Posts

Meet the 2020 Excellence in EE Award Winners!

Wow! 2020 was a memorable year to say the least. Despite unprecedented local and global challenges facing our communities, Arizona environmental educators stepped up to meet the challenge. Each year the Arizona Association for Environmental Education honors the individuals and organizations that have made a significant impact on environmental education in Arizona. Although we couldn’t do the awards ceremony in person this year, we had a blast celebrating these leaders at our 2020 year-end virtual mixer. Scroll down to meet the amazing Excellence in EE Award winners of 2020, and stay tuned for more details from the nominators about what makes each of these EE organizations and individuals so exceptional!

2020 Outstanding Environmental Educator of the Year – Ellen Bashor

Ellen is the Education Director at the City of Prescott’s Community Nature Center and the Environmental Education instructor for Prescott College. In 2020, Ellen revived an underutilized piece of city open space property called the Community Nature Center Open Space Preserve and developed an intergovernmental agreement between the City of Prescott and Prescott Unified School District to provide free outdoor and environmental programming for K-6 public school students without adult care, meal, and virtual learning options available to them during the pandemic. This program was so successful that, as the district returned to in-person learning, teachers and school programs have continued this outdoor and environmental learning relationship. In less than a year, thousands of students have received services from the Community Nature Center, averaging 100-200 student visitors a week. The district and city plan to continue the partnership under the shared goal of increasing access to healthy outdoor learning and recreation for all public school students in the area.

www.prescottcommunitynaturecenter.org

2020 Outstanding Environmental Education Program – Camp Colley

The Camp Colley foundation provides wilderness experiences and environmental education for underserved Phoenix children to nurture healthy development and resilience, foster meaningful relationships, and encourage wilderness exploration. Since its inception in 2005, the nonprofit Camp Colley Foundation has focused on funding camper scholarships and investing in facilities at their City of Phoenix owned camp in the Coconino National Forest. Camp Colley. Despite major pandemic setbacks deterring their opening of the summer camp, the Foundation quickly pivoted to virtual environmental education programming as an alternative to reach kids while keeping them and their families safe. The result was the Camp Colley Foundation’s free Virtual Environmental Learning Program which consisted of nine online activity sheets and accompanying videos which guided children and families to have fun, learn, and connect with nature right from their own home.

www.campcolley.org

2020 Outstanding Business Committed to Environmental Education – Desert Awareness Committee of Foothills Community Foundation

The Desert Awareness Committee is an organization under the 501c3 non-profit Foothills Community Foundation serving the North Phoenix communities of Scottsdale, Carefree, Cave Creek, and Wickenburg. Their environmental education activities include those for children and adults, schools and scouts, private organizations associated with homeowners groups, live-in care facilities, and more! Since 2004 the Desert Awareness Committee has been presenting our highly acclaimed free environmental program to all fourth graders in the schools of the Cave Creek School District as well as local charter and private schools and youth programs. Their members have also written 3 books, “The Fragile Desert”, “Chloe and the Desert Heroes”, and “Our Tastes of the Desert”. Due to the pandemic restrictions, their members were unable to bring classes to the park so they innovated and created a virtual tour of the park to be used in online instructions. This video will continue to be used by Cave Creeks students in 2021 in service to their mission of “educating all ages about the Sonoran Desert.”.

www.hollandcenter.org/programs/desert-awareness-committee

2020 Young Environmental Education Professional – Erin Scott

Erin Scott has been working as the unofficial program coordinator for the Whetstone Prison Project (WPP) for nearly 3 years. She took over the bare-bones program in 2017 as a full-time art student and at the time, the program had just begun a garden at the Whetstone prison unit in Tucson, AZ. Erin has grown the program considerably, creating & teaching her own lesson plans and forging connections community organizations to bring in further expertise. In February 2020, Erin wrote and was awarded an $84k grant to support this project. Since then, WPP has expanded from a simple garden at the prison to a full workshop for the inmates; and this project now has University support with Erin as a paid program coordinator, another graduate assistant, and a four-credit course with a dozen interns. Erin’s next step is to roll the WPP into a non-profit organization and to expand this amazing opportunity to inmates in other prison units.

www.instagram.com/whetstonepp

2020 Outstanding School Committed to Environmental Education – Tucson Unified School District’s School Garden Network

TUSD’s School Garden Network delivers high quality environmental education programming to a diverse community of K-12 students, University of Arizona (UA) students, parents, and K-12 educators. TUSD serves an 80% non-white student population with 70% of students qualifying for Federal Free and Reduced Lunch. Over the 2019-2020 School Year TUSD SGN delivered broad reaching environmental education programming in collaboration with University of Arizona Community and School Garden Program. Before pandemic closures, the Network hosted a STEM EE Conference with 40 participants and 30 K-12 teacher trainings and a Green Academy Workshop Series impacting 91 educators and reaching 3,000+ students,. Quickly adapting to pandemic restrictions, the Garden Network took action to reduce the social and academic impacts of the pandemic on TUSD students. To do this, they distributed 50 computers to in-need TUSD families, provided K-12 distance environmental education and virtual teacher support, and coordinated groups of UA students to restore gardens in preparation for the return to in-person learning in 2021.

www.schoolgardens.arizona.edu

2020 Outstanding Inclusion Programming in Environmental Education – Ironwood Tree Experience

Ironwood Tree Experience, led by Suzy and Eric Dhruv, is  an organization has been committed to the diversity of its board of directors, staff, and participants since its inception. Through it’s 15 years as an organization it has only increased this commitment and has become even more focused and conscious of efforts to become inclusive. Especially important is the opportunities and encouragement that ITE provides for youth participants to engage in their community as leaders. Just as one example of this commitment is ITE’s Youth Action Corps (YAC), where teens are encouraged to embrace their love of nature, people, and community by engaging in activities, initiatives, internships, and programs through Conservation & Restoration, Environmental Education, and Sustainable Community Development! In 2020, ITE continued to provide a virtual and safe space and guidance for a diverse and inclusive community to grow in supporting youth leadership in the Tucson area.

www.ironwoodtreeexperience.org

2020 Lifetime Achievement in Environmental Education – David Pijawka

After 37 years at Arizona State University professor David Pijawka stands out for his commitment, leadership, and impact in delivering environmental education for university students, the Arizona community, and the academic profession. This year he retired as Professor Emeritus after mentoring around 35 doctoral students to complete their PhDs and many Masters students through their theses or Applied Projects mostly on environmental topics found in Urban Planning and Sustainability. This outstanding commitment to environmental education does not stop with student mentoring but includes over sixteen national awards given to his graduate students for their achievements in environmental research and service to the profession. Teaching in two disciplines, Urban Planning and Sustainability, he is known for introducing interdisciplinary environmental education to students, developing education programs, and providing the latest and pressing information on issues related to environmental justice, hazards and resiliency, socio- ecological modeling, as well as urban sustainability planning and global needs.

www,sgsup.asu.edu/david-pijawka

Whose story do we tell?

Today’s conversation is with Melanie Rawlins from Interpretive Services at Tumacacori National Historical Park. She was interviewed by Kathe Sudano on May 8, 2020.

What are the ways the world is changing regarding environmental and natural history?  Why are we hearing so much about diversity and inclusion?  Why is that conversation necessary in the history of a century old mission in an area that sheltered and supported the Southwest’s Native people such as O’odham, Apache and Yaqui/Yoeme?

Tumacacori National Historical Park has a multitude of cultural influences that span centuries covering the colonial period of American history. The park is in the Santa Cruz River Valley in the region of what is now southern Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico.  Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino (a Jesuit missionary from Italy) arrived in 1691 to set up a system of missions and smaller communities.

When interviewed for a survey as part of an AZ Master Naturalist /Arizona Association for Environmental Education research project to better understand underrepresented audiences in natural and cultural history programs earlier this year, Melanie Rawlins, NPS Park Interpreter, stated that the park’s most meaningful success in improving their diversity and inclusivity efforts came out of a very informal network that was in the works for several years.  Several agencies were asked to fulfill the commitment to send home Native remains and artifacts discovered accidentally in the building of a Tucson roadway.

 

Rawlins and other NPS team members developed respectful and even affectionate relationships with tribal leaders through the process.

A bond was formed born of respect and the joint effort to honor the deceased.  “If you make friends, they will show up,”  Rawlins stated. The park nurtured and fed the relationship and, as any decent interpreter would, asked how are we doing telling the story? What was missing?  

The NPS park staff had over two hundred webpages with about one third devoted to individual priests.  It felt a bit ‘lopsided’ per Rawlins as there were clearly stories not being told.  Using a searchable database containing individual, handwritten mission records and diaries that are still being translated called Mission 2000, more of the contributions to the community from underrepresented individuals are being revealed.   People who might not have been educated or able to write themselves are still part of the story thanks to the efforts of staff and volunteers that link families and events together using baptismal, burial or marriage ceremony records. Efforts are still underway to recruit volunteer translators to comb through the collection.  

The park website also has activities to encourage students to think in a critical way about how the early residents may have been portrayed.  The relationship between the Native Americans of the area and the Spanish, Christianized natives, and mestizos was a relatively peaceful one. Native Americans were encouraged to learn a trade, worship in the church, and become baptized.  The balance of power had shifted and per the Tumacacori records, discontent among some of the native people led to a well-organized revolt in 1751. 

Tumacacori has been working to make all aspects of their interpretation more inclusive of the indigenous story. They created an event to celebrate the O’odham culture, and one to celebrate the Yaqui/Yoeme culture.  There is a recently completed park video, in which the O’odham are the base of the story, rather than the Spanish. The park has revised the self-guided tour, working to keep the O’odham residents in view at all times. Piece by piece, Tumacacori NPS is trying to place the indigenous residents in the forefront.

Lesson plans available on the Tumacacori website for teachers ask students,  “how can a word choice influence perspective?  How do the reports and letters of the Pima Uprising of 1751 use connotative and denotative meanings to portray the events?”  By “providing various answers to questions, students have an opportunity to investigate some of the possible causes of the rebellion.”

Are you interested in journeying into the past?  Tumacacori National Historical Park is always interested in volunteers that help to connect the pieces of each person’s history.  In this way, the park is striving to tell everyone’s story.   

 

  

 

 

Meet the Board of Directors!

WOW! None of us expected to start the year in a pandemic, but here we are. Navigating the challenges and changes of 2020 has been difficult for all of us. That is why we are so grateful to have a team of amazing professional Environmental Educators leading this organization–Educators who, like you, are dedicated to collaboration, innovation, and justice in our field.

We want YOU to get to know US!

President, Interim Executive Director, and Professional Development Committee Co-Chair: LoriAnne Barnett

Why is EE important to you?  EE is critical to helping people understand our interconnectivity and the impact of our choices!

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors?  I wanted to join the board to help me become a better leader and learn from other great leaders in the field.

Board of Directors and Marketing and Membership Committee Chair: Ellen Bashor

Why is EE important to you? EE is important to me because I believe so whole-heartedly that it is our best chance for protecting and restoring the well-being of human and ecological communities, as well as reviving the dignity & justice that belongs to all living beings and systems. EE is important to me because it gives me hope.

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors? I wanted to join the board because I see this organization & team of leaders as a vehicle for the change our world so desperately needs. The hope, energy, and dedication of the EE community has given me so much inspiration & guidance in my life; I believe it is my heart’s work & duty to give that in return.

Board of Directors, Treasurer, and Resources Working Group Chair: Lisa Ristuccia

Why is EE important to you? EE is important to me because it connects us to nature, ourselves, and others in a meaningful way.

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors? I wanted to join the AAEE board to connect with people who have a common passion & interest so that, together, we can make meaningful, positive change.

Board of Directors, Secretary, and Certification Committee Chair: Staci Grady

Why is EE important to you? EE restores a lost connection to our place in ecology and heals our relationship with all parts of the world around us.

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors? Serving on the board gives me an opportunity to participate actively in a passion and a fundamental belief in the role humans should play in the world.

Board of Directors and Early Childhood Environmental Education Working Group Chair: Diona Williams

Why is EE important to you? In the last 18 years I have witnessed first hand as an Early Childhood Education professional the decrease of outdoor play with young children. I have witnessed first hand the effects of young children being indoors and the increased fear of what will happen if they go outside. There’s an increase in certain behaviors, lack of self-awareness with children & parents, an increase in obesity & sensory processing issues (touch, taste, etc.) too. EE is important to me because I know the work I am doing will have an impact on a larger scale, therefore it can change the lives of young children & adults. EE also helps me push past my own boundaries.

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors? I wanted to join the board to increase EE within in the Early Childhood Education community, gain more leadership skills, learn more about EE, and connect with more of the EE network system.

Board of Directors and Professional Development Committee Co-Chair: Bret Muter

Why is EE important to you?  EE is important because our future, our children’s future, and our quality of life depends on it. EE helps us develop a sense of place and connect with our community in a meaningful and life-changing way.

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors? I wanted to join the board to connect and work with inspiring EE leaders around the state and to help advance the EE field in Arizona.

 

Board of Directors: Jessie Rack

Why is EE important to you? EE is important to me because it can: restore the lost connection between humans and their environment, create environmental stewards, and engage people of all ages to invest in nature & conservation issues.

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors? I wanted to join the board to be on the forefront of EE in Arizona. I want to help build a community of engaged, effective educators that can change and deepen education in Arizona.

 

 

Board of Directors: Josh Hoskinson

 Why is EE important to you? EE is one of the best ways to enact social change. EE is the best way to stay connected to our environment.

Why did you want to join the AAEE Board of Directors? I wanted to join the board to develop meaningful connections with other folks in EE, help provide/gain access to PD opportunities in EE to stay current in my field, and improve EE in Arizona.

 

 

 

Are YOU interested in joining our Board of Directors? Email president@arizonaee.org for more information.

EE Organizations in the Pandemic

by Kelly Jay Smith, University of Arizona

In the wake of pandemic many Environmental Education (EE) organizations across Arizona and the nation have been experiencing major setbacks.

In an attempt to measure the effects of the pandemic on the EE field, the Lawrence Hall of Science – part of the University of California Berkeley, surveyed nearly 1,000 EE organizations. They found the 63% percent of EE & outdoor science organizations are not if they will be able to open again if pandemic restrictions and impacts last until the end of the year.

You can read the full policy briefing from this study at:

The Impact of COVID-19 on Environmental Education and Outdoor Science Education

However, with science museums, residential programs, and other formal/informal environmental & science education institutions not able to engage the public in the usual face-to-face programs throughout the pandemic, new ways of engaging the public in a safe way have been coming to the forefront.  The Lawerence Hall of Science has attempted to be a part of this solution.  Lawerence Hall of Science, the developer of the Amplify Science, FOSS, and SEPUP science curriculums, has coordinated with the publishers of these curriculums to make sure environmental & science learning can continue at home.  This includes providing access to digital simulations, video lessons, allowing unregistered user access to websites, and much more.  You can learn more about what they are offering by following the link below.

https://www.lawrencehallofscience.org/about/newsroom/in_the_news/learning-at-home

This same type of innovation can be found here close to home in Arizona, as well.  The Cooper Center for Environmental Learning has created Camp Cooper Online – a free video series for K-5 students.  These videos created by the educators at the Cooper Center have created activities that can be done at home while viewing the videos.  More information about what the Cooper Center is doing can be found in the link below.      

https://coopercenter.arizona.edu/

Environmental Education has always been about exploring the world around us.  During this unprecedented time in our history, using innovative ways to bring both science and environmental education into the home is more important than ever.

Community Science in Conservation

by Annia Quiroz of Central Arizona Conservation Alliance

What is public participation in scientific research (PPSR)? PPSR is more commonly known as community science aka citizen science. These are initiatives where the public is involved in one or more phases of scientific research from defining questions to using results. A few years ago organizations began recognizing the limitations of the word “citizen”. The word citizen in citizen science was originally intended to distinguish amateur data collectors from professional scientists, not to describe the citizenship status of the volunteers. No matter where a volunteer was born their contribution to science and conservation programs is valued. 

Not only this, but the term community science also means we must expand how we think about the process of community science. It involves local knowledge, collective action and empowerment. By creating an even more collaborative process, bringing in the community scientists to participate in the decision making, communities are drawing closer to better conservation and livelihood outcomes, that are in synergy with local ecosystem-based management trends.

One common question asked by participating volunteers is, “what are the impacts out work has and how is the data collected used”? This is a great question.

Community science can have many uses and impacts. Some examples are: 

  1. Development of plans (ie. safety, management, restoration)
  2. Community resiliency and preparedness
  3. Policy
  4. Floristic inventories and herbarium collections
  5. Further research and research questions
  6. Community scientists as ambassadors!

It needs to be said that this isn’t an all-inclusive list and one we are still learning about. Touching on number 6, community science is critically important as the need for community input in scientific processes and policy development are ever more clear. While the contribution of data for specific projects is very valuable to scientific research, we cannot understate the importance of the community scientists themselves. 

Not only do they gathering data and participate in the scientific process but, through this participation, their passion and experiences they become ambassadors and champions of the work. They play a critical role in sharing important messages of conservation, or whatever the project entails. 

There are many different ways to get involved in community science projects. For example, two initiatives the Central Arizona Conservation Alliance is helping lead:

  1. The Metro Phoenix EcoFlora project

The EcoFlora project is a community science project using iNaturalist to learn more about the biodiversity of Metro Phoenix. Urban ecosystems are understudied, and plants are especially overlooked. Every month you can also join a new EcoQuest; hide-and-seek games for urban biodiversity, seeking certain plants or plant interactions. Their results provide information for research, such as pollinator counts, invasive species mapping, or wildlife habitat.

  1. Desert Defenders  

Desert Defenders is a community science program focused on finding, mapping and removing invasive species at local parks, preserves and natural areas. Invasive species are one of the biggest threats to healthy ecosystems. The data collected through the tireless work of our Defenders is crucial for park staff and land managers to protect the desert parks we all love.

More community science links:

https://cazca.org/project/desert-defenders/

https://cazca.org/project/metro-phoenix-ecoflora/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1462901119300942

https://gsmit.org/why-we-are-changing-citizen-science-to-community-science/

Arizon-Wha?!

ARIZON-WHA?! 

We’re starting a new column! Stay tuned for funky new mystery species with every newsletter.

Can you identify this ferocious-looking critter? 

Clue: They are found underground around Arizona in early September. 

Take a guess, then scroll to the bottom of this newsletter for the answer! (or however you want to do it)

Photo by Jessie Rack

Answer to this issue’s ARIZON-WHA?! Photo challenge:

If you guessed beetle grub, congratulations! Since it’s a white grub, we can identify this big chunk as belonging to the scarab beetle family, Scarabaeidae. Due to its size and the location where it was found, it’s pretty likely that this one is a baby Western Hercules Beetle, Dynastes grantii. Larvae of this species can spend 2-3 years as a crazy-looking underground monster like our friend up above, but once they’ve developed into adults they only live for 2-4 months. As grubs, they eat decaying plant material (that makes them decomposers, y’all!) but as adults they feed on tree sap by making a small wound in the tree (this doesn’t hurt the tree). I’ll give you a dollar if you eat it. 

Have you seen weird nature stuff around Arizona? Submit your photos to membership@arizonaee.org for the chance to have them published in a future edition of ARIZON-WHA?!

 

Jessie Rack is a Board Member at AAEE. She received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut in the spring of 2016. She is currently the Program Coordinator of the Supporting Environmental Education and Communities (SEEC) Program, an offshoot of the Community and School Garden Program at the University of Arizona.

Urban School Gardens: A Nature Niche

by Jessie Rack

The world’s intrinsic beauty and complexity is a never-ending source of inspiration for educators. And we’ve all seen the results of being outside on our students, no matter what age — immersion in nature invites focus, observation, and simple noticing. Students with behavior or attention issues are sometimes stabilized in an outdoor environment. The smallest insect or rock becomes a fascination, and questions bloom without effort. 

As environmental educators, we don’t need to be told about the benefits of taking our students outside. In the last two decades, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of studies on outdoor education, with authors citing results like better grades, higher test scores, and improvements in focusing attention and regulating behavior. But for those of us who, like more than 80% of the US population live in urban areas, helping our students reap the benefits of the outdoors is sometimes more complicated than simply taking them outside of the school. So how do we give urban children the experience and benefits of playing and learning outside? One way to do it is through school gardens. 

This approach works because school gardens occupy something of an in-between space: they are not quite the structured, rule-bound, indoor world of the classroom, and yet also not the unstructured freedom of the open desert, or the forest, or even the playground. And yet they encompass aspects of all of those spaces. Gardens are a place in which collaboration and communication happen naturally, in which rules are still followed, but in which students can learn from experience and from others, and can literally get their hands dirty, while their teachers can still achieve their curricular objectives and meet state and national standards.

There has also been a lot of research about the benefits of school gardens specifically – it’s been something of a hot topic for the past couple of decades. Research is ongoing, but it seems that school gardens can affect students in a variety of ways. These range from the most obvious areas of healthy eating, nutrition, and science to more subtle impacts such as positive social and emotional skills, group collaboration, and even increased environmental stewardship. 

With all of this in mind, stay tuned for a series of AAEE newsletter articles about school gardens. In future editions, I will be sharing some tips for starting and maintaining school gardens, and for using these gardens to fill the nature niche that many urban schools lack. My position, with the University of Arizona’s Community and School Garden Program, is unique; I run the Supporting Environmental Education and Communities Program, in which I work directly with students at Title I schools, providing weekly environmental education lessons to students at these low-resource urban schools in Tucson. I also work with my colleagues to install school gardens at schools around Tucson and to help train teachers to take care of the gardens and to use gardens in their curricula, using the gardens and outdoor spaces at the schools as living laboratories to get students outside and immersed in nature. No matter the age group or ability level, school gardens are an effective tool for engaging students, for improving focus and achievement, and for getting kids excited about their environment. And, of course, for getting a little dirty.

 

Jessie is a Board Member at AAEE. She received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut in the spring of 2016. She is currently the Program Coordinator of the Supporting Environmental Education and Communities (SEEC) Program, an offshoot of the Community and School Garden Program at the University of Arizona.

Interview with an Environmental Educator: Joining Together

As a community, we can do better by joining forces. Collectively we can empower larger audiences and, I believe, shift the trajectory of our planet’s future.”

Elise Dillingham: Program Coordinator, Desert Research Learning Center

What is your professional role and how does Environmental Education help you do that work? 

My professional role is the Program Coordinator of the National Park Service’s Desert Research Learning Center (DRLC). The DRLC is home to a diverse team of scientists that oversee the inventory and monitoring of natural resources at Sonoran Desert national parks (11 total). In addition to conducting research, DRLC staff utilize environmental education to promote the scientific understanding, protection, and conservation of Sonoran Desert national parks. Environmental education enables us to share the marvel of the Sonoran Desert, facilitate science communication, and inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. 

Who is your primary audience in your work and what outreach do you offer that audience? 

The DRLC’s primary audience is high school and college students ranging in age from 14-22.  We provide internships, citizen science and volunteer opportunities, and programs for student groups.

Why is Environmental Education important to the work that you do?

Environmental education is important to our work because it enables engagement of diverse audiences outside traditional land management realms. It elevates the visibility of science in the National Park Service and increases awareness of conservation issues facing national parks. At the DRLC, environmental education enables scientists to reach broad audiences beyond our peers, which builds support for science and reinforces its relevance.

What are your entry points for engaging your audiences in Environmental Education, Environmental Studies, science, etc.?

Sonoran Desert flora and fauna that exist in urban settings are an entry point for environmental education. We often use these familiar and seemingly mundane species to open doors into the wondrous natural history and ecology of the Sonoran Desert.

 

Who do you consider underrepresented audiences and what are the challenges you face in reaching them?

Students with disabilities are one underrepresented audience that we have actively been trying to reach. Accessibility in outdoor settings is one challenge that we must overcome when engaging with this audience. To help overcome this, we offer programs designed for people with disabilities and have increased wheelchair-accessible activities and amenities at the DRLC. 

How can we all do better?

I believe the strength of the EE community lies in the knowledge of educators, the curiosity of students, and the passion of both. These attributes foster critical thinking and innovation, which are desperately needed to combat our planet’s climate emergency. As a community, we can do better by joining forces. Collectively we can empower larger audiences and, I believe, shift the trajectory of our planet’s future. The more we collaborate and play off each other’s strengths, the better.

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!

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/

Events

Nothing Found

Sorry, no posts matched your criteria