Elizabethtown, Ky., Aug. 7, 2023 – The Kentucky Association for Environmental Education (KAEE) has announced the recipients of the 2023 Excellence in EE Awards. Through the awards, KAEE recognizes those best exemplifying dedication, commitment and influence in the field of environmental education (EE).
The awards recognize the outstanding achievements of individuals, organizations, agencies, community efforts, schools and businesses in the field of EE. To be considered, the candidate must possess a minimum of two years of experience in the field of EE, and must have made noteworthy contributions to the advancement of EE in Kentucky, which they are still making.
Recipients and the awards they will receive are as follows:
Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Environmental Education
Karen Reagor, a retired educator who served as State Coordinator for the Kentucky National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project, is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Environmental Education.
Reagor is a retired leader in EE, known for her work with the National Energy Education Development Project (NEED), an organization that promotes an energy-conscious and educated society by creating effective networks of students, educators, business, government and community leaders to design and deliver objective, multi-sided energy education programs. She served as Kentucky State Coordinator for NEED from 1995 through 2022.
Reagor has been involved with the NEED Project since 1988. Her journey began as a classroom teacher sponsoring the fifth grade environmental club at Farmington Elementary in Germantown, Tennessee. The club won the Tennessee NEED elementary division Youth Awards program of the year for two consecutive years. Later, in 1995, after moving to Kentucky, Karen joined NEED as a staff member and went on to serve as State Coordinator. Her role involved organizing professional development workshops for teachers and students, as well as leadership development opportunities for students.
Through NEED, Reagor also collaborated with sponsors to create effective energy education programs in Kentucky and was part of NEED's national and international facilitation team. Additionally, she actively participated in various state and national associations, presenting at conferences and receiving numerous awards for her contributions to environmental education.
Throughout her career, Reagor made significant strides in promoting sustainable practices and energy conservation. Under her leadership, the Kentucky NEED program organized workshops for architects, engineers and school decision-makers to foster high-performance sustainable school concepts. The program equipped educators with training and tools to implement student energy teams, aiming to educate students on wise energy decision-making, leading to reduced energy consumption in schools and at home. She also orchestrated week-long energy tours across Kentucky for K-12 teachers in partnership with the Kentucky Office of Energy Policy.
Reagor’s dedication and expertise in the field earned her several prestigious honors and awards, including the Distinguished Service Award from NEED, Kentucky Excellence in Energy Leadership Award and the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Math Teaching, among others.
The KAEE Lifetime Achievement Award honors individuals for their exceptional lifetime contributions to conservation and environmental education. To be eligible for the award, nominees must possess a minimum of 10 years of dedicated involvement in the field of EE. Furthermore, they should have demonstrated a profound and ongoing commitment to advancing environmental education within the state of Kentucky.
“Karen's commitment to creating effective energy education programs and her extensive involvement in various state and national associations have left a lasting legacy in the pursuit of sustainability and energy conservation,” said Ashley Hoffman, Executive Director of KAEE. “Thanks to Karen, we live in a much more energy-conscious Kentucky, and because of this, we are proud to present her with this award."
M.K. Dickerson Outstanding Educator Award for Excellence in Environmental Education
Dan Pascucci, Youth and Family Program Manager at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont is the recipient of the M.K. Dickerson Outstanding Educator Award for Excellence in Environmental Education.
Pascucci is an award-winning environmental educator with over two decades of experience. Over the years, he has worked as an educator in California, Alaska and Kentucky.
Working with Bernheim’s Education department since 2016, Pascucci has consistently utilized his love of music and hands-on learning to further Bernheim’s mission of “connecting people with nature.” At Bernheim, Pascucci has provided learning experiences for tens of thousands of children and their families, developing new partnerships and programs as well as enhancing the existing work being done to educate and inspire people to connect with nature through a variety of approaches. In addition to his work with Bernheim, Pascucci also serves as Chair of the Board for KAEE.
“Dan’s unwavering passion for environmental education, combined with his creative approach to the discipline, has truly set him apart as an exceptional educator in the field," said Ashley Hoffman, Executive Director of KAEE. “His dedication to connecting people with nature through his work at Bernheim is truly inspiring, and we are delighted to present him with this award in recognition of his remarkable contributions to our field.”
Rising Star Award for Excellence in Environmental Education
Kaitlynn Gootee of the Kentucky State University Environmental Education Resource Center in Pleasureville is the recipient of the Rising Star Award for Excellence in Environmental Education.
The Environmental Education and Research Center manages 308 acres of reforested habitat, conducts environmental education lessons for school groups, hosts citizen science programs and other various events. Educators from the center are also available to travel across the state to deliver programming to students and other community members.
As part of her role with the center, Gootee offers both educator training and student lessons in the following curriculum: ProjectWET, ProjectWILD, Project Learning Tree, Growing Up WILD and Getting Little Feet Wet. She is also a certified NASA GLOBE teacher and can deliver Elementary GLOBE lessons to students.
The Rising Star Award recognizes individuals who are new to the environmental education field in Kentucky, but are already making an impact. The nominee must have a minimum of one year and a maximum of five years of experience in the EE field in Kentucky.
"Kaitlynn’s outstanding dedication and contributions to the environmental education field have made her a true Rising Star,” said Ashley Hoffman, Executive Director of KAEE. “In her relatively short time as an educator, she has already left a remarkable impact through her work at the Environmental Education and Research Center. We are thrilled to recognize her with this award, celebrating her passion and commitment to environmental education in Kentucky.”
Outstanding Business Award for Excellence in Environmental Education
Treehouse Compost, LLC, a Lexington-based business, is the recipient of the Outstanding Business Award for Excellence in Environmental Education.
Serving Central Kentucky and Western Appalachia, Treehouse Compost provides residential and small business compost pickup services. In addition to providing compost services, the business also offers educational seminars, compost-related consulting and community-scale pilot program execution.
Casey Bird, founder of the business, has been an environmental educator at the collegiate level for over a decade. In addition to operating her business, she also volunteers 20 hours a week at Legacy Grove Park, working with children and educating them about the environment.
“By providing compost pickup services and offering educational seminars and consulting, Treehouse Compost is leading the way in promoting sustainable practices in our region,” said Ashley Hoffman, Executive Director of KAEE. “Casey’s dedication as an environmental educator, both through her business and her volunteer work, sets a shining example for the community.”
Outstanding PreK-12 School Award for Excellence in Environmental Education
Robert D. Johnson Elementary School in Fort Thomas is the recipient of the Outstanding PreK-12 School Award for Excellence in Environmental Education.
Robert D. Johnson Elementary School’s Eco Club recently started a recycling program within the school cafeteria to decrease the amount of waste going to landfills. This student-led recycling program teaches elementary students about proper recycling techniques and helps students identify items that can be recycled in order to encourage environmental stewardship.
"Robert D. Johnson Elementary School has demonstrated outstanding dedication to environmental education,” said Ashley Hoffman, Executive Director of KAEE. “Their student-led recycling program not only reduces waste in landfills but also instills crucial environmental values in elementary students, fostering a sense of stewardship for our planet."
Outstanding Community Partner Award for Excellence in Environmental Education
Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery in Jamestown is the recipient of the Outstanding Community Partner Award for Excellence in Environmental Education.
Since its establishment in 1975, Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery, operated by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service, has been actively promoting environmental education for students and individuals. Initially focused on trout production tours, the hatchery's educational efforts flourished with the introduction of the Visitor/Environmental Education Center in 2006. The interactive center offers self-guided tours that enlighten visitors about Kentucky's mammals, birds, fish, endangered species, karsts and pollination.
Attracting nearly 100,000 visitors annually, the impact of Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery extends far beyond its local community, reaching across the state and the country. Educational tours and lessons are provided for numerous visiting groups, including over 40 school groups with approximately 2,500 students each year. Younger students often learn about educational animals and conservation, while older students engage in water quality studies at Hatchery Creek, identifying macroinvertebrates in water samples.
Community events further promote environmental education, such as Earth Day celebrations and Outdoor Adventure Day for fourth grade students. The hatchery hosts fishing derbies and partners with environmental educators to offer professional development opportunities, including workshops on climate change.
“KAEE commends Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery for their exceptional commitment to environmental education, making them the deserving recipient of the 2023 Outstanding Community Partner Award,” said Ashley Hoffman, Executive Director of KAEE. “Their dedication to promoting awareness and appreciation for the environment has had a profound impact, reaching beyond their local community and inspiring countless individuals throughout the state and country. Their efforts exemplify the essence of the Excellence in EE Awards, recognizing those who lead with passion and influence in the field of environmental education."
“These award recipients embody the true spirit of dedication, commitment and influence,” said Ashley Hoffman, Executive Director of KAEE. “They have made remarkable contributions to the advancement of environmental education in Kentucky, and their impact is still ongoing. Their efforts inspire all of us at KAEE to continue our mission of fostering environmental stewardship and creating a sustainable future.”
Awards will be presented during the Excellence in EE Awards Luncheon on Friday, Sept. 15 at the Cave Area Conference Center in Cave City, as part of the 2023 KAEE Conference. The luncheon will also include a panel discussion with the award recipients, moderated by the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Dr. Terry Wilson. The luncheon is set for noon CDT.