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Peggy Nims Wins Lifetime Achievement Award for Educator Excellence

Peggy Nims has been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Environmental Education. The award, given by the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education, recognizes individuals, schools, and businesses that exemplify dedication, commitment, and influence in the field of environmental education.

“I grew up climbing trees, planting rows of beans, and chasing chickens,” Peggy says. “So it just seemed natural to me as an educator to bring the outside into the classroom or to take the learning outside.”

Since graduating from Freed-Hardeman and Lipscomb University with degrees in history and education, Peggy has spent almost thirty years as both a formal and nonformal educator, most recently with the American Cave Conservation Association (ACCA), in Horse Cave, Ky. “Living in one of the world’s largest karst community, I found that environmental education’s focus on student-centered, collaborative, experiential learning was the ideal vehicle for teaching all core content subjects in ways that were fun, engaging, and meaningful,” she says. “Whether in the classroom, the museum, or the cave, my most meaningful and rewarding EE experiences were those in which a student had their own ‘WOW’ or ‘That’s so awesome!’ moment.”

Peggy is a master certified professional environmental educator, certified Water Watch sampler, a member of the National Speleological Society, a first cohort KY EXCEL member, a former KAEE board member, and a current (and longtime) KAEE Facilitator. “Peggy is an amazing educator and human being,” says Brittany Wray, KAEE Education Director. “She has been an inspiration to me and so many environmental educators who strive to leave a lasting impact with the work we do. It's an absolute pleasure to know Peggy and an honor to have worked with her. She is incredibly deserving of this award and achievement.”

Read on for Peggy’s thoughts, advice, and memories from her many years as an environmental educator!

My personal philosophy as an environmental advocate and an educator has been to…

1) help students understand that in any ecosystem all living things are interrelated

2) use their new knowledge to appreciate the uniqueness of our non-renewable resources such as clean water

3) to, then, be empowered to protect these resources for all people.

One of my favorite EE experiences was…

working with an elementary science and technology class to produce a PSA about sinkholes to share with their classmates. After finding a sinkhole behind their school building, the project took on personal meaning. Early on, I learned to facilitate their team meetings and then get out of their way. Their different interests and talents as middle-school students far exceeded any and all expectations that I might have had for them. I was so happy for them when their finished video received state recognition for excellence. Later on, I was thrilled when one of these young students from a small, rural school was chosen to study at the Gatton Science Academy.

On more than one occasion, I have seen a student who was struggling with a new academic concept become a capable citizen scientist by mastering hand-held water tests and become a peer teacher. Perhaps, a somewhat disruptive student’s energy is channeled to cope with all the unknowns of an off-trail ecology trek through a buddy river cave. This same student becomes an assistant guide for treading softly to protect the fragile cave life.

There are many things that I enjoy about EE… besides all the built-in health benefits of exercise, of the body, and the mind:

1) the collegial, rather than the competitive, relationships among EE instructors

2) the students and their boundless energy and thirst for knowledge

3) the opportunity to share your passions with others.

Throughout the years, I have made life-long friends; many of these I met when they were students. Like all teachers, it is most rewarding when you see your students soar on their own wings. Countless times, I have seen high school, university, and one inquisitive six-year-old, take basic EE principles, earn advanced degrees in environmental studies, make amazing discoveries, and contribute to the collective body of the related sciences.

Unlike other professions, EE allows one to learn from others, formal and non-formal instructors; to partner with other community professionals who are already stakeholders in the area’s quality of life; especially for me, to introduce non-cavers to the wonderful world beneath their feet and the inter-relationship of all living things.

For nearly twenty years, it was my joy and privilege to work with college students from many states during their “Alternative Service Breaks” (ASB). New and on-going projects to protect and preserve south-central Kentucky’s karst resources provided meaningful team-building, cross-discipline, multiple cultural, and leadership training moments.

To those just beginning their journey as an environmental educator…

find your passion, your niche, and pursue it with all your energy. Each of you has your own

unique talents and expertise that drives your engine, energizes you, and gives you joy!

Get out of your own comfort zone; never ask your students to do something that you aren’t willing to do–including being thrown into the air as part of a trust exercise.

Embrace new ideas, new people, and new places.

Look for new connections with your students, between your students, and between them and the natural places all around them. Sometimes, you will be surprised to find them in the most unusual, unexpected places.

Always be open, be an active listener, cultivate excellent communication skills, and be willing to learn from others.

Identify and trust your mentors to share their wisdom and give you constructive feedback.

Seek those who need a helping hand, whether students or colleagues, and encourage and empower them.

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