• Outstanding Educator
    Meera Varigonda

    Meera Varigonda, English Language Learners Instructional Educator, Oak Valley Middle School, San Diego, California

    Meera Varigonda has a strong background in urban planning and community design. She came to the United States from Canada, where she was a land use planner and college instructor. She first became involved with PLT as a reviewer for the Places We Live module and has since become an active facilitator and presenter. She is helping to coordinate the PLT GreenSchools program with high schools in San Diego. At Oak Valley Middle School, she works with students in grades 6 to 9 in a multi-language classroom and uses PLT activities with her students. She has also introduced PLT to the California’s Building Healthy Communities Initiative and the California After School Network.

    “As a liaison for Project Learning Tree, Meera has been instrumental in bringing the GreenSchools program to my school. Her work to establish environmental education has impacted many young people’s lives.”

    – Michelle Stuart, Crawford High School, San Diego, California

    Meera was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2013.

  • Outstanding Educator
    Joy Barney

    Joy Barney, Conservation Education Program Specialist, U.S. Forest Service, Lake Tahoe, California

    Joy Barney, Conservation Education Program Specialist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, coordinates and implements programs that connect children and adults to nature in five counties around Lake Tahoe. She has spent her career working in California’s parks and forests.

    When she came to Lake Tahoe in 2007, she found many children were surrounded by the forest but not connected to it. In response, she developed innovative programs for kindergarten through high school students. She created Generation Green of Lake Tahoe, through which high school students learn job skills, teamwork, and an understanding of natural resource management. With a grant from PLT’s GreenWorks! service-learning program, she developed the Angora Burn Tree Education and Planting project, which involved students and the community in learning about and contributing to forest restoration after the devastating 2007 Angora Fire. She also helped establish the South Tahoe Environmental Education Coalition, made up of government agencies, schools, and nonprofit groups.

    “Joy is a lifelong advocate for conservation and environmental education. She is also committed to engaging underserved youth and community members in learning about and participating in conservation activities.”

    – Kay Antunez, California PLT State Coordinator

    Joy was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2011.

  • Outstanding Educator
    Patricia Dunlap

    Tricia Dunlap, Science Teacher, Curtis Creek Elementary School, California

    Patricia (Tricia) Dunlap grew up in the Los Angeles area, but spent many weekends and vacations enjoying the unbuilt environment. “My love of the outdoors has defined who I am and what I have chosen to do for all my life,” she says, remembering the camping trips and picnics she took with her family as a child.

    During college, she became a naturalist-intern at Foothill Horizons Outdoor School in Sonora, where she realized that teaching was the way for her to share her love of the outdoors with others. She earned her teaching credentials in 1992 and has taught in a variety of settings ever since.

    Tricia is a science and environmental education consultant, coordinating forestry and other environmental programs within the Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Office. She teaches science at Curtis Creek Elementary School and also works with Special Education interns for the Stanislaus County Office of Education. In each of these roles, PLT is front and center.

    Tricia’s goal is to connect youth with the natural forest community that surrounds them. She organized a program called the Tuolumne County Forestry Youth Partnership, in which high school students shadow U.S. Forest Service staff for six weeks during the summer. Through a PLT GreenWorks! grant, students in the program learned about fire ecology and participated in a unique field trip to the Mt. Elizabeth fire lookout station.

    In 2006, Tricia developed the concept and raised the funding for California’s fourth Forestry Institute for Teachers, a week-long program for K-12 educators. In her role as the Region 6 Coordinator for the California Regional Environmental Education Community Network, Tricia also plans and carries out workshops for classroom teachers and after-school leaders.

    “Tricia is a lifelong advocate for forestry and environmental education. She is committed to the work we are trying to do in California to support and advance EE.”

    – Kay Antunez, California PLT State Coordinator

    Tricia was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2009.