This month’s member feature highlights an educator who blends her love of research and practice into her work and academic goals. If you’ve ever met Sagan Goodpaster, you know she is extremely passionate and positive about environmental education and the difference it can make in the lives of students, teachers, and families. We recently had the opportunity to chat with her about some of her EE hopes, dreams, and realities.
Guest interview featuring KAEE member Sagan Goodpaster, University of Kentucky STEM Education Graduate Research Assistant
KAEE: What is your current role in the field of EE?
Sagan: I am currently working as a Graduate Research Assistant in STEM Education at the University of Kentucky as part of an NIH-grant-funded project entitled “Wastewater Assessment for Coronavirus in Kentucky: Implementing Enhanced Surveillance Technology (WACKIEST).”
This grant project is a joint effort among the College of Public Health, College of Engineering, College of Medicine, and College of Education at UK.
The overall goal of this project is to utilize wastewater testing to detect the presence of COVID-19 in eastern Kentucky communities where access to testing is limited. Because public sewer systems are not feasible in more rural areas, some of these communities have relatively high concentrations of failing septic systems and/or straight pipes for sewage removal. Members of our team are thus working to adapt their wastewater testing procedures to include creek sampling in affected waterways.
Dr. Sahar Alameh, a co-investigator on this project, and I are developing a middle- and high-school curriculum based on the WACKIEST project. The goal of our study is to engage Kentucky students in science concepts involving topics that are currently in the news. Through various curriculum activities, students will learn how viruses work and how the coronavirus spreads, use online simulations to investigate factors that influence viral transmission, experience the steps involved in wastewater testing, and develop a report for local public health officials about wastewater testing for COVID-19. Our plan is to implement and test this curriculum starting next academic year in at least four schools.
KAEE: What projects or programs are you working on that particularly inspire you?
Sagan: In addition to the WACKIEST project, I am completing my dissertation exploring elementary teachers’ use of outdoor spaces for science instruction. I have been fortunate to meet and interview several incredible educators through this project who have greatly inspired me. I strongly believe in the importance of getting kids outside and actively engaged with their surroundings. Ample research exists showing the mental, physical, and academic benefits of doing so, but there can also be a variety of hurdles that make taking students outside difficult. Getting to learn from the teachers who are currently doing this is such an exciting and enlightening experience. I am currently developing a survey based on their insights that will help me gather more teachers’ perspectives. I can’t wait to share what I’ve learned in the near future!
KAEE: What goals do you have for your organization or programs within the EE field?
Sagan: One of my biggest goals is simply to give more kids opportunities to engage in outdoor learning. As part of this goal, I want to help support teachers who are interested in utilizing outdoor spaces. I also want to help integrate EE, particularly outdoor learning, into more teacher education programs. There are certainly some programs and/or faculty members doing this, but there is also room for growth! My conversations with teachers and the existing research in EE all point to this need. Not only could it help more teachers incorporate EE in their classrooms, but it could also help develop a wider network of administrators who understand the benefits of EE in schools.
KAEE: What is an area you feel you could use support in from this network of fellow educators?
Sagan: I am always excited to build relationships with educators working in EE and to learn from their experiences. KAEE has already introduced me to so many wonderful people who are doing great things in the field of Environmental Education. I would love to continue making connections with anyone who can help with my goal of supporting teachers in implementing outdoor learning.
KAEE: What is something you feel could be beneficial to share with this network?
Sagan: I really love developing science lessons integrating place-based outdoor learning opportunities that engage students in science practices. I’ve developed lessons that do this with some of the STEM Education faculty at UK, and I would be happy to share them. I would also love to collaborate with others who might have similar interests!
KAEE: Share a fun fact or random tidbit about yourself with the group!
Sagan: Before I started teaching I was involved in ornithology research. I did a study on nestling Chimney Swifts for my Master’s thesis that was such a fun experience. My former students and even some of my colleagues have fondly referred to me as ‘the bird lady’ because whether I’m explaining biological concepts or developing lesson plans, I always seem to fall back on my bird knowledge!
In taking a close look at the landscape of EE in Kentucky, we found numerous strengths and plenty of challenges to address. Here, we'll share some of our findings, along with tips for how you can use our new landscape analysis tools to search for and export data that's meaningful to your own work.
As part of our regional landscape analysis project, in 2021 we surveyed 88 environmental education providers in Kentucky. The findings from that survey are summarized below.
The number of EE programs in each state ranges from 25 (4%; Tennessee) to 133 (23%; North Carolina), with an average of 80 programs per state. Based on this data, Kentucky exceeded the regional average with 88 providers. In reviewing our findings, we found geographic gaps for Kentucky in rural areas, areas with the highest social vulnerability index, obesity rates and lowest income. This was particularly noted in the eastern counties of Kentucky (2nd Nature TREC, 2022). Because our data only shows us the headquarters of the providers, we cannot be certain that these areas are underserved, but given that most of the environmental education takes place as field trips or direct teaching, we can make an assumption that many of these areas go unsupported due to the distance it would take to serve them.
Field Trends Dashboard
The dashboard has a wealth of information available for educators and stakeholders. The following serves to highlight some of the state findings, with the understanding that the data can be sorted by any number of and combination of factors such as sector, themes, audience served, and so on. For more details on how to use this tool to dig deeper into the data, please see the dashboard tutorial.
The predominant program themes in Kentucky are, respectively: Outdoor Learning, Conservation, STEM, Biodiversity, and Water. The primary term being used in Kentucky was overwhelmingly “environmental education,” followed by “outdoor education,” “conservation education,” and “nature-based learning.”
The primary offerings being provided across the state were direct teaching and field trips, followed by instructional materials. The primary audience served across the region tends to be K-5 students, followed by 6-8th and 9-12 grade students.
This demonstrates the need to increase opportunities for engagement at the early childhood in order for students to receive the same level of engagement in environmental education throughout K-12th grade. There is also a need to increase opportunities for teachers, administrators, and informal educators.
From our initial review, we have gleaned that environmental education providers are doing limited evaluation of their programs. There is a need for more support and training around the importance of program evaluation , as well as tools that can help providers do this in a meaningful way that will help them strengthen their programs.
If we adjust for non-responses, our data shows us that 7% of environmental education staff identify as Black, Indigenous, or Persons of Color (BIPOC), which is significantly lower than the state average of 11% per 2020 US Census Data. We found senior staff to be just 6.5% (2nd Nature TREC, 2022). This has identified a need for more BIPOC staff and leadership in environmental education organizations. Data showed that 14% of environmental education organizations had boards that reflected the same or higher BIPOC representation than the state average.
There is a need for additional support and training around the importance of collecting demographic information and how it can be used to strengthen programs and opportunities for broader engagement.
In a comparison of starting salaries for similar fields, environmental education was found to be lower than all three comparison fields. The average starting salary for environmental education reported in our survey was $29,515 for a full-time position compared to $34,900 for education, $39,100 for forestry, and $37,800 for hospitality and tourism.
Based on our findings, we provide the following recommendations for Kentucky:
Learn more about the landscape analysis and how it can help YOU here.
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 KAEE 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.
We wanted to complete an analysis that would give environmental education providers resources and tools to more effectively meet the needs of their communities. We designed it to help us to ensure that we are focusing our limited time and resources in the areas where we will have the biggest impact. Through it, we wanted educators to find the tools they need to connect with providers in their area to increase opportunities for students to engage in environmental education from early childhood to adulthood. And we wanted educators and providers to be able to target their efforts in the areas with the highest need, whether that need is demographic, geographic, or content based.
As a result of the project, any interested party can access the full stakeholders report and a robust online hub that includes interactive maps and toolbars, tutorials, state-specific findings, and more.
The final report also provides recommendations and next steps for increasing environmental literacy efforts in the southeast based on an inventory of model programs and initiatives happening nationwide.
The key findings
Findings from the analysis bring to light many challenges related to environmental education in the southeast. From data collected from almost 650 programs, SEEA found that senior staff leadership and audiences served by environmental education providers do not reflect the overall demographics of the region. The average entry-level salary for environmental educators is 15-25% lower than comparable fields. There are gaps in services found across the region in rural areas, areas with the highest social vulnerability index, and areas with the lowest income.
And yet, while challenges exist, many strengths of environmental education programs in the region were also made clear. More than two million youth in the southeast are served annually. Each year, EE takes place in 16,355 schools. And throughout the southeast, 79,857 volunteers assist with EE programs.
The online hub
Through this work, environmental educators can access important data to inspire their programs and focus their efforts.
Via an interactive online portal, users can access the shareholders report, case studies, the storymap, a searchable dashboard and maps, and more. You can search, filter, and export datasets through an interactive dashboard. You can explore our regional or state-specific maps and toolbars, filtering by state, sector, terms used, percentage of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color) leadership, budget, themes, audience served, offerings, academic standards, program location, program time, language, and/or evaluation practices. You can discover new partners and programs in your area. You can identify gaps and barriers to access. You can build and strengthen your networks. You can use the project as a model for your own region. You can cultivate collective impact. And so much more.
Complete the Survey
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.
Learn more about our findings and the resources the landscape analysis provides at southeastee.org/landscapeanalysis. And check back here next week for more about the Kentucky-specific findings from the project!
SEEA, the Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance, is a network of state affiliates of the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) in the southeastern region of the U.S. EPA Region 4. SEEA’s mission is to provide southeastern state affiliates and their stakeholders collaborative and capacity building opportunities that demonstrate collective impact and magnify environmental education efforts across the region.
Each page of the website has a short quiz where users can test their knowledge and earn a digital postcard as a prize. Lauren also created a survey for users to take after viewing part or all of the website so she can measure the impact of her project.
“My hope for this project is that I will be able to inspire people to be aware of the pollution they are responsible for in their lives,” she says. “I hope that everyone who explores my website will incorporate one or two of my suggestions into their daily routines that will help reduce the amount of pollution produced every day.”
She learned that by eating more plant-based foods, consumers could decrease deaths related to agricultural air quality by between 68 and 83 percent. “For me, these statistics highlighted the importance of decreasing the amount of meat in my diet and looking for opportunities to purchase locally grown food.”
To view the website and test your own pollution knowledge, click here.
Welcome to Part 2 of our 2021 Year in Review, in which we highlight how our work last year helped cultivate collective impact in Kentucky and beyond. To read Part 1 of this series, click here.
FAYETTE COUNTY EE NEEDS ASSESSMENT
Lexington Fayette Urban County Government provides significant funding and support for environmental education programs. KAEE was contracted to provide a review of current research on EE best practices, identify successful programs across the United States as potential models, and assess existing efforts. The report served to share those results and make recommendations for funding priorities in the future, with an emphasis on how LFUCG and its partners could most effectively increase the environmental literacy levels of Lexington residents.
We received a contract from LFUCG to oversee the coordination and administration of environmental education efforts in Lexington. This project will focus on advancing environmental education efforts for K-12 public and private schools within Lexington-Fayette County.
Specifically, KAEE will assist LFUCG to:
southeast REGIONAL LANDSCAPE ANALYSIS
Funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and Pisces Foundation, this project included a comprehensive study of the environmental education already happening on the ground in eight southeastern states, helping the states involved identify gaps and barriers to access that prevent successful implementation in some areas.
We have collected data from 646 participating organizations for the Southeast Regional Landscape Analysis and are are now working on data analysis and a communications plan for this project. The final report will provide recommendations and next steps for increasing environmental literacy efforts in the southeast based on an inventory of model programs and initiatives happening nationwide.
dON'T WASTE IT!
We began training educators throughout the southeast in Don't Waste It!, a new educator guide to waste management. Don’t Waste It! has been expanded through the southeast with the help of a $100,000 environmental education grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency received by KAEE and the Environmental Educators of North Carolina (EENC).
SEEA recently released new state-specific versions of the guide for Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida.
mEMBERS, PARTNERS, AND COMMUNITY
This year, KAEE launched a third Thursday bi-monthly webinar series as a new membership perk. Featuring a wide variety of presenters and topics, the aim of this series is to educate, inspire, and help connect KAEE members and friends with available and relevant environmental education resources and ideas.
We also welcomed two new members to our Board of Directors in 2021: John Pollpeter and Erin Sliney.
SEE THE FULL REPORT
To see the full 2021 Annual Report, click here.
You're invited to submit a session proposal for our 46th Annual Conference! This year, we'll be live and in person at Jenny Wiley State Resort Park. The reunion of a lifetime -- our network together again for the first time since 2018! Join us and be part of the dynamic and engaging lineup by submitting your session proposal today.
The call for proposals closes April 24.
Please note this is a competitive proposal process. Not all proposals will be accepted. We are looking for interactive, engaging, and relevant sessions.
KAEE is one of the country’s oldest associations supporting environmental education. We are people from all walks of life, coming together to support EE.