a well-informed and engaged population comprised of socially and ecologically responsible institutions.” Then came the challenge: how does one unite a year-long, self-paced, online course with a semester-long, experiential, & place-based curricular framework?

With collaboration and input from AAEE board members, the certification committee, and Prescott College faculty, the Prescott College Environmental Educator Certification course was born. This course combined critical readings, field trips (comprised of observations, lectures, and service learning across the state) in-class discussion & activities, and AAEE’s certification assignments & portfolio-building online platform. Other organizations that partnered in this experience include Willow Bend Environmental Education Center, the Desert Outdoor Center, Educational Expeditions LLC, and Fountain Hills Charter School. The resulting pilot program was an enormous success. As final reviewing wraps up in January, AAEE & Prescott College aim to graduate their first class of 11 certified environmental educators from this new collaboration.

Students that enrolled in this class ranged in age from early twenties to thirties, with a spectrum of backgrounds and life experiences, and degree focuses in a variety of departments from Adventure Education, to Environmental Science, to Education, to Human Development. In their Capstone essays, many wrote of their educational journey through this pilot program. One Adventure Education student noted that this course, “reaffirmed and excited me to bring EE more into my Outdoor Education practices. Although the Outdoor Education setting lends itself well to be a part of environmental practices, many people do not take advantage of it and choose not to incorporate it full into their curriculum, instead only having some nature lessons as a side to the technical skills being taught.”

Other students spoke to a truly comprehensive learning experience. An Education and Human Development student explained that becoming an exemplary environmental educator, “takes form with the growing proficiency of environmental literacy, understanding the foundations of EE, professional responsibilities (i.e linking standards, navigating complex environmental issues through education not advocacy, staying current, and seeking out and maintaining growth-oriented relationships), planning and implementing (meeting learner needs, use of outside resources, identifying and utilizing diverse settings, and curriculum/lesson planning), fostering learning, and knowing how to use proper techniques in the field of EE for assessment and evaluation.”

In their Capstone assignments, all the students emphasized their increased understanding of, and respect for, the skills necessary to navigate complex, and sometimes controversial, environmental issues with learners of all ages and backgrounds. As one summarized: “a big lesson for me this semester was the importance of education and not advocacy.” Overall, it was truly inspiring to witness these students move through this process and both Prescott College and AAEE are proud of their expanded knowledge of, skills in, and dedication to the field of environmental education. With certified environmental educators like these heading out into the world, our future is indeed bright.

Are you interested in becoming a certified environmental educator?! Click here for to apply today!