By: Maggie McIntyre
Riverlink is an Asheville-based organization that promotes the environmental and economic vitality of the French Broad River and is an organizational member of EENC. Their environmental education initiatives include summer day camps, an annual art and poetry contest that commemorates young people’s appreciation for the river, and their RiverRATS program that offers free lessons for students both in the classroom and outdoors at various field sites.
Riverlink was founded in the mid-1980s as an effort to have visitors stay longer in Asheville. The city wanted the river area to attract tourists and was incredibly successful in doing so. Now, Asheville hosts an estimated 10 million visitors per year, and the river and its surrounding parks remain an important part of Asheville.
The organization not only focuses on environmental education, but also conservation and watershed resources to keep the river and watershed healthy and safe. All three of these missions relate to each other and it is very effective as a three-pronged approach.
“It’s a challenge to balance all three, especially with a small staff, but we have some really excellent people that are wonderful at what they do that make it possible,” said Justin Young, Riverlink’s Education and Outreach Manager.
Young has worked with Riverlink for 7 years to develop different education programs to help create the next generation of environmental stewards. He originally got into environmental education after working with a professor in college to conduct education-based events. He found himself at Riverlink as an Americorps volunteer a few years later before becoming a full-time employee of the organization.
“Education is kind of where it all begins,” he said. “We are hopefully allowing them to begin this journey down the path of becoming a full-time environmental steward, whether that’s in their personal life, or moving into a professional realm.”
Young said that although all of their programming is important and fulfilling, their RiverRATS program is the one he is most proud of. RiverRATS works with 3,000 students annually, primarily children of color and children in low-income communities to encourage them to engage with the outdoors and learn more about the surrounding watershed. This program is structured into lessons that range from 45 minutes to 2 hours and can be conducted both in classrooms or at field sites.
Each lesson has a focus to get kids thinking like stream ecologists and river stewards. For example, they have a lesson on macroinvertebrates that gets kids searching in the water for critters and learning about their importance in river ecosystems. Young said that many of the kids who are a little wary at first about getting in the water and picking up these macroinvertebrates are the same kids who don’t want to get out of the water come the end of the lesson.
Their summer camps are another way that Riverlink accomplishes the environmental education work they have set out to do. With these camps, kids are able to explore the French Broad and surrounding watershed through rafting, paddling, tubing, hiking, etc. Young said that he sees kids return year after year to their camps saying it was an amazing experience for them.
Young also said that the poetry and art contest they hold annually is a great way to showcase local appreciation for the river. Students are able to submit poetry, prose, 2D and 3D art, or video compositions to reflect on the French Broad River watershed.
Riverlink is always looking to expand and improve the work that they do within the French Broad River watershed. Young said that they are hoping to expand their RiverRATS program to have an afterschool component for students which will involve adjusting their curriculum to a more appreciational and experimental approach.
Young said that it is important for Riverlink to encourage a more diverse community within their field, which they have initiated by focusing RiverRATS on reaching low-income and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People Of Color) communities. He said that although this program is accomplishing so much, it is important for environmental educators to build resources for these communities.
“Preserving these spaces is a collaborative effort. We need everyone to feel connected, to feel accepted within these spaces,” Young said. “ Otherwise, we are going to have a really hard time ensuring that they stay healthy for future generations.”
Riverlink is also hoping to become a national model of how local groups can work to conserve, protect, and connect their community with their local water resources. Young said they are hoping to refine everything they do to make it transferable to other areas.
“This three-pronged approach that we’re using has a lot of potential to be useful in other communities,” he said.
The work that Young does with kids has an incredible impact not only on each individual student, but also on the French Broad River watershed, and North Carolina as a whole. Young said that as kids keep coming back to camps, or keep participating in the RiverRATS programs, he is able to see firsthand that they are learning and growing which leads them one step closer to becoming lifelong environmental stewards.
Photo Credits: Riverlink
Maggie McIntyre is a first-year environmental studies student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was born and raised in Greensboro, NC with a passion for learning and being in the great outdoors.
In 2020, the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance (SEEA) launched a regional Landscape Analysis to identify gaps and barriers to access in environmental education. This analysis confirmed what many of us working in environmental education already know: there are inequities in pay and benefits. We found that the average entry-level salary for environmental educators is 15-25% lower than in comparable fields (Stakeholder Report).
To address this, SEEA is gathering a team to develop an eeGuidance for Equitable Hiring. This white paper will provide concrete tools and suggestions for designing and posting positions, serve as a tool for individuals and organizations to advocate for increasing EE salaries, and help establish industry standards for pay and hiring. Once released, we hope this document will help improve employee retention, attract and sustain more diverse talent, establish our field as a viable profession, and ultimately make environmental education more equitable.
Want to be a part of this? Will you help us make this happen?
There are three main ways to be a part of this project. They are listed below from lowest to highest levels of commitment.
Join the Advisory Team. We hope to identify 30-50 people to serve as advisors on this project. This group will ideally represent the depth and breadth of our field from across the region and hold a variety of identities. Advisors do not have to be currently based in the SEEA Affiliate states nor be currently working in environmental education, but ideally have experience in at least one of these and are passionate about this topic. We anticipate the total commitment of this role to be 3-5 hours in total. We ask advisors to:
Join the Writing Team. A small 5-7 person volunteer writing team will compile the feedback and ideas from the Google Form and Advisory team to draft the document. The writing team members do not need grammatical expertise but must be skilled in crafting written communications that can be understood by a variety of stakeholders within and outside of environmental education. Writing team members must be able to attend the bulk of the meetings outlined below and should be excited about bringing this project to life. We anticipate the total volunteer commitment for this role to be 12-15 hours. We ask writers to:
attend 6 1-hour meetings every other week via Zoom at a mutually determined time approximately from August through September
work between meetings through Google docs and email
read provided resources and do additional research as needed
Meet 1-3 times in late October-November to revise the document based on feedback
If you are interested in being a part of the advisory team or the writing team, please complete this Google Form to let us know.
If you have any questions about this project, its goals, or the volunteer roles - or if you would like to submit any information or interest in a format outside of Google Forms - please contact Lauren Pyle.
This month, EENC has started to collect more detailed information regarding the demographics of our members and participants in an effort to better include and serve those in our community.
EENC was one of eight states who collaborated with the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance (SEEA) in 2021 to identify gaps and barriers to access in environmental education in the region, and locally in the state, through the Landscape Analysis. Through this, we looked at who was being served by environmental education. The responses suggested that 35% of EE student audiences are black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) - but only 37 of the 122 EE providers in North Carolina shared this information. And the response rate wasn’t much better for staffing and leadership. .
This indicates that many EE providers do not collect demographic data on their participants or their staff. EENC believes environmental education and resources should be accessible to all communities, and we can’t know if we are successful as a field without this type of information. We recognize collecting this information can be hard for EE providers, simply because best practices indicate that this information should be self-reported, and that can be challenging to navigate when we consider staff comfortability with sharing that information, perceived political challenges, student trust, obtaining parental consent to collect data from minors, and available time during a program day.
And providers aren’t alone! These realizations made EENC reflect on the information we collect as well. If you’ve attended an EENC workshop in the past, you’ve probably seen the demographic questions we ask in our final evaluations. EENC collects this data as a progress marker to assess how we are meeting our mission, vision, and strategic goals and we analyze the results annually. After reflecting on our processes, we realized that even with this strategy, we were still missing large sections of our network - from members who might not attend events, to online webinar participants who often don’t fill out evaluations, to repeat participants who only filled the information out the first time. This is why we’re changing our systems and providing an opportunity for self-reported demographic data through our program registrations and membership profile pages.
The first rollout of this self-reporting data collection will be seen in our program registration for workshops, CommunitEEs, and online courses. It is also included in the registration information for the 2022 Annual Conference. Toward the end of July, the demographic questionnaire will be included in all membership renewals as well, but if you have renewed your membership before then you can log in to your EENC account and update your information anytime through your profile.
EENC plans to provide more learning resources over the next year on how to best collect demographic data to support our community and help EE providers learn more about the communities they serve. We are taking these first small steps to get a better picture of our community of EE practitioners. Together, let’s make #EEforAll.
Attention all education stakeholders! This is your chance to help shape the curriculum standards that are taught in North Carolina’s public schools. Our state has its own Standard Course of Study for each subject that is reviewed periodically. Currently, the NC K-12 Science Standards are up for review.
Here’s how the process works:
First, the Department of Public Instruction will collect feedback from a variety of education stakeholders, including classroom teachers, non-formal educators, institutes of higher education, parents, community members, and more! This is happening now through July 1 through this survey.
A data review committee will then review the responses to the survey, research, state and federal legislative requirements, and more to generate a list of recommended changes to the current standards.
Then, a writing team will draft the updated standards, solicit additional feedback, and then present a final revised draft of the standards to the State Board of Education. The application deadline to be on the writing team is 11:59 PM June 13th.
Once approved, these new standards will be distributed to the local districts and charter schools and implemented in teaching across the state. These new standards will influence everything from the content students learn in the classroom, to end-of-year assessments, to which field trips and outside experts teachers will use to help enhance their instruction.
Environmental education is a learning process that increases people's knowledge and awareness about the environment and associated challenges, develops the necessary skills and expertise to address the challenges and fosters attitudes, motivations, and commitments to make informed decisions and take responsible action. Research demonstrates that environmental education has numerous benefits for students from improving academic performance to reducing discipline and classroom management issues and enhancing critical thinking skills and oral communication. Adults and children require knowledge, tools, and sensitivity to successfully address and solve environmental problems in their daily lives, and now more than ever people need to know how ecological systems work and what their role is in these systems.
“To be effective, education for environmental literacy needs to be integrated throughout the PreK-12 curriculum in North Carolina’s classrooms and include connected, sustained opportunities for students to participate in direct outdoor learning experiences and classroom activities that increase awareness of environmental topics and content knowledge." (NC Environmental Literacy Plan). As environmental educators, this revision process will impact almost everything we do with K-12 school audiences.
As educators, you have in-depth experience with these standards and so much content-related expertise. If you work with K-12 students in any capacity, please help ensure that environmental education is a strong part of our state’s science curriculum!
During the last Science Standard Course of Study revision in 2010, many elements of environmental literacy were incorporated into the standards. We need your help to make sure they stay there! Each individual response to this survey will be counted and reviewed, so EENC needs your help to ensure we have hundreds of voices advocating for environmental education to be explicitly incorporated into these standards.
My name is Dana Miller and I am the Education Coordinator for Haywood County Soil and Water Conservation District. Before taking this position 3 years ago, I taught middle and high school science in public schools. Being an environmental educator has brought so much meaning to my life. I came to this profession as a lover of science; I wanted to share that love with others. But I have stayed in this profession because of the immense fulfillment I experience working with students. After almost ten years of being an environmental educator, being a part of EENC was the first time I felt like I had found my "tribe", so to speak. Not only is our membership incredibly talented, they are also extremely passionate. The professional growth opportunities EENC offers is only one reason I love this organization. Another reason is the connections I build with other educators. There is a rich network of resources, including people, that strengthen the work of environmental education in our state- a network that many folks are not aware of. Making those connections and growing this field is why I love EENC!
EENC believes environmental education and resources should be accessible to all communities. This spring, EENC is thrilled to announce two new resources to help you to better serve diverse populations, specifically those with learning differences, physical accessibility needs, and language barriers.
The Environmental Educators of North Carolina (EENC) and the Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (AEOE) in California have teamed up with Silver’s Lining PLLC and additional content experts to develop a new “Universal Design for Learning in Environmental Education” online course. This course will encourage educators to reflect deeply on their practice, focusing on how they plan and teach - not just what they teach.
Universal Design for Learning, or UDL, improves and optimizes teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn. It is a framework to guide the design of learning environments that are accessible and challenging for all, rather than making modifications for individual students’ needs. Ultimately, the goal of UDL is to support learners to become “expert learners” who are, each in their own way, purposeful and motivated, resourceful and knowledgeable, and strategic and goal-driven. While there are a number of trainings and resources about UDL in the classroom, this course focuses on how UDL shows up in environmental and outdoor education settings.
Here’s what some of our pilot participants had to say:
Our first public cohort will open July 1, 2022 - so stay tuned for registration info coming soon!
Excited to learn more now on your own? Check our toolkit. This curated collection of resources includes articles, videos, and more from experts on Universal Design for Learning, inclusive online programming, and more.
Congratulations to the 10 educators of this year’s mini-grant! This Earth Day, EENC is thrilled to announce that we're helping 10 EENC Members from across our state in the fourth year of our mini-grant program. With EENC's support, they will create and enhance programming, purchase much-needed supplies, and collaborate with partners to support black, indigenous, and people of color participating in EE.
Congratulations to the 2022 mini-grant awardees:
Marissa Blackburn with Cape Fear River Watch, “Improving Environmental Education Videos at Cape Fear River Watch”
Tori Duval with the Friends of the WNC Nature Center, “Senior and Veteran Outreach Education Program”
Meredith Katz with Kannapolis City Schools, “Subpod Composting “
Kayla Mounce McCoy with Wilkes Soil & Water Conservation District, “The Incredible Journey Water Cycle Lesson“
Katy Menne with NC Maritime Museum at Southport, “Hurricane Discovery Cart”
Tallis Monteiro with Asheville Greenworks, “Urban Orchard Educational Workday”
Joanna Orozco with The North Carolina Arboretum, “Funding for Latina/o Communities”
Renee Pagoota-Wight with Catawba County Schools, “Greenhouse Ready”
Trent Stanforth with Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center, “Pollinator Program Rejuvenation”
Mir Youngquist-Thurow with ACE Education, “Water Quality Chemical Resupply
Our grant recipients will be working on projects now through December 1. We'll share photos and stories as they finish. Stay tuned to see how these EENC members promote excellence in environmental education!
Muddy Sneakers, one of the many organizational members of Environmental Educators of North Carolina, promotes outdoor education for fifth grade students in the state of North Carolina.
They believe that learning through engaging with nature is the best way for students to develop a sense of place and identity connected to the environment. Connecting to the land and the place they live is also important as students learn how to become invested members of their communities.
The organization was founded in 2007 by two local camp owners and a conservationist near Brevard, NC. After reading the book “Last Child in the Woods”, they wanted to connect local kids in public schools with nature so that they too could have formative childhood outdoor experiences.
Nikki Jones, the Western North Carolina Program Director at Muddy Sneakers, along with other Muddy Sneakers staff members, works with students to instill a strong sense of self in these kids through experiential learning outdoors.
“The ways that nature becomes a part of their identity is really key for developing the next generation of land stewards,” she said.
Jones was born into the environmental education field, as she had park rangers, foresters, and science educators in her family growing up. She returned to the field in her adulthood because the experiences she had as a child learning from and learning in nature were so impactful that she wanted to be able to do the same for others.
She said she strongly believes that the environment and culture of a place co-create each other. Learning about human interaction with the land both positively and negatively is essential to understanding a community.
“Children learn best by doing and by being curious and experiencing that sense of wonder, and there's no better place for that than outside,” she said.
The COVID-19 pandemic posed a huge roadblock in Muddy Sneakers' goal of providing outdoor science education to students as their programming had been primarily in-person. They had to find ways to support their partner schools without seeing students in-person.
For Muddy Sneakers, that support came through development of a remote fifth grade science curriculum that stayed true to the values of the organization such as inquiry, observation, and integration of the natural word in learning.
After developing the remote curriculum for students in North Carolina during the pandemic, Muddy Sneakers was able to translate it into a classroom-based curriculum that is available to their partner teachers and has received very positive feedback.
Fifth graders across the state of North Carolina are at the perfect developmental age for outdoor science, according to Jones, which is why schools are more likely to invest in that little something extra to help their students become curious and engaged learners. These kids are taking more control of their own learning, which can be a pivotal point in their education as they are developing new skills and starting to learn outside the classroom.
Although Muddy Sneakers has been a successful organization within the state, there is still a lot of growth that needs to happen within the environmental education field.
“Personally, I think that there are a lot of areas in the state of NC that are deeply underserved with EE opportunities,” Jones said.
Muddy Sneakers is always looking for ways they can grow to help fill the gaps in more underserved areas. They want these valuable educational opportunities to be available to all children and are taking steps to get there by partnering with schools in these areas of the state.
Jones has seen Muddy Sneakers programs impact kids in many ways, but what she appreciates most is the empowerment she witnesses. She said that when kids are learning new skills outdoors, even things as simple as learning to take care of their basic needs in the woods, they feel so much more confident in themselves.
“My favorite is the look of amazement on a student’s face when they do something they didn’t think they could do,” Jones said.
For many kids, Muddy Sneakers programs are the first time they are able to learn in a new environment. Jones said that it’s amazing to see a child who is not naturally suited to the classroom environment thrive in the outdoors.
Jones said that she is often most moved when she sees a teacher or principal rethink the way they view a student after seeing them succeed in outdoor learning in ways they don't necessarily in the classroom. She finds that any challenges in communicating with schools about the value of the program often vanish once stakeholders see the benefits in person.
Kids have so much more freedom outdoors, and Jones said that they are often able to recognize their own abilities to wonder and explore through science. She said that many former students come back to tell her and others that their experience with Muddy Sneakers in fifth grade has influenced their life and career path, which goes to show just how powerful environmental education can be for kids.
Photo Credits: Muddy Sneakers
Maggie McIntyre is a first year environmental studies student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was born and raised in Greensboro, NC with a passion for learning and being in the great outdoors.
"When exposed to wind and rain, rocks can be weathered into beautiful shapes. I think this is true of organizations as well, as difficult challenges can result in learning and introspective growth. As EENC weathered another year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we thought critically about where we are as an organization, and where we want to be." 2021 EENC President, Erin Hines
Read more about EENC's efforts over the past year in our newly released annual report.
What does environmental education (EE) look like on the ground? How do we work together to strengthen EE in the southeast? What would a stronger, more inclusive EE movement look like?
For the past two years, driven by the desire to learn the answers to these questions, the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance (SEEA), of which EENC is a part, dove into a brand new undertaking: a landscape analysis of EE efforts in eight southeastern states.
Funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Pisces Foundation, the project included a comprehensive study of the environmental education already happening on the ground and was designed to help us—and many others—better understand the challenges and opportunities for environmental education in the southeast.
And now, through our new online dashboard and map, we'll show you the outcomes of the analysis and how you can use our new tools to build or strengthen your own EE programs and networks.
Through these resources, you can access the shareholder report, case studies, a searchable dashboard and maps, and more. Search, filter, and export datasets through an interactive dashboard. Discover new partners and programs in your area. Identify gaps and barriers to access. Build and strengthen your networks. Use it as a model for your own region. Cultivate collective impact. The possibilities are endless!
Explore the EE Landscape Analysis Hub and learn more about this project. If you have any questions, please contact Lauren Pyle.
P.S. With the launch of the landscape analysis hub, we’re opening the survey response period again for organizations that didn't respond in the previous period. If you would like to complete the survey and be added to the maps and the field trends dashboard, you can access the survey here.
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