Inspired Journeys

It’s been a year since we released Black Faces in Green Spaces: The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers. And we’re beyond thrilled that thousands of students, young professionals, educators, counselors, and more have been impacted by the incredible stories shared within the book.

SFI and PLT have been working alongside Auburn University to foster the next generation of green leaders and environmental stewards. On this anniversary, we wanted to celebrate by sharing some new stories – those of Auburn University leaders and Junior MANRRS students who have been inspired by the journeys of others.

 

Michelle Cole

Academic Administrator, Auburn University College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment

Michelle Cole, Auburn UniversityGrowing up in a middle-class home, Michelle Cole dreamed of becoming an accountant. “I must be honest, a green career was not my first choice.” But thanks to her mentor, she ended up finding her green path.

Ron Smith, who now works for Tuskegee University, used to work for the USDA Forest Service. He shared with Michelle that organizations like the Forest Service need accountants, too. He encouraged Michelle to attend a forestry camp in Florida. “I really liked the camp and all the things it had to offer; however, I still wanted to be an accountant.” It wasn’t until Ron convinced Michelle to take an introductory forestry course in college that everything changed.

“I got an A and never looked back. The next thing I knew, I had an internship in Sheffield, Pennsylvania, and boom! Green career, here I am! I landed one forestry job after the next and finally carved out where I was always supposed to be.”

In Michelle’s work, she has seen the direct impacts of The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers. “The most inspiring thing about the guide for me was seeing all the people who looked like me, people that I knew who had careers in the green industry, and they were doing what they were passionate about. As I turned the pages, I said to myself, ‘I taught him in that class; I worked with her on this project.’ It brought me full circle in my career, and I love it. We are a small niche, but we are here for each other. I was in awe of the guide and was thankful that someone took the opportunity to feature natural resource professionals.”

Michelle is an urban forestry expert and academic administrator in the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment at Auburn University and advises all the forestry and natural resource management students, the Auburn community, and beyond through MANRRS (Minorities in Agriculture Natural Resources and Related Sciences). “I am most hopeful that we will continue to create the next generation of natural resources scientists. Working with MANRRS helps create those connections in professional development.”

Michelle’s advice to the next generation is this: “Take the leap of the unknown. Think outside the bark. Have an open mind about a green career path. My green career has taken me to some pretty amazing places, opportunities, and spaces that I thought were out of my reach. Trust and believe that there is an opportunity out there that has your name on it. It may not be what you thought you would be doing, but everything that you needed! Take that leap!”

 

Amari Parker and Hannah Padgett

High School Students

Just like Michelle’s mentor pointed out, a green job doesn’t mean you have to be working in the forest. Whether you want to pursue a career in communications, human resources, accounting, or law…your job can still be green! There are so many organizations within the forest and conservation sector needing your talents!

Amari Parker, Vice President of the Junior MANRRS program at Auburn University, is planning to pursue law school. “I’ve always wanted a career in the legal industry where I could assist others.”

Hannah Padgett, President of the Junior MANRRS program at Auburn, is following her dream of going into medicine, where she hopes to become a dermatologist and eventually own her own practice.

Through being a part of Junior MANRRS, both Amari and Hannah learned about green jobs. But after reading The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers, both students discovered just how many more green career opportunities there are.

For Amari, “The most inspiring thing about the Journeys guide was being able to read and learn about the different people who look like me and have found happiness inside their green careers.” Hannah felt “The most inspiring thing to me was seeing all of the African Americans working in this field.”

Amari hopes that more people in his generation “will be open to learning more about green career paths and pursuing careers they are passionate about and love.”

And even if students don’t pursue a green career, they can still be inspired to take care of our planet. Hannah hopes her generation “will do all we can to make the earth a safer and better place.”

 

Janaki Alavalapati, Ph.D.

Emmett F. Thompson Endowed Dean of the College of Forestry, Wildlife and Environment at Auburn University

Dr. Janaki Alavalapati was born and raised in a rural community where he developed a passion for farming and natural resources. He went on to obtain master’s degrees in botany and forestry, getting his first job working for a state forest service agency in India. “After moving to North America, I continued my efforts in advancing higher education related to forestry, wildlife and the environment.”

Today, Dr. Alavalapati leads the world-class College of Forestry, Wildlife, and Environment at Auburn University in Alabama. He is helping develop the next generation of natural resources professionals. “The future of the environment lies in sustainable management and conservation of agricultural and forested landscapes. The youth, considered as our next generation, will significantly influence the ways we produce, consume, and distribute goods and services. These activities will have direct implications for conservation of natural resources.”

He is hopeful that more young adults will choose green careers. “Anyone who is interested in and passionate about natural environments, green career paths [such as] forestry, wildlife conservation, environment-society interface offer a great promise. The importance of these areas for social, economic, and environmental well-being at local, state, national, and global is growing leaps and bounds. Youth in these career paths would be in the front and center of analyzing complex issues and finding practical solutions.”

Resources like The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers guide help increase the visibility of these types of careers, opening a whole new world of possibilities for students and young adults. “The Journeys guide provides youth with valuable information about green career pathways. More importantly, the featured stories in the guide inspire youth to embrace green jobs. Since governmental, non-governmental, and private organizations are increasingly seeking professionals from minority groups, I am very hopeful that the Journeys guide will stimulate the supply of minority professionals.”

 

It’s up to us to have conversations with young people and expose them to various career paths. Find out what makes a person tick, what they’re passionate about, and what their strengths are.

  • Do you love writing? Communications and marketing are green jobs!
  • Do you love numbers? Accounting and finance are green jobs!
  • Do you love wildlife? Biologists are green jobs!
  • Do you love teaching? Educators are green jobs!
  • Are you fascinated by building designs? Architects are green jobs!

Just think of the endless opportunities. As Dr. Alavalapati said, there are government, non-government, and private organizations that need the talent and passion of this next generation!

Let’s get those conversations started. Explore green careers with your students using PLT’s suite of career education resources, including Black Faces in Green Spaces: The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers, Green Jobs: Exploring Forest Careers Educator Guide, and Find Your Green Job: Youth Personality Quiz

Giant Capitol Christmas Tree a Big Reason to Celebrate Green Jobs During the Holidays

As the holiday season is in full swing, people around the world partake in the time-honored tradition of searching for the perfect Christmas tree. Whether finding one at a tree farm or getting a permit to cut one down in a national forest, it’s a fun way to spend a crisp winter day. But did you know just what it takes to find one of the most famous Christmas trees each year?

The “People’s Tree,” a 63-foot-tall Norway spruce, arrived in Washington, DC, in late November to grace the Capitol West Lawn thanks to dozens of people who work in forestry and other green jobs.

Getting the 39-year-old, 8,000-pound tree to the Capitol involved a 1,000-mile expedition from West Virginia. There were also close to 60 regular-sized Christmas trees for other locations and offices on the Capitol and more than 14,000 handmade ornaments along for the ride.

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree (@uscapitolchristmastree)

Every year, a national forest provides a tree to light up the West Lawn of the US Capitol building for the holidays. West Virginia’s Monongahela National Forest, in partnership with nonprofit partner, Choose Outdoors, transported the 2023 US Capitol Christmas Tree from West Virginia to Washington, DC, with support from sponsors, including the Society of American Foresters (SAF).

Green jobs key to delivering holiday magic

“This wonderful holiday tradition would not be possible without all the people who work in green jobs. We were so pleased to see SAF talk about working in forestry and other green jobs as part of their US Capitol Christmas Tree Forestry FAQs,” said Linda Carnell, Assistant State Forester, Education and Communication, West Virginia Division of Forestry.

The SAF FAQ described how green jobs offer a wide variety of career opportunities based on interest areas and skill sets. Green jobs include positions like foresters, park rangers, wildland firefighters, wildlife biologists, policymakers, public outreach professionals, recreation managers, loggers, and lumber mill workers. Jobs can be seasonal or full-time in both indoor and outdoor settings.

“We were also really pleased to see SAF reference Project Learning Tree’s Exploring Forest Careers. The Green Jobs: Exploring Forest Careers guide includes four hands-on, instructional activities to help youth research forestry jobs and practice managing and monitoring forest resources,” said Carnell, who also serves as the West Virginia Project Learning Tree (PLT) State Coordinator.

The growth of “green jobs”—defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as jobs that produce goods or services that benefit the environment or conserve natural resources, or jobs that use more environmentally friendly processes or fewer natural resources—have outpaced jobs in other employment categories by almost 250% over the last decade.

Coming together across West Virginia to celebrate the People’s Tree

The USDA Forest Service took the People’s Tree on a two-week tour across West Virginia, so that residents of the state could give the tree a proper send-off and also learn about green jobs.

“We were so excited to work with so many different entities to make this happen—towns, cities, communities, schools, 4H clubs. Connecting with so many people, especially kids, about green careers was fantastic,” said Carnell. “Kids respond well when they understand what green jobs are all about. We tell them ‘Yes, you can be in hi-tech and use a satellite and a computer to do your job while you work in the woods’.”

PLT West Virginia created a special U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree activity collection to do with youth around the state. It featured several activities found in the Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide, including Tree Cookies, Every Tree for Itself, and Our Federal Forests.

Tools, info, and activities to learn about green jobs

Did you know PLT activities also include details about different green jobs? It’s our goal to introduce students to the green job possibilities out there, and we’d love your support in doing so!

Check out some of the green jobs resources that people learned about during the tree’s trip across West Virginia. Explore green jobs that support forests and learn more about career readiness supports through PLT. You can also take a one-time free trial of the PLT Green Jobs Quiz. PLT and SAF are also pleased to announce an online short course – Teaching Youth and Communities About Forests – to help you strengthen your outreach and education efforts to youth and adults. Register Now!

For additional inspiration, get a copy of Black Faces in Green Spaces: The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers.

A holiday tradition dating back to 1964

Massachusetts Senator John McCormack planted a 24-foot-tall Douglas fir on Capitol grounds in 1964. This was the first tree that started the ritual tree lighting on the West Lawn. Sadly, the tree died after three years from wind and root damage.

Today, Jim Kaufmann, Director of the Capitol Grounds for the Architect of the Capitol, chooses the People’s Tree. The USDA Forest Service assesses the environmental impact of harvesting the tree by investigating if the tree is close to any endangered species or water sources and if it provides shelter for wildlife.

In 1970, the Monongahela National Forest supplied the first People’s Tree. In 2024, the Capitol Christmas Tree will come from Alaska.

This Giving Tuesday Help Project Learning Tree Foster a Lifetime of Learning

Imagine what introducing one child to nature through Project Learning Tree (PLT) can do.

Imagine a little girl learned how forests improve water quality through a PLT activity. It sparked her curiosity and ignited a passion for the environment. Now she’s a water quality engineer, improving access to clean drinking water. All because of one teacher doing one activity with this one little girl.

Now imagine the positive impacts 145 million students have made on our environment, thanks to the 765,000 educators who have been leading PLT activities in communities across North America for over 45 years.

This Giving Tuesday, consider making a tax-deductible donation to Project Learning Tree so we can advance our mission of educating PreK-12 students about vital topics like biodiversity, sustainability, and climate-smart forestry and nurture the next generation of forest and conservation professionals. Start building a greener tomorrow today.

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Let’s Go Back to School and Back to Nature

Ahhhhhh…the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, the crispness of notebooks, the excitement of learning new things.

This school year, keep the energy and excitement for learning high with ten fun ways to engage learners.

10 Ways to Engage Students with Nature

  1. Take learning outside. Being outdoors provides so many benefits – social, mental, physical, and learning! – but it also connects children to nature, which is so important in a world where people are tethered to technology and disconnected from the natural world. In PLT’s activity collection, Connecting for Health and Planet, students investigate the physical and emotional benefits of working or playing outdoors.
  2. Play detective. Every child learns differently, but one way to put theory into practice is through inquiry-based learning. Invite students to make observations, ask questions, and set up their own investigations. This helps build their problem-solving and analytical skills while keeping them actively engaged. Check out our Trees in Trouble activity, where students play detective with leaves.
  3. Bring nature inside. We realize that heading outdoors to learn isn’t always feasible, but there are many ways you can bring nature inside. Make your own paper. Observe the changing leaves from your classroom window during the Fall. There are 50 fun activities in PLT’s Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide that give you options for learning indoors and outdoors.
  4. Students planting a treeDo a service-learning project. What better way to teach children about giving back than to work on a project that betters your community? Whether you do a quarterly litter clean-up or plant trees in an urban space, students can learn while helping out.
  5. Encourage students to dream big. As an educator, you inspire children every day. PLT’s Water Wonders activity can help you teach about watersheds and the water cycle, and may spark an interest and lead to a student becoming a hydrologist in 20 years. You have the power to encourage children to follow their passion, explore nature, and open their eyes to careers they may have never dreamt about.
  6. STEM it up! Get hands-on with nature-inspired STEM activities. Check out our Pinterest page – there are tons of fun ways to encourage students to build, collaborate, and use their creativity! We also have STEM Strategies with suggestions for enriching activities from the Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide.
  7. Learn and imagine. Take your learners on a journey by reading a new book (or two or three!). Reading to children helps to support their cognitive development, improves language skills and creativity, and increases focus and concentration. Check out the Recommended Reading section on our website where you can find different books that teach children about nature.
  8. Start a classroom garden. Plant seeds indoors to observe their growth and then transfer them to an outdoor garden. Learn how to get started using minimal resources!
  9. Become budding artists. Some of the most amazing art is inspired by nature. Encourage your students to get creative and be inspired by trees and the world around them. Check out 21 tree art projects for young learners!
  10. Explore nature through technology. We’re all about putting our phones away for tech-free time. But there are some really cool programs and apps to help you and your students learn more about the environment. Check out i-Tree (calculate the value of benefits that trees provide), iNaturalist (plants and animals identification), and Merlin (bird identification), to name a few!

This school year, take learning to the next level with PLT!

 

project learning tree's explore your environment guideExplore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide 

Looking for activities for the whole school year? Check out PLT’s flagship curriculum, the Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide. Filled with 50 activities suitable for educators working with ages five through fourteen, or kindergarten through 8th grade. The activities are multidisciplinary and incorporate math, science, language arts, social studies and more.

 

 

 

Try Our Digital Activity Collections

If you’ve never tried PLT activities with your students, a great way to get started is with our theme-based digital activity collections. Comprised of three activities that can be done as stand-alone lessons or together as a cohesive unit of instruction, these are the perfect way to take students outside to learn or bring nature indoors. Each collection includes 3 hands-on activities for just $5.99! 

 

 

 

 

Get the most out of PLT by pairing our resources with professional development.

We know how busy life can get, which is why we have in-person, online, and hybrid training opportunities that work with your schedule. You’ll experience PLT activities, get comfortable leading activities outdoors, connect with an amazing network of educators, and leave with a plan to incorporate activities into your lessons.

 

Celebrating World Migratory Bird Day

Together for Birds Activity CollectionTogether for Birds

Birds are a wonderful introduction to the natural world and happen to be just outside your door! Whether in the city or a forest, a variety of birds are usually within easy eyeshot or earshot.

PLT and American Bird Conservancy (ABC) collaborated to develop a special new digital activity collection–Together for Birds. The activities are designed for educators to use with students in grades K-2, with variations for grades 3-5. The collection is filled with enhanced bird-specific content such as new enrichment experiences, recommended reading, forest facts, accompanying posters, and charts.  

 

 

Birds of a Feather Flock Together

This saying seems fitting as we prepare to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day on May 13, 2023. This special day originated to bring awareness of the threats that migratory birds face, their ecological importance, and why it’s so critical to help conserve migratory birds and their habitats.

According to ABC, “Hundreds of bird species flood back and forth between northern breeding grounds and southern wintering areas twice yearly, each a unique circuit of landscape, habitats, and threats.”

Tree with birds

Why Birds Migrate

Birds migrate for two primary reasons–food and nesting. Birds that nest here in the Northern Hemisphere migrate north in the spring because of ample food supply and places to call home. While some birds do not migrate at all, those that do travel varied distances ranging from simply moving down a mountain to a lower elevation to thousands of miles. What is even more incredible is that while the exact path birds travel may differ slightly each year due to weather conditions, food availability, and other reasons, a bird’s inner compass, so to speak, always gets them back home.

In North America, there are four “avian superhighways”–the Atlantic, Mississippi, Central, and Pacific Flyways. Check out this article from ABC to learn more about the flight patterns of bird species near you!

Home Tweet Home

From wetlands to forests, birds have a host of habitats they call home. Some birds build their nests high up in trees, while others create burrows in sand. You might find a bird’s nest delicately floating in a pond and another attached to a freeway overpass. Birds build nests from various materials, including sticks, grass, roots, lichen, bark, feathers, and even mud.

For a fun activity to do with young learners, do the Tree Textures activity from Trees & Me. Set up a discovery table with various materials, like shredded paper, twigs, and moss, and encourage children to build their own nest.

Trees & Birds–A Symbiotic Relationship

Trees are more than just a place birds call home. Birds often find their food, like insects and worms, flying around trees or in the rich soil surrounding a tree and its roots. But it’s not just birds that benefit from trees. It goes the other way around! Birds are essential for dispersing seeds–they contribute to growing more trees. They also help control insect populations, eating pests that can harm trees and plants. These are just some of the many ways trees and birds thrive from one another.

Acorn Woodpecker
Acorn Woodpecker (in pastel) by Swapna Shepherd, American Bird Conservancy Fellow

Activities to Celebrate Birds

Here are some fun ways to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day!

  • World Migratory Bird Day – Global Events Map: Check out events happening near you with this easy-to-use map. From guided nature hikes hosted by birders to interactive exhibits, there is something for everyone!
  • Download the Together for Birds activity collection: Take learners on a journey outdoors to discover the birds and other organisms living in, on, and around trees; how coloration helps animals survive; and signs of animals in different habitats.
  • Introduce kids to urban birdwatching: Head outdoors and have your learners to use their bird-spotting eyes and ears (or binoculars!) to observe birds. Bring paper and some colored pencils with you and get creative–encourage students to draw the birds they see in their nature journals.
  • Name that bird: With profiles of over 400 bird species, check out American Bird Conservancy’s Bird Library. Instead of having students write a book report, have them write a bird report. Encourage them to learn more about a bird’s habitat, its population, what it eats, where it lives, and even the sounds it makes–whether to attract a mate or to warn others of nearby danger.

Get Your Copy of Together for Birds – New Activity Collection!

PLT partnered with American Bird Conservancy to create a new bird-themed digital activity collection, Together for Birds. Thanks to generous funding from ABC, this collection is available for free until December 31, 2023. 

Celebrating Leaders in Education

PLT 2023 Conference Attendees
PLT Coordinators, Facilitators & Partners at 2023 Annual Conference in Stevenson, WA

At the end of March 2023, over 100 Project Learning Tree (PLT) coordinators, facilitators, and partners came together to learn from one another and share best practices at our PLT Annual Conference. These individuals work tirelessly to help spread the word about PLT and educate teachers, natural resources professionals, and others about how to incorporate PLT activities with their learners. It’s our collective goal and commitment to inspire children (and adults) to get outside and learn in (and from) nature.

Every year we honor a few individuals who embody PLT’s mission of advancing environmental education, forest literacy, and career pathways by using trees and forests as windows on the world. This year, PLT recognized four outstanding individuals who have made significant contributions over the years.

Gold Star Awards

The Gold Star Award is given to National PLT partners and outstanding PLT Coordinators that are advancing PLT and acting as ambassadors for the program.

Robert Raze – PLT EOC Member & PLT Facilitator, Florida

Robert Raze, PLT Gold Star Awardee
Robert Raze, PLT Gold Star Awardee, and Jess Kaknevicius, SFI, VP Education

Robert Raze has served as an environmental educator for over 40 years, inspiring the next generation to consider a career in forestry. As a member of the PLT Education Operating Committee (EOC) as well as a PLT Facilitator in Florida, Robert is always willing to contribute. Whether providing insights into how we can reach more educators and pre-service teachers to contributing to discussions around reaching underserved communities, he is a shining leader and member of the PLT community.

Robert’s support for PLT includes growing partnerships with college and university preservice programs across Florida with an emphasis on working with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). He most recently served as part of the SFI-MANRRS Advisory Committee and shared his own story in the PLT Black Faces in Green Spaces: The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers guide.

In 2004 when Robert began teacher as a faculty member in the College of Education, St. Petersburg College, he introduced the concept of professional development for preservice teachers through PLT workshops. Robert Raze shares his passion for EE with his preservice students. As one student commented, “Dr. Raze made me realize the importance of including environmental education in my practicum experience.” Another student wrote, “Dr. Raze’s teaching style is one that I want to emulate because I know my students will learn as much as I have if I teach like Dr. Raze teaches.”

“Dr. Raze is extremely committed to environmental education and his expertise is recognized by his students who always give him the highest marks on their evaluations of his teaching.” – Kimberly J. Hartman, Dean, College of Education, St. Petersburg College

 

Denise Buck, PLT Gold Star Awardee
Denise Buck, PLT Gold Star Awardee and Kate Nagle, Director, Education & Project Learning Tree Network

Denise Buck  – PLT Co-Coordinator, Washington

Denise Buck has served as the Washington PLT Coordinator since 2017 but has been engaging educators and students in environmental education for the past 34 years. During that time, she has served as a facilitator for PLT, Project WET, and Project WILD, training countless educators in all three programs.

Denise has lent her experience and passion to numerous working groups and committees for PLT, including service on PLT’s Education Operating Committee (EOC). This strategic advisory group provides insight and leadership over national programs. Her role on the EOC was the Coordinator Representative, where she gathered insights from the full PLT state network and served as their voice at the highest level. Denise has also been a leader in diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts through her work to partner with tribes across Washington in the delivery of environmental education.

She even postponed her retirement to host the PLT Annual Conference in her home state when COVID shut down initial plans that began back in 2019! She has been a tireless advocate for PLT and a constant source of positivity for those she’s touched over the years.

Her colleagues describe her as a charismatic, warm, and enthusiastic leader creating a culture of care, inclusion and belonging. As Denise begins her next chapter retiring from her role as Washington PLT Co-Coordinator and Program Director for the Pacific Education Institute, her passion will be greatly missed, but the mark she has made will be forever imprinted on the PLT community.

“Denise is pretty fantastic – she has been sparking joy with PLT for many years. Her empathy and enthusiasm for our work and personal lives help connect and bond us as a community of friends.” –LeeAnn Mikkelson, PLT EOC Member

Leadership in Education Awards

Chanda Cooper 

Chanda Cooper with PLT Team
(L to R): Matt Schnabel, South Carolina PLT Co-Coordinator; Beth Foley, South Carolina PLT Co-Coordinator; Rocco Saracina, PLT Sr. Manager Partnerships & Development; Chanda Cooper, PLT Leadership in Education Awardee

Chanda Cooper, an educator with the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District, was recognized for her more than a decade of leadership in championing PLT.

“Chanda rises to any challenge put before her. She works across the county, reaching more than 50,000 students at more than 100 schools in three school districts with her tireless message that learning about forest and conservation science isn’t just important—it can be a lot of fun too,” said Matt Schnabel, Environmental Education Coordinator with the South Carolina Forestry Commission and the South Carolina PLT State Coordinator, “Chanda acts as an ambassador for PLT in South Carolina.”

Cooper co-designed and co-facilitated South Carolina PLT’s strategic planning process in 2019. In 2020, Cooper led the South Carolina PLT Marketing Subcommittee through the development of a state marketing plan. She also co‑authored the final PLT 2020-2024 strategic plan and ushered it through full PLT Steering Committee approval. As a part of this process, she assisted with the reorganization of the South Carolina PLT Steering Committee’s subcommittees.

As the current chair of the South Carolina PLT’s Marketing Subcommittee, Cooper has been instrumental in the development of several new PLT outreach materials over the past year. She facilitated subcommittee work sessions to recommend and review new designs for PLT’s informational brochure and four pop-up banners. In 2022, Cooper scripted, filmed, and edited a series of six video testimonials featuring PLT Steering Committee members, then posted the videos on the South Carolina PLT Facebook page.

Cooper was recognized as a National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2018 and 2017, and as the South Carolina Jerry L. Shrum Project Learning Tree Outstanding Educator of the Year in 2016. She was also named South Carolina’s Environmental Educator of the Year by the Environmental Education Association of South Carolina in 2022.

Dennis Mitchell 

Dennis Mitchell with PLT Team
(L to R): Cyndi Chavez, California PLT Co-Coordinator; Jonelle Mason, California PLT Co-Coordinator; Dennis Mitchell, PLT Leadership in Education Awardee; Rocco Saracina, PLT Sr. Manager Partnerships & Development

Dennis Mitchell, a retired teacher from Evergreen Elementary in Cottonwood, California, was recognized for his tireless work over a quarter century delivering PLT education programs to a diverse range of students.

“It is hard to overstate Dennis’s rich experience in developing and delivering education curriculum programs as a middle school educator. He has proven his dedication by contributing to multiple rewrites of PLT’s Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide, delivering consistent workshops, training new coordinators, and being a monumental resource as California PLT has grown,” said Jonelle Mason, the Northern California PLT State Coordinator at the University of California. “Dennis spreads his deep love for our natural world with ease. He is a role model for all education professionals.”

Mitchell provides PLT trainees throughout California with a critical understanding of both natural resources and education techniques. He plays an important role as the Sierra Education Director for the Forestry Institute for Teachers programs, where he certifies PLT participants annually. This week-long camp involves vigorous planning and coordination to align PLT education curriculum with natural resources concepts. He works closely with natural resources partners, local foresters, school districts, and Sierra Pacific Industries.

Through the Forestry Institute, Mitchell brings his decades-long experience applying PLT in the classroom to elevate the role of forests and the people who work in and care for them. He has a close relationship with many local foresters and natural resource professionals, bringing them in as guest speakers during workshops. These enthusiastic professionals’ specialties include wildfire, law, wildlife, and forestry. By bringing in outside sources, Mitchell gives PLT educators the opportunity to speak to working professionals and then bring that knowledge back to youth learners.

 

Congratulations to all this year’s award recipients and nominees!

Check out more photos from this year’s PLT conference on our Facebook page!

 

Bring PLT Into Your School or Community

If you are interested in connecting with PLT in your state, whether you’re looking for online or in-person professional development workshops to learn how to incorporate PLT resources with your learners or you want to become a PLT workshop facilitator, visit: plt.org/your-state-project-learning-tree-program

 

Seeds in Outer Space! Moon Trees LIVE – April 2023

At Project Learning Tree, we’re pretty big fans of trees, so when we found out about #MoonTrees, we thought, Seeds + Outer Space = the perfect STEM pairing.

One of the original #MoonTrees planted at the Tilden Nature Area in Berkeley, CA.

Did you know that NASA and the USDA Forest Service partnered up over 50 years ago to send seeds to orbit the Moon on Apollo 14?

Well, in December 2022, they did it again!

This time around, Artemis I carried seeds from five different tree species – loblolly pine, Douglas fir, American sycamore, coast redwood, and sweetgum.

After returning from a six-week mission orbiting the moon, the seeds will be germinated back here on Earth, and seedlings will be planted in various locations throughout the U.S. and around the world.

 

Bring Moon Trees into Your Classroom

Did you know that many of the original Moon Trees from the 1971 Apollo 14 mission still stand today and are thriving? Some have even produced a second generation and may be planted closer to home than you think!

Check out the list of moon tree locations around the United States — and if you take a visit to see one in person, pair the trip with PLT’s “How Big Is Your Tree” STEM Strategies exploring science, technology, engineering, and math-related aspects of these interstellar trees. A simplified, free, family-friendly version of this activity is also available in English and Español.

Here are a few more steps you can take to engage your students in learning more about Moon Trees:

 

Step 1:

During the month of April, join experts from the Forest Service and NASA for a four-part video series that looks into the splashdown of Orion, seed viability, germination, and more.

Tune in throughout the month of April to Natural Inquirer’s Youtube channel!

Tune in every Friday in April for Moon Trees LIVE 2

  • Episode 1 – Splashdown: Return to Earth (April 7)
  • Episode 2 – Viability: Testing Survival (April 14)
  • Episode 3 – Germination: To Sprout or Not to Sprout (April 21)
  • Episode 4 – Live Stream: Expert Q&A with the Audience (April 28)

 

Step 2:

Continue the conversation about trees and space. Check out the Forest Service and Natural Inquirer’s learning module, Countdown to Moon Trees, which incorporates several fun and engaging PLT activities to help your students explore trees, what they need, and how they’ve gone to space. The module contains seven units that can be used throughout the year (or compressed to a few weeks).

 

Step 3:

Want to go one step further? The Forest Service is seeking 4th and 5th grade classrooms to help evaluate this program. If your class is interested, please reach out to Rachel Bayer at [email protected].

 

Be the Next Home to a Moon Tree

Apply for your school or organization to be the future home of an Artemis I Moon Tree! The Forest Service and NASA will choose Moon Tree recipients through a competitive application process.

Inspire the next generation of nature explorers. Who knows, maybe one of your students will be the next person to take tree seeds into space!

 

 

New Publication Helps Young Black Americans Explore Career Paths in the Forest and Conservation Sector

Black Faces in Green Spaces The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green CareersA new first-of-its-kind resource, Black Faces in Green Spaces: The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers, has just been released by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), Project Learning Tree (PLT), and Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Related Sciences (MANRRS). The SFI-PLT-MANRRS Black Faces in Green Spaces: The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers guide highlights 22 Black Americans who share their personal stories about finding their passions and overcoming challenges, and offer advice to the next generation about exploring their own careers in the forest and conservation sector. The project was overseen by an SFI-MANRRS Advisory Committee, and Black-owned businesses were hired as consultants, designers, content writers, and photographers.

“For me, it is important to leave an impact on everything that I am engaged in. Being the Co-Chair of the SFI-MANRRS Advisory Committee that produced The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers guide was such an intentional and authentic process. Representation matters: Every person that took part in the project identified as an African American, from the advisory committee to the photographer,” said Dr. Antomia “Mia” Farrell, Co-Chair of the SFI-MANRRS Advisory Committee, Assistant Dean and Director for Diversity, University of Kentucky, and former National MANRRS President. “It is my hope that we can continue to uplift the voices of African Americans in this space, bring awareness to green careers, and ignite young people to know that there are a plethora of career options within the sector.”

The name “Black Faces in Green Spaces” pays homage to Dr. Carolyn Finney, who authored the book Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors. The guide is intentional in showcasing a diversity of experiences and careers to show that there is a place for everyone to find a career in the forest and conservation sector—whether it be indoors, outdoors, an apprenticeship, or with a Ph.D. The guide showcases a small portion of the interdisciplinary careers that fall within the sector. It includes a forester, a biologist, a hydrologist, a GIS specialist, a DEI specialist, an environmental educator, an urban forester, and more.

Many Black young adults are unaware of job opportunities in the forest and conservation sector, and unfortunately this stems from many reasons. Young adults don’t always have someone they know that they can look up to or seek advice from about forest and conservation topics, but we also know that communities of color are disproportionally affected by pollution and climate change. More than 80% of the U.S. population lives in urban areas and research shows that access to trees and their associated benefits is often lower in neighborhoods of color and lower income neighborhoods. As we gain a growing understanding of the importance of urban forests, there will be growing career opportunities in this space.

“This partnership between SFI and MANRRS reflects the USDA Forest Service’s mission to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion by creating a diverse workforce as we seek to grow the next generation of conservation stewards that reflect our society,” said Beattra Wilson, Assistant Director for Urban and Community Forestry, USDA Forest Service.

Urban forests and trees are vital for community well-being, health, resiliency, and sustainability. The USDA Forest Service and SFI are making urban forestry a priority and recognizing it as an opportunity to raise quality of place and quality of life with initiatives such as the SFI Urban and Community Forest Sustainability Standard. Community trees and forests provide many social, environmental, and economic benefits including improved health and well-being, social cohesion and accessibility, outdoor learning environments, climate change solutions, reduced air pollution, and improved urban design. Urban forests and trees and their associated benefits should be accessible and available to everyone.

“With less than 3% Black American representation in forest and conservation careers, these Black hidden figures are iconic to empowering our next generation of forest and conservation professionals,” said Dr. Marcus Bernard, National President of MANRRS. “When students see Black professionals in the forest and conservation sector, they see themselves! They also see a career path they never knew existed. This resource highlights the long-standing contribution of Black forest and conservation professionals working in what we now call environmental sustainability.”

“By elevating the voices of Black Americans, by providing role models, by celebrating innovations and contributions, and by sharing their advice with others, we can inspire, encourage, and engage both this and the next generation of Black Americans to become forest and conservation leaders,” said Kathy Abusow, Co-Chair of the SFI-MANRRS Advisory Committee and President and CEO of SFI. “We also believe it is critical that we engage the forest and conservation sector to ensure they create welcoming places of employment where a diverse workforce can not only be recruited, but can be retained and advanced to leadership positions.”

 

The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Jobs cover spread

How to obtain copies and support young adults in your community

To ensure the guide is shared with as many young adults, educators, and guidance counselors as possible, the digital version of SFI-PLT-MANRRS’s Black Faces in Green Spaces: The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers guide is available for free.

Individual printed copies are also available for $39.99. Bulk orders for organizations that want to distribute printed copies to employees, students, networks, and partners are welcome ($800/box of 25 copies).

Please consider buying or donating a box that can be given to schools, colleges, and universities across the United States, such as Title I schools and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). If you are an employer, this is a wonderful companion piece to hand out at recruitment events. To purchase or download the book, visit: plt.org/journeys.

 

Additional resources

Download the accompanying Educator Toolkit, designed to help upper elementary, middle- and high-school educators, as well as college-level career advisors, use the guide with their students. The toolkit may also be helpful for school guidance and career counselors, homeschooling parents, youth group leaders, or informal educators looking to enhance their students’ career explorations. 

To enhance the use of this guide in schools and other settings, PLT offers a set of digital posters spotlighting the professionals profiled.

To learn more about supporting resources for this guide, please visit www.plt.org/journeys.

New Year, New PLT Resources

As we ring in the New Year and look forward to all the great things to come in 2023 (hello, The Journeys of Black Professionals in Green Careers Guide and PLT U.S. Green Mentor cohort!), it’s also a perfect time to reflect on and celebrate the past year. From launching new PLT materials like Trees & Me and our activity collections, Connecting for Health and Planet and Trillions of Trees, to the continued success of PLT state coordinators and facilitators training over 6,000 educators—we made big impacts in 2022.

Below are the top PLT resources, activities, and environmental education ideas shared over the last year.

Check out some of our newest resources and a few familiar ones that you’ll want to bookmark!

 

A Lifetime of Learning

There is no greater gift than introducing a child, no matter what age, to nature. From early childhood to young adulthood, PLT offers a lifetime of learning opportunities to introduce people to nature.

Whether taking learning outdoors, growing forest literacy, or connecting future green leaders with mentors and career pathway opportunities, PLT helps create the next generation of forest and conservation stewards with proven educational resources that have touched the lives of millions of students for nearly 50 years. As we begin this new year, we’re excited to expand our programming to offer career pathways resources for young adults.

Now, more than ever, it’s important to support and nurture the next generation of green leaders!

Check out this inspiring new video that shows the meaningful impacts of nature on a young person’s life and career pathway.

Educator Resources to Advance Indigenous Rights and Relationships

Did you know that Project Learning Tree Canada developed a series of nine Indigenous Rights and Relationship Building online courses in collaboration with Sault College?

These online courses promote respectful relationship building and greater understanding, recognition, and respect for Indigenous Peoples’ rights, traditional knowledge, representative institutions, and distinctive relationships with the forest. We’ve created a special 4-hour bundle for environmental educators who want to enhance their ability to build meaningful forest-focused relationships with Indigenous communities and respectfully co-develop environmental education programs and resources alongside Indigenous communities, educators, and knowledge holders.

 

Online Game Encourages Youth to Explore Forests & Green Careers

Take your students on a journey with Project Learning Tree Canada’s newest educational and career resource, Forest Quest!

This free interactive online experience guides youth ages 14+ through the forest, helping them understand why forests matter, the benefits of sustainable forest management, and the impact of forests on people’s lives. Along the way, they’ll meet various professionals who provide insights into green career paths.

Whether you are an environmental educator, high school or university faculty, career/guidance counselor, or a mentor, this valuable tool can help students understand the value and benefits of forests and trees. It’s also a great way to expose young adults to various green jobs and inspire them to take action on behalf of forests.

Check out the Forest Quest trailer to learn more and have your students get started on their journey today!

 

Top 2022 Resources & Tips for Educators

You better be-leaf it! We compiled a list of some of our most-read Educator Tips from The Branch newsletter in 2022.

Bookmark the following activity ideas and let us know what you think in the comments and on social media!

  • Bird Feeder Projects Featuring Natural and Recycled Materials: Engage kids in outdoor learning with a variety of fun, hands-on bird feeder projects featuring recycled and natural materials.
  • How Trees Survive Cold Winters: When temperatures drop and days get shorter, trees start to prepare for the cold of the winter. How do different kinds of trees adapt to the cold? Take a closer look at trees and get children to investigate the seasonal changes!
  • Expand Your Classroom with Nature-Based Sensory Activities: Explore the world outside or bring the outdoors in with nature-based sensory activities that meet the needs of all students, including those with diverse or special needs.
  • How to Introduce Students to Urban Birdwatching: Introduce kids to urban birdwatching and help them enjoy their immediate environments! Check out how to get started with urban birdwatching at your school, daycare, summer camp, or home, along with bird-themed activities that you can adapt for your classroom.
  • Celebrate Earth Day with Community Science Projects: Want to do something for the environment to honor Earth Day, Earth Month, or anytime at all? Make an impact as a citizen scientist and contribute to real-life data while helping conserve ecosystems.

Winter Break Family Outdoor Advent-ure Calendar

With winter break just around the corner, we’ve compiled a list of two weeks’ worth of fun outdoor activities that will keep everyone entertained. Let nature inspire you, enjoy the beauty of winter, and spend time outside. Every day, a new adventure for the family awaits!

If you live in polar and temperate zones, before venturing outdoors, monitor weather conditions and ensure children dress appropriately before heading out. 

1. Play I SpyLittle girl looking through binoculars

Get outside and use your nature-spotting eyes! Play a game of I Spy with your kiddos, encourage them to look for the big and little parts of nature, and then ask questions about what they’ve spied. “I spy something green” could turn into a conversation about the type of tree your child sees. Unsure what type of tree it is? Check out our Name That Tree activity and download a free mobile app to make identifying trees fun and easy.

 

2. Take a Walk

Yep, it’s that easy! If everyone’s getting a little antsy being cooped up inside, grab jackets and sweaters, put on comfy shoes, and head out for a family walk. Whether you go for a loop around the neighborhood or a two-mile nature hike, getting outside has its health benefits – both mental and physical. It lets you release whatever energy is built up, plus you enjoy the beauty of nature and get some fresh air and vitamin D.

 

3. Urban Birdwatching

Just look up! Birds are everywhere around us. Urban birdwatching is an easy activity to open kids’ eyes to the natural environment around them and how incredible birds are at making homes wherever they land.

 

4. Make Nature-Based GiftsWreaths

The best gifts are those that come from the heart. Encourage your kids to make gifts for family and friends by using materials they can find in nature or by reusing materials from something else. Create a cool art piece using recycled cardboard and glue on leaves or rocks you find on your walk. Draw or take a picture of whatever you see around you and frame it for a family member. Be creative and get inspired by nature (and our Pinterest page that’s full of fun arts and craft activities)!

 

5. Visit a Park

Make a plan to get outside and play in nature! Maybe it’s spending the afternoon at a neighborhood park, or if you live close to a regional, state, or national park, these are beautiful locations that can truly take your breath away. Be sure to check out the visitor center where you can chat with park rangers, learn more about trees, plants, animals and geology, and access maps for hiking trails. Don’t live close to a park? Check out local nature preserves, outdoor museums, or botanical gardens.

 

6. Enjoy Nature’s Symphony

Have you ever noticed how the stillness of winter amplifies the sounds around you? Step out into your backyard, have everyone close their eyes, and just listen. What do you hear? Are there birds chirping? Can you hear the sound of leaves rustling in the breeze? What does the snow crunching beneath your feet sound like? Check out our Sounds Around activity.

 

7. Park/River/Beach Clean-UpLittle boy cleaning up litter

Don’t be a litterbug…be a clean-up bug! A great way to teach your kids about the importance of caring for our planet is to pick up litter. There are lots of benefits, including that it helps to improve water quality and critters don’t mistake trash for food. All you need are some gloves to keep your hands clean and a trash bag. Start small – clean up litter in your neighborhood or favorite park. If you live near water, help clear trash from the beach. If there’s an organized event happening near you, that’s another great way to get involved and meet others in your community!

 

8. Adopt a Tree

Find a tree in your yard, neighborhood or a nearby park that intrigues your family. Invite your kids to “adopt” their favorite tree and use their senses of sight, touch, hearing, and smell to describe the tree. Check out our free family activity and download the Adopt a Tree Journal so your family can revisit this tree throughout the seasons.

 

9. Start a Nature Collection

One of the things my own kiddos love to do is collect items from nature when we’re out hiking or walking on the many trails in our town. From finding a tiny pebble and an acorn to leaves that have fallen off trees and bird feathers found on the ground, this is a fun way for kids to learn about different types of trees, plants, rocks, and animals. Be mindful of where you’re taking items from – check with rules and regulations for where you visit.

 

10. Make the Most of Winter WeatherPeople sledding

If you live somewhere it snows, take advantage of playing in the snow! From skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, and ice-skating to building a snowman or snow castle, get outside to enjoy the wonders of winter weather. Rain in the forecast? Have everyone put on raincoats and shoes, and channel your inner child by jumping in puddles or digging in the mud and dirt! It’s ok to get dirty; in fact, it’s a great way for kids to learn about nature. There are all sorts of stories that soil can tell us!

 

11. Have a Picnic

Who says picnics are only for spring and summer? If there’s some good weather in your winter break forecast, pack a snack or meal (and weather appropriate clothing!) and head outdoors with your family. Use this opportunity to enjoy some bird watching or talk with children about what they see and hear around them, whether you’re in your backyard or at a park.

 

12. Follow the Animal Tracks

If it’s recently snowed or rained, take a walk and see if you can find animal tracks. Put on your detective hat and look for clues. Is it a deer, squirrel, or bird? Is there scat nearby? A feather? Some fur? Was the animal heading to a creek to drink water or to a tree to scratch its back? Whatever the wild animal, always use caution and leave plenty of space if you come upon one! Remember, we’re visitors in their home.

 

13. Star GazePeople stargazing

Bundle up and head outside on a clear night to gaze up at the skies. It’s a great way to introduce children to astronomy, plus looking at stars sparkling in the night sky helps us realize just how small we are in comparison to our planet. It’s pretty awe-inspiring!

 

14. Nature Journaling

On your next outdoor adventure, encourage everyone to grab a piece of paper or journal and a pencil. Our activity, The Closer You Look, helps children understand the structure of a tree through observation and art. Nature journaling is a fun, creative outlet for kids and adults – and you don’t have to be the next Claude Monet! Maybe you prefer writing poet-tree and your child loves drawing. There are no rules when it comes to creating a nature journal, other than find what inspires you and let your pencil do the rest!

 

Looking for more ways to explore nature with your family or great gifts to give this holiday season?

Check out Trees & Me: Activities for Exploring Nature with Young Children, Pocket Guide: Seeds to Trees, and Nature Activities for Families. You can find these books and more on the PLT Shop!