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!


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