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.
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.
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.”.
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.
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.
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.
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.