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KAEE Hosted the 7th Annual Outdoor Learning Symposium at Northside Elementary School in Midway

The Kentucky Association for Environmental Education (KAEE) hosted the 7th annual Outdoor Learning Symposium on May 30th at Northside Elementary School in Midway, Kentucky. Sixty-three educators and administrators from across the state participated in interactive sessions focusing on outdoor learning and environmental education.

Outdoor Learning Sessions

The day started with the Keynote address “Education for Homecoming,” given by Dr. Leah Baynes, director of The Farm and Forest Institute, one of four branches of The Berry Center that grew naturally from the work of Kentucky writer, farmer, and teacher Wendell Berry. Dr. Bayens invited everyone to reflect on how outdoor education plays a critical (and creaturely) role in an imperative lesson: how to make ourselves at home–that is, how to live well with and from a place.

The topics covered during the symposium included teaching and managing students outdoors, engaging students in the Kentucky Green Schools program, connecting curriculum and standards to place, and how connection with nature can build resilience in students. Sessions also included real-life examples from participants of the Kentucky Green Schools program and teachers from Northside Elementary and how they incorporated environmental education into their curriculum at nearby Walter Bradley Park through a partnership with Bluegrass Greensource. 

The KY Department of Agriculture set up its Mobile Science Activity Center for demonstrations. A session hosted by KAEE discussed data collected from schools across the Southeast region of the United States and sought the input of teachers and administrations in the session regarding how KAEE can support schools in building more outdoor spaces and environmental education into their curriculum.

Before the event came to a close, Woodford County Judge Executive James Kay said a few words to encourage the educators of Woodford County and Kentucky and to remind them how important environmental education is for our students and our world.

“It was refreshing to see that you can implement quality education outdoors without an expensive outdoor classroom and a boatload of materials. You can accomplish this with little to no materials as long as you know what you are doing and why you are going outdoors.” -OLS Educator

Kentucky Green Schools Recognition

KAEE announced the winner of the Kentucky Green Schools School of the Year award, Community Montessori School, in Lexington, KY. Lead teacher, Erin Rush, and her Green Team students were invited to attend and receive their award.

Tichenor Middle School teacher Steven McNabb and his Green Team were also honored at the Outdoor Learning Symposium for reaching the Silver Level of recognition during the last school year. 

Community Partner Networking

Educators ended the day with a Community Partner Networking Session where they connected with local partners who support outdoor learning for students. The community partners represented included:

Bluegrass Greensource

The Creative School

Free Forest School

Friends of Walter Bradley Park

Huntertown Community Interpretive Park

KY Association of Conservation Districts

KY Environmental Education Council

KY Division of Forestry

KY Division of Water

KY Farm to School Network

KY Water Research Institute

Life Adventure Center

Locust Trace Agriscience Center—The Kentucky Castle Partnership

Rail Explorers

Raven Run Nature Sanctuary

Redwood Cooperative School


Woodford Co. Cooperative Extension 4-H

Woodford Co. Free Forest School

Woods & Waters Land Trust

“Getting kids outside in any capacity helps all of us in so many ways.” -OLS Educator


KAEE would like to thank each of the speakers of the event: 

  • Dr. Leah Baynes, The Berry Center Farm and Forest Institute

  • Ashley Hoffman, KAEE

  • Brittany Wray, KAEE

  • Kalee Gregg, KY Department of Agriculture

  • Kristen Taylor, Northside Elementary

  • Kyle Yarrow, Life Adventure Center

  • Perry Thomas, KAEE

  • Rachel Patton, Bluegrass Greensource

  • Vivian Bowles, Retired Teacher, Madison County Schools

They’d also like to extend a special thanks to Northside Elementary School and Principal Scott Hundley for hosting and to Woodford County Schools for including the symposium in their Best Practices Academy and opening up this professional development opportunity to all of their teachers.

This year’s symposium had numerous sponsors who helped make it happen, including Kentucky Sustainable Forestry Initiative’s Implementation Committee, Woodford County Conservation District, Central Equipment Company, and Wallace Station who donated the dessert for lunch.

KAEE’s Outdoor Learning Symposium Action Team is Responsible for planning the OLS each year. Thank you to this year’s action team members:

Perry Thomas Kentucky Association for Environmental Education co-chair

Vivian Ross Woodford County Conservation District co-chair

Ryan Asher Woodford County Board of Education

Jennifer Huefner Woodford County Conservation District

Scott Hundley Northside Elementary

Susan Tracy Woodford County Board of Education

Kyle Yarrow Life Adventure Center

The Outdoor Learning Symposium is an annual event held in a different location in Kentucky. This event is designed to meet the needs of PreK-12 administrators and teachers interested in exploring ways to engage students in environmental education (EE) experiences and cross-curricular outdoor learning. You can learn more about the Outdoor Learning Symposium on our website.


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