Anyone who has seen the pollinator gardens dotting the University of Kentucky's campus, noticed the outdoor classroom at Cassidy Elementary, or enjoyed the restoration of Vaughn's Branch Creek along Lexington’s Alumni Drive has seen some of Dr. Carmen Agouridis' projects. What may not be as visible to the public, however, is the extensive work she does both at the University of Kentucky and across the state to bring environmental education to life. A PhD and Professional Engineer, Dr. Agouridis has a remarkable gift for making even the most nuanced ecological concepts accessible to her audience.
In 2018, Dr. Agouridis organized a Master Naturalist program for Kentucky, the first in the state. Though still in its infancy, this program, with its focus on training environmental stewards who will in turn become valuable assets to Kentucky's natural areas, has the potential to generate new resources and opportunities for environmental education for years to come. And although the program is indeed a powerful collaboration between educators from a variety of environmentally-related fields, Dr. Agouridis is deserving of a special commendation for the work she has done to make this possible.
See the full list of 2019 winners here.
Maker's Mark Distillery Named KAEE's 2019 Outstanding Business for Excellence in Environmental Education
At Maker’s Mark, the team utilizes their property in a unique way to spread the word on environmental sustainability.
Jason Nally, Star Hill Farm Environmental Champion at Maker’s Mark, says the “most impactful educational experiences we have been working on this year are our outreach opportunities for our employees, consumers, and customers. During most weeks, I lead groups to our lakes and through the forest discussing water quality, watershed management, native plants, importance of pollinators, forest management strategies, invasive species, and wildlife conservation.”
These groups typically include Maker’s Mark brand ambassadors, members of the media, bartenders, store owners, sales reps, and distributors. “By highlighting the work we are doing,” Nally says, “these folks can utilize the narrative as tools to help promote bourbon, thereby engaging in a conversation about the natural resources necessary for the creating our product.”
In his role, Nally also leads staff trainings at “some of the best cocktail bars in New York, New Jersey, and Chicago, he says. “These bartenders and distributors can now not only discuss the rich history and heritage of bourbon but also the resource sustainability measures so necessary to ensure the maintained growth of bourbon.”
During the distillery’s employee “Town Halls,” employees are also taught about sustainable forestry, benefits of recycling, and negatives of single use plastics; the goal of these sessions is an increased culture of sustainability not only at work but in employees’ homes as well.
And this fall, Maker’s Mark will welcome all of the teachers from Marion County High School for an in-service day, where they will complete a Project Leopold workshop. “We hope to make this an annual event that will reach all of the local and regional schools and provide them with age appropriate EE curriculum to take back to their schools,” Nally says. “I think it would be pretty awesome if every kid who graduates from Marion County High School has read The Sand County Almanac!”
See the complete list of 2019 KAEE Excellence in EE Award Winners here.
The Kentucky Association for Environmental Education Excellence Awards recognize the outstanding achievements of individuals, organizations, agencies, community efforts, schools, and businesses in the field of EE. We are thrilled to announce the 2019 Excellence in EE Award Winners, who will be recognized at our October 29 awards ceremony and annual meeting. Check back here between now and the ceremony for stories about each winner!
Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Environmental Education
M.K. Dickerson Award for Excellence in Environmental Education
Rising Star Award for Excellence in Environmental Education
Highlands High School
Outstanding PreK-12 School for Excellence in Environmental Education
Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy
Outstanding Community Partner for Excellence in Environmental Education
Maker’s Mark Distillery
Outstanding Business for Excellence in Environmental Education
With goals that include community education, community building, and caretaking, the Forestry Outreach Center of Berea College (FOC) provides a space in which people of all ages can learn about the natural world and, specifically, the Berea College Forest. “Using a model of community education in which each person participates as both a teacher and a learner,” the FOC explains, “our hope is that the Center will act as a bridge between College and community, fostering an attitude of stewardship of the lands and waters that sustain us.”
To this end, the FOC welcomes visitors to participate in engaging activities tailored to meet the needs of learners of all ages, including school and community groups. For no charge, the FOC offers interdisciplinary environmental education for school and community groups utilizing pre-designed activities (like those from award-winning EE curriculum guides such as Project Wild, Project Wet, and Project Learning Tree) or activities tailor-made for a class. The FOC team can also plan pre- and post- activities to help visitors make the most of their visit.
And what better place to enjoy those activities than the mountains surrounding Berea that are home to three of Kentucky’s beloved trails, the Pinnacles, Brushy Fork, and Anglin Falls? “Sharing a forest experience brings people together,” the FOC says, “and builds lasting relationships that strengthen communities.”
In addition to providing EE experiences for all, the FOC manages the Berea College Forest, maintaining and improving physical facilities while enhancing, studying, and utilizing varied sources including wood products, water, recreation, and wildlife. “Learning about forest lands, air, and water renews a sense of stewardship,” the FOC explains, “and reinvigorates a commitment to care for the earth.”
To learn more about Berea College’s Forestry Outreach Center, an organizational member of KAEE, visit their website and explore their social media accounts (and their Forest!).
By Leigh Cocanougher
Lexington mayor Linda Gorton has declared October 14-19 “Environmental Education Week” in Lexington. Coinciding with the week in which Lexington will welcome more than 1,000 educators and EE professionals to the North American Association for Environmental Education’s Annual Conference and Research Symposium, Environmental Education Week will be a celebration of the region’s natural resources—“from the horse farms to our streams and to the majestic Kentucky River,” Mayor Gorton says—and serve as a reminder that “to sustain the precious land and waterways of our great city requires the stewardship of every person, as well as future generations.”
“Stewardship is not possible,” Mayor Gorton states in her declaration, “without a strong sense of connection to the natural world and an understanding by our individual and collective responsibilities to protect it.”
The declaration also explains how environmental education increases student engagement, improves student achievement in core subject areas, and increases student awareness about how their actions affect the environment.
Read Mayor Gorton’s full declaration here. To learn more and register for the NAAEE Annual Conference, co-hosted by KAEE and taking place during Environmental Education Week, visit the registration page here.
...Project Learning Tree
Using trees and forests as “windows to the world,” Project Learning Tree (PLT), hosted by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, has since its founding in 1976 reached 138 million students, increasing their understanding of the environment and actions they can take to conserve it.
Like environmental education at its core, Project Learning Tree helps students learn how to think, not what to think, about complex environmental issues, forever aiming towards its vision of “a future where the next generation values the natural world and has the knowledge and skills necessary to make informed decisions and take responsible actions to sustain forests and the broader environment.”
Made up of three equally important components—high-quality instructional materials for grades PreK-12; carefully designed professional development; and an extensive distribution and support network—PLT was designed to gain the confidence of the education community. “Educators would have to like it, trust it, and use it.” At the same time, its creators wanted to ensure that the curriculum was “balanced, fair, and accurate” and that it “encouraged students to consider all sides and factors when making decisions about the environment.”
PLT has long been recognized as one of the premier environmental education programs in the world, and this September, PLT’s “Carbon & Climate” curriculum for grades six through eight was named a Learning® magazine 2020 Teachers’ Choice Award for the Classroom winner. (PLT’s “Energy in Ecosystems” for grades three through five and “Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood” have also received Teachers’ Choice Awards for the Classroom.)
Teachers, parents, and EE practitioners of all stripes are invited to review PLT’s many free online resources, from STEM strategies to sample lesson plans to family activities. Activities are “practical, hands-on, and fun, and aligned with state and national academic standards, including the Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core State Standards, College, Career, and Civic Life Framework, Head Start, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children,” the PLT website explains.
KAEE has served as the state sponsor and coordinator of Kentucky PLT since 2012. Want to learn how you can become certified to use PLT curriculum or how we can help you host a PLT workshop in your area? Visit our PLT webpage here!
PLT at a Glance
Project Learning Tree advances environmental literacy and promotes stewardship through excellence in environmental education, professional development, and curriculum resources that use trees and forests as windows on the world.
Project Learning Tree is committed to creating a future where the next generation values the natural world and has the knowledge and skills necessary to make informed decisions and take responsible actions to sustain forests and the broader environment.
Provide students with the awareness, appreciation, skills, and commitment to address environmental issues
Enable students to apply scientific processes and higher order thinking skills to resolve environmental problems
Help students acquire an appreciation for and tolerance of diverse viewpoints on environmental issues and develop attitudes and actions based on analysis and evaluation of the available information
Encourage creativity, originality, and flexibility to resolve environmental problems and issues
Inspire and empower students to become responsible, productive, and participatory members of society
By Leigh Cocanougher
Advancing Environmental Literacy
This July, the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education’s Board of Directors approved the organizations’s new Strategic Plan, a plan with the vision of “a sustainable world where environmental and social responsibility drive individual and institutional choices” and the mission to “increase environmental knowledge and community engagement in Kentucky through the power of environmental education.”
To see the vision through, KAEE has its sights set on several goals, including advancing environmental literacy; increasing public support for and investment in the field of EE; reaching broader audiences; better telling the story not only of what we are doing but also why EE is so crucial for the future of Kentucky; and cultivating collective impact to create a stronger and more inclusive EE movement.
Just a month after the new plan’s adoption, progress is under way. In this first of a series of stories about the ways we are making said progress, we will focus on our organization’s plan to advance environmental literacy, not only in our own state but in the southeastern region—and across the entire country—as well.
One of the many ways KAEE works to advance environmental knowledge is through facilitator trainings. Held all around the state, these trainings allow teachers, nonformal educators, and others to become certified by KAEE to host their own educator trainings in one of our curriculum programs: Project Learning Tree, Project WET, Project Wild, and Leopold Education Project. Whether they are working in the classroom, at a nature center, in a university, in the state government, or elsewhere around the state, our facilitators create a powerful network of educators who not only offer environmental education training to their community but help propel environmental literacy across the commonwealth.
“KAEE Facilitators are an amazing group of educators,” says Brittany Wray, KAEE Education Director. “They’re passionate, dedicated, and determined that everyone deserves environmental education. They are at the heart of the mission of our organization—delivering environmental education to Kentuckians.”
Another means of propelling environmental literacy in Kentucky is met through KAEE’s educator workshops. In June 2019, two such events took place—an intensive, three-day EE Bootcamp, where participants connected environmental education (EE), conservation, and natural resources with academic standards; and the annual Outdoor Learning Symposium, where more than 40 educators, administrators, and EE professionals from around the state spent the day learning how to effectively engage their students in outdoor and environmental education.
Through both facilitator trainings and educator workshops, KAEE is able to offer professional development opportunities directly to those “boots on the ground” who are working to advance EE in their own way.
Increasing environmental knowledge in Kentucky, though, is an ongoing task, so KAEE has plans (many already underway!) for meeting this goal using new and engaging methods. Want to learn more about them? Stay tuned for the second part of our Strategic Plan series!
By Leigh Cocanougher
Erin Sliney is not an idler. At just 30, she is well on her way to becoming an environmental education (EE) champion, not only in her home state of Kentucky but beyond. And she’s forging a path that may well be the key to broadening the reach of environmental education in Kentucky (and beyond)—developing regional networks to bolster collective impact throughout the state.
As a member of the Kentucky Environmental Education Council (KEEC)’s Environmental Education Leadership Corps, Sliney has spent the past year at The Greater Clark Foundation, creating programs for Clark County’s Legacy Grove park. At the same time, she participated in KEEC’s Professional Environmental Educator Certification (PEEC) course—one of only three in the country that is nationally-accredited—and has become a certified environmental educator “enlightened to a world of dedicated environmental educators and EE organizations across the state,” she says.
Inspired to apply to the EELCorps after spending time as a backcountry chainsaw crew member in Utah; hiking guide in Guatemala and Alaska; and Lead Naturalist and Outdoor Specialist at California’s Whiskeytown Environmental School (told you she’s not an idler), Sliney says the EELCorps experience, which she wrapped up today, has been more valuable than she had ever imagined.
“My experience in EE at the Whiskeytown Environmental School was primarily teaching students about the plants and animals, but I now recognize that environmental education is a broad field that is integral to fostering resilient and sustainable communities,” she says. “The opportunity to share my passion and experience to help fulfill the significant need for EE in my beloved home state of Kentucky drew me to the EELCorps.”
The Legacy Grove position was particularly appealing to Sliney, she says, because “the opportunity to create an EE program from scratch would allow me to develop new skills, be creative, have significant local impact, and integrate lessons learned from my graduate studies in Resilient and Sustainable Communities. I also loved that community participatory processes informed the development of both the Park and the play area.”
Working at The Greater Clark Foundation office exposed Sliney to the world of high-functioning nonprofits, she says, and introduced her to key local partners, officials, community groups, and passionate residents. But she believes that perhaps the most valuable aspects of the program are the new connections she has made that led to the development of a network of environmental educators in Clark County.
This new EE network became one of Sliney’s key focuses in Clark County, where she spearheaded not only program development for Legacy Grove but also coalition building and group facilitation that will leave a lasting impact in the county. After months of thorough preparation, research, and report creation, she recently led the first two meetings designed to bring together EE enthusiasts and professionals in her region.
“As one EE network participant put it,” Sliney says of this kind of teamwork, “‘We are stronger together!’ We need combined and intentional efforts to provide residents with a comprehensive understanding of natural and human systems, giving them the tools and knowledge to address environmental problems, and fosters respect for the natural world.”
To do this, she says, “requires more than just litter programs. This takes the coordinated work of different agencies with various resources and areas of expertise. A county-wide network can allow environmental educators to share successes and failures, combine resources, respond to the unique needs and interests of the community, and ensure that all residents have opportunities to participate in EE programs.”
Having met twice as the new Clark County EE network, the group will hold several more meetings to articulate goals, action plans, group structure, and more. And they very well may serve as a prime example for other counties as they, too, bring together environmental educators—formal and nonformal, from all walks of life—to build that collective impact.
EELCorps is an AmeriCorps program run by the Kentucky Environmental Education Council that seeks to increase environmental literacy throughout the state. Learn more here!
By Leigh Cocanougher
Celebrating ten years of art, nature, and diversity
Years ago, a Girl Scouts troop comprised of nine- and ten-year-olds toured Frankfort’s Josephine Sculpture Park (JSP) with JSP founder and director Melanie VanHouten. Upon arriving at Aaron Dysart’s decaying sculpture, “Relic,” one of the troop members stuck her head into the large hollowed-out log and immediately called for her friends to join her in studying the dangling chrysalis she found inside. Seizing the opportunity as an educational moment, VanHouten gave the group an impromptu lesson about metamorphosis and habitat. And that impromptu lesson led to the ringleader’s epiphany: “Who knew you could learn about science at the sculpture park!?”
In that moment, she says, Melanie knew the park was serving exactly the purpose she had hoped it would: using art as a means of connecting children and families to the environment.
Kentucky’s only sculpture park, JSP opened to the public in 2009 on the land once owned by VanHouten’s grandparents and where she spent much of her childhood. That land, and all that “land” entails, are integral to the park.
“We are a place for outdoor exploration, free play, a picnic, and inspiration,” says JSP program coordinator Jeri Howell. “The art is here and can be integrated in various ways, but so can all of the natural elements you can find in a park dedicated to conserving Kentucky’s native, rural landscape.”
Just like environmental education, Howell says, arts education is cross-curricular, and with this in mind, JSP strives not only to increase children’s access to arts, culture, and outdoor experiences but also to teach those children—and their families, teachers, and broader communities—how art and nature are intertwined.
“We connect, or sometimes reconnect, people with themselves, each other, and nature through art, environmental programming, and creative community experiences,” Howell says. “It motivates and inspires us every day to see this in action at Josephine Sculpture Park.”
And they do, in fact, see it in action every day. One way is through the guided field trips the park leads for public and private school classes and student camps.
“This summer, the Shelby County Migrant Education Summer Program (grades K-12) visited JSP for an all-day arts and environmental education workshop that also incorporated math and reading and writing,” Howell says. “Students rotated in groups by grade level between three main activities: introduction to tree identification and nature journaling; sculpture making with woven natural materials lead by JSP Summer Artist in Residence, Justin Roberts; and a sculpture scavenger hunt that allowed students to explore the park’s 30 acres of native meadow, young forest, and more than 70 interactive public art installations.”
This type of hands-on, interdisciplinary field trip is offered year-round at JSP, and their environmental educational programs like that arranged for the Shelby County Migrant Education Summer Program align with Kentucky Academic Standards in science and arts; they often integrate state reading and writing and math standards, as well.
“School visits to JSP are incredibly flexible to each school’s needs and resources,” Howell says. “You can visit for free any day of the year from dawn to dusk to explore the sculptures, do a self-guided tour or sculpture scavenger hunt, or have a picnic. Or you can engage with our experienced staff of professional artists and an environmental educator to develop a paid program that is right for you, your students, and your budget.”
The team at JSP not only strives to expose visitors to the interplay between art and environment but also to ensure that everyone has access to this kind of visit and learning experience. As they prepare to celebrate the park’s tenth anniversary this September, they are encouraged by the visible enthusiasm shown by students participating in field trips at the park and also by the ways in which they are making their space accessible to everyone.
“JSP is proud to have been committed to celebrating diversity and social justice from the beginning,” Howell says. “JSP’s residency program hosts artists from Kentucky and around the world, many of whom are women and artists of color. Over the past ten years, JSP has been recognized for our commitment to diversity with financial support from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the National Endowment for the Arts. We received the Community Service award from the Franklin County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). And this year, JSP was accepted into Welcoming America’s ‘Welcoming Network,’ an international network of governments and organizations committed to creating inclusive communities where everyone—including immigrants and refugees—can thrive.”
At their September 8 Fall Arts Festival, this emphasis on diversity and inclusion will take center stage.
“The festival is always an exciting time for people of all ages and abilities to engage with art in a very hands-on, exploratory way,” VanHouten says. “This year, we are particularly looking forward to our emphasis on diversity and inclusion with our featured guest artists, Heather Hart and Sherwin Rio, and our music stage, which features artists from a variety of genres and cultures.”
The festival includes more than 20 free hands-on art workshops; advanced paid art workshops like glassblowing and blacksmithing; live music; hot air balloon rides; face painting; food and drink; and much more.
At the festival, Hart will facilitate an interactive community art project that will inform her upcoming “Porch Project” installation at JSP, designed to engage community conversations around race and gender. Participants at Rio’s workshop will share stories from their respective cultures, and then create a miniature clay monument reflective of their story. This activity is inspired by his sculpture at JSP, which Rio shares “asks viewers to imagine a more inclusive, dignified, and reciprocative future achieved through the acknowledgement of and respect for immigrants, refugees, Indigenous, and people of color in a dominantly white historical narrative.” Rio’s workshop is part of JSP’s participation in Welcoming Week, described on the Welcoming Network’s website as “a movement among communities across the globe to bring together immigrants and those born within their countries in a spirit of unity to build strong connections and affirm that being a welcoming community for all makes us stronger economically, socially, and culturally.”
For the 10th Fall Arts Festival, the park is also expanding its environmental partnerships, hosting ten Kentucky environmental organizations, each with an arts and/or environmental activity, to inform festival goers of regional ecology and civic engagement opportunities. Additionally, JSP is partnering with Franklin County Solid Waste Management to make the festival a zero-waste event, which means all waste generated from this festival will go to its proper waste stream: reuse, recycle, compost, or landfill.
With ten years behind them, the JSP team has grand plans for the next ten years at the park.
“In the past year, we purchased an additional ten acres adjacent to the park that would have otherwise been developed,” VanHouten says. “On that ten acres, we are in the process of installing a native meadow and rehabilitating a tobacco barn to create more classroom, exhibit, and event space. This new expansion is another big way we can engage more people in our mission.”
In addition, they plan to expand their educational programming to include more summer and school break camps and develop financial partners in hopes of being able to offer school field trip stipends and program and camp scholarships for individuals.
“Knowing this is a place for the community to be exposed to new ways of making art and connecting with nature, as well as meeting people engaged in creative professions they never knew existed” inspires the team, Howell says. “Small surprising moments of collective joy and beauty in nature can remind us how similar we all are, despite our differences.”
Josephine Sculpture Park, an organizational member of the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education, is located in Frankfort, Kentucky. To learn more about the park and the upcoming Fall Arts Festival, check out their website here!
By Leigh Cocanougher
Drink a Porter, Pay It Forward!
The Kentucky Association for Environmental Education has been named one of West Sixth Brewing’s newest Pay It Forward recipients. As a recipient, KAEE will be receiving at least 50 cents of every Cocoa Porter six-pack sold in our assigned region from July through December 2019.
"From the beginning, we at West Sixth have been focused not just on brewing great beer, but also giving back to the communities we are a part of," the popular Lexington brewery says.
In addition to donating 50 cents per Cocoa Porter six-pack, West Sixth asks its distributors (Clark Distributing, River City Distributing, Stagnaro Distributing) to match that donation. "For us," they say, "it's just a small way we can give back."
Donations like this allow us to train educators, bolster community engagement, build collective impact, and continue our efforts in ensuring that environmental education is incorporated into Kentucky's classrooms.
Learn more about the program here. A huge thanks to West Sixth for this extraordinary honor!