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!


Summer Institute for Nature & Place-based Early Childhood Education

Summer Institute 2019

Join us this summer for 5 days of inspiring and hands-on professional development in beautiful Prescott, Arizona on the Prescott College campus*. Collaborate with a passionate and diverse group of ECE educators (birth-age 8) from all over the country, at the annual early childhood educator Nature & Place-Based Summer Institute.

The Summer Institute fee includes materials and resources, four nights of lodging on campus, and two to three meals a day. Enrollment is limited and a non-refundable fee of $100 is required to hold your place. As a part of the enrollment process, each participant will be asked to identify a nature- and place-based project they can develop during and after the Summer Institute with the assistance of a mentor.

This year’s Summer Institute participants will discover:

  • What nature- and place-based early childhood education is and why
    it’s such a hot topic in ECE today.
  • Ways to align their current teaching practices with the pedagogy
    of nature- and place-based learning.
  • How to plan nature- and place-based experiences for young children
    that are developmentally and culturally appropriate, inclusive, and linked to
    early learning standards.
  • Current advocacy efforts for increasing inclusive and equitable
    access by all children to nature- and place-based learning.
  • Potential community resources and partnerships for increasing
    inclusive and equitable access to natural environments for children and

Participants receive:

  • Year-long project development support from a Summer Institute Mentor
  • Valuable resources and user-friendly materials to support integrating nature and place-based activities in your own program
  • Nature and Place-based Early Childhood Education Certificate 
  • Professional development hours

Past Participant Feedback:

“This Institute exceeded my expectations! The presenters, workshop material and

community support has built a confidence and inspiration in me that I was craving so

very much when I arrived. Thank you!”


“My experience at Summer Institute went far beyond my expectations. I not only learned

lots of new activities, it made me look within to pull out my strengths and passions. An

inspiring experience!”


Sliding scale fee:

Price A** Price B Price C
$150 $325 $500

Why three prices for the same experience?

We offer a voluntary, three-tiered pricing program based on your needs:

Price A** – the lowest cost, subsidized by donors

Price B – partially sponsored by contributors

Price C – represents the actual cost of Summer Institute operations


To register online, please visit: For questions and more information, please contact our Program Coordinator, Ellen Bashor, at or 928-350-2235.

The Summer Institute is offered annually by the Prescott College Center for Nature and Place-based Early Childhood Education with the generous support of the George B. Storer Foundation.

* Several local, off-site childcare options are available. Please contact us for details.

**We believe every educator should have the opportunity to attend professional development experiences such as this one. Please contact us if you need further scholarship assistance.

Sustainability in Schools Symposium

Are you teaching your students all the critical concepts for them to create a sustainable future? 

• Discover key concepts students will need to create a sustainable future
• Meet local resources to help you
• Find funding and get more support for sustainability in your school
• Visit a school demonstration garden to understand a closed-loop food system

This is a FREE event, with a certificate of completion for 8 hours of professional development. Lunch included!

Register here:

Contact: Darcy Hitchcock at or 928-554-5171 for more information.