Kirsten Brazier is a 1st grade teacher at a Title 1 school, Crawfordville Elementary School in Wakulla County, Florida. She is passionate about using the outdoors to engage students in learning and supports all teachers at every grade level in using Project Learning Tree’s lessons to connect children to nature. Kirsten encourages new faculty to attend PLT trainings and she organizes PLT Week, an annual event with a wide range of activities for all students and members of the community that is focused around a central theme to grow awareness of environmental issues in their area.
Kirsten also plans and creates service-learning opportunities for students at her school and helps find funding. Students grow vegetables, herbs, and flowers in raised garden beds, they observe monarch caterpillars and butterflies attracted to their butterfly garden, and they set up a school-wide recycling program and participate in Recycle-Bowl, a yearly competition organized by Keep America Beautiful in which students track the amount of trash they recycle in a month.
Kirsten received National PLT’s Leadership in Education Award in 2019.
During his 25 years as an educator, Dave Shafer has found creative and effective ways to get students outdoors to learn about the world around them. He attended his first PLT workshop in 1993 and has used PLT hands-on activities with his students ever since. At Skiles Test Elementary School, he teaches a range of STEM topics and is responsible for the school’s 10 acres of outdoor space. Dave holds a B.S. in Elementary Education from the University of Indiana. In 2006, through a Lilly Endowment Distinguished Fellowship Grant, he taught science in Costa Rica and showed teachers how to use hands-on lessons with their students.
“His passion, creativity, and commitment to providing hands-on learning experiences to his students make him one of the most unique and innovative teachers I have ever met.”
– Heather Maurer, Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Inc. (working with Shafer to develop an Eco-Trail at Skiles)
Dave was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2016.
Alice Garcia, Fourth Grade Teacher, Will Rogers Elementary School, Holly, Michigan
Alice Garcia uses PLT with her multi-ethnic fourth grade classroom at Will Rogers Elementary and has trained the entire staff at the school in PLT. She is known for providing quality environmental education teaching that meets the state’s core curriculum standards. She works with a nearby nature center to bring her students on day and overnight trips and partnered with the center to construct an outdoor trail and garden on the school campus. She also conducts activity-based, hands-on learning during the year-round school’s intersessions.
“Alice is a model of excellent teaching. Strength, organization, and a passion for learning are her commitments.”
– Mike Mansour, Hawk Woods Nature Center, Auburn Hills, Michigan
Alice was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2016.
Dawn Hammon taught at several public schools in Indianapolis, most recently at Cold Spring Environmental Magnet School, before she joined the Center for Inquiry in 2014. She uses PLT activities to spark interest in the environment in young urban students through outdoor and classroom projects. Her students have started school gardens and composting projects, as well as planting native vegetation to contain surface runoff from a parking lot. Within weeks of starting her new position, she created a Junior Naturalist Club for students in kindergarten through Grade 2.
Dawn works with community groups to organize outdoor science days for the entire school and develops programs to involve parents in learning about environmental topics with their children. Read her tips for involving parents in their children’s learning.
In addition to her classroom duties, Dawn is the lead science trainer to kindergarten teachers in the Indianapolis Public School System. Dawn received the 2015 Barbara Pitman Outstanding Educator Award recipient for her application of and enthusiasm for children’s literature within the field of environmental education.
“Dawn spends evenings, weekends, and summers helping other teachers become comfortable with science and how to bring the environment into their classrooms.”
– Amy Hach, Teacher, Cold Spring Environmental Magnet School, Indianapolis, Indiana
Dawn was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2015.
Jennifer Edwards, Science Teacher, Ronald Brown Academy, Detroit, Michigan
Jennifer Edwards is the lead science teacher at her elementary school. Since participating in a program to bring environmental education into urban settings in 2009, she has worked hard to create an atmosphere in which students are able to find some aspect of science they love. From Day 1 in the school year, her students are exposed to PLT lessons, and she seeks out opportunities to take her students on field trips where children learn about forest ecosystems, help remove invasive species, and explore green careers. She also works with other teachers at her school and throughout the district to help bring environmental education into more classrooms.
“She has a quiet leadership style, which allows her to connect with lots of people. She shares her information in a way that makes it accessible and not intimidating, and inspires others to get involved.”
– Alycia Merriweather, Executive Director, Office of Science Education, Detroit Public Schools, Michigan
Jennifer was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2015.
Lisa Saunders, Fifth Grade Teacher, Bicentennial Elementary School, Nashua, New Hampshire
Lisa Saunders was part of New Hampshire PLT’s Connecting Schools to People and Places program, which began in 2007 and helped develop an outdoor classroom, among many other initiatives. She is known for her innovative and effective strategies to teach students about water systems. She has been a strong advocate for PLT through her role on a district team to align curriculum with state standards, and several PLT activities are now a part of the K-5 district science curriculum. Lisa has also been part of a Math Science Partnership cohort to bring PLT and other environmental education programs into the classroom.
“Lisa’s approach to science and environmental education is empowering. The lessons in her classroom extend to the community as a whole, changing attitudes and lifelong behaviors.”
– Kyle Langille, Principal, Bicentennial Elementary School, Nashua, New Hampshire
Lisa was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2015.
Victoria Pasco, Science Lab Teacher, Catawba Trail Elementary School, Elgin, South Carolina
First trained in PLT in the 1980s, Victoria Pasco has used it with a variety of audiences, age groups, and settings. As a science lab teacher, she involves the 550 Catawba Trail elementary students in a hands-on, project-based environmental education curriculum that she created using PLT activities as springboards. She works with students to design, create, and maintain wildlife habitats, school gardens, and a nature trail. She uses these outdoor learning spaces on the school campus and also takes students on field trips to instill in children a love for the outdoors. She helps other educators see how PLT materials can be used in their classrooms to meet state academic standards, and she is a member of the South Carolina PLT Steering Committee.
“Victoria has created a program that not only inspires children, it engages the entire family….Catawba Trail Elementary School opened in August 2011 and it was immediately apparent that the Science Discovery Center would be the heart of the school.”
– Denise Barth, Principal, Catawba Trail Elementary School, Elgin, South Carolina
Victoria was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2015.
Karen Christenson uses the environment as a way to teach life science. She uses Schoolyard Safari and other PLT activities to introduce students to outdoor exploration. According to the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments, 87% of students at her school have reached or exceeded proficiency in science.
From 2003 to 2007, Karen worked at Bruce Vento Elementary School, where she taught K-6 science enrichment and launched the school’s first science fair. Through the Minnesota School Forest Program, Karen helps teachers use their school forest as an outdoor classroom and apply PLT to teach math, art, science, language arts, and social studies. Karen also serves as a lead instructor for summer academies that show PreK-12 educators how to integrate forestry education into their core curriculum.
Karen is a leader in environmental education throughout Minnesota who has received grants to develop environmental education opportunities and action projects for both teachers and students. Since becoming involved with PLT in 2006, Karen has become a PLT facilitator and conducted more than 30 workshops. As an adjunct instructor at Hamline University and guest speaker at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, she offers PLT training to a variety of audiences. She has presented PLT at conferences, with the media, and with legislators in Washington, DC.
“If you are looking for a dedicated professional who exemplifies the commitment to teaching and learning of and about the forest, then Karen is your person. Her ability to partner with public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders is remarkable.”
– Paula M. J. Frings, coordinator of the Itasca County Forest Education and Awareness Program, which hosts an annual Summer Educators Academy, St. Paul, Minnesota
Karen was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2014.
Cynthia Lawhon, Discoveries Teacher, Claiborne Fundamental Elementary School, Shreveport, Louisiana
Cynthia Lawhon develops activities and programs to accelerate learning for students in grades 2 through 5 at her magnet elementary school. Her goal is to offer enrichment that reaches across the curriculum and goes above and beyond what is offered in the classroom. Since her earliest days as a teacher, more than 40 years ago, she has instilled a commitment to the environment in her students. After she successfully wrote a grant for a new playground and outdoor learning area, she led the way to make the school a PLT certified school, helping to train faculty in PLT, develop ways to use the outdoors for learning, and take the lead in other environmental activities.
“Teachers like Cynthia encourage us, challenge us, and substantiate to each of us in education that we are making a positive difference in the lives of the students with whom we work.”
– Monica Howell, Counselor, Claiborne Fundamental Elementary School, Shreveport, Louisiana
Cynthia was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2014.
Augustine Frkuska, Teacher, Crestview Elementary, Live Oak, Texas
Augustine (Augie) Frkuska teaches at a bilingual school in the Judson Independent School District. There, he works with every teacher to integrate PLT activities into the curriculum. He contributes to the annual “Science in the Park” event, which exposes students to environmental education at a nearby city park, and he has been instrumental in helping classes take advantage of a new outdoor learning center on the campus. Augie is involved with the Mentoring Science Teachers program through Our Lady of the Lake University and has been formally recognized for his talent as a mentor. He also helped to initiate the Area-Alamo Children Organized to Replace Natives (ACORN) project, which involves students from seven schools.
“In all of his many endeavors, he always brings the PLT perspective as an organizing structure. It is one of the many distinguished characteristics he is known for.”
– Kent Page, Science Academic Support Teacher, Peggy Carnahan Elementary School, San Antonio, Texas
Augustine was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2014.
Kelly Gallo, Environmental Education Specialist, Soldier Hollow Charter School, Midway, Utah
Kelly Gallo created a Green Council composed of students and parent volunteers that oversees the school’s recycling program and sponsors other environmental activities. She also received a PLT GreenWorks! grant to support students in the creation of a butterfly garden, and began a watershed festival that has turned into a community event. She also advises the school’s award-winning Envirothon teams. Previously a classroom teacher, Kelly now organizes citizen science projects and other activities for students in grades K-8, often using PLT resources. She also has developed resource documents for other charter schools in the state about how to integrate environmental education and place-based education into existing curricula.
“Kelly’s unique teaching style helps students understand that they can solve complex environmental issues through the use of sound scientific principles as well as proper management.”
– Lonny Reed, Former Board President, Soldier Hollow Charter School, Midway, Utah
Kelly was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2014.
Lynn Kochiss is recognized for her commitment and expertise in connecting her students and their families to the outdoors. She is a strong proponent of integrating environmental education throughout the curriculum, in science, language arts, and math. She has organized numerous PLT workshops, including a customized training for special education teachers, to show educators how PLT complements their lessons, meets state education standards, and gets students outside, learning about nature and environmental issues.
Tapping into her students’ interests, Lynn created the Woodside School Earth Club, the school’s only after-school program with a wait list. As part of the club’s activities, students in grades 3 to 5 take action to improve their school, from setting up a school-wide recycling program that includes electronics, to establishing winter bird feeders.
As an active volunteer with the Connecticut Forest and Park Association’s WalkCT Family Ramble program, Lynn frequently guides families on nature walks, National Trails Day outings, and other outdoor events such as bird watching on Connecticut trails. She uses PLT activities to raise awareness and appreciation for the environment in a fun and educational way. For example, in PLT’s “The Forest of S.T. Shrew” activity, participants examine a fallen tree, and questions about rot, insects, and fungus lead to engaging discussions and discovery. Kochiss’ “Stories by the Fire” activity has audiences spellbound listening to tales about wildlife in the New England winter.
“Lynn not only creates an energized and positive climate in her classroom, but also she strives to bring that energy throughout our school community.”
– Paula M. Talty, Assistant Superintendent, Cromwell Public Schools, Cromwell, Connecticut
Lynn was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2013.
Netosh Jones, Third Grade Teacher, Martin L. King Jr. Elementary School, Washington, DC
Netosh Jones has introduced students, the community, and her fellow teachers to environmental education through her involvement with PLT. She worked with the National PLT office to create multiple school gardens that are used as outdoor learning areas and hosted a National Day of Service. She continually provides preK-5 students with real-world experiences related to the environment. She is a member of the Next Generation Science Standards writing team and is a Sally Ride Fellow and an ExxonMobil Mickelson Fellow.
“She brings excitement to the students and believes inquiry-based activities are the way to reach our children in the urban community.”
– Kimberly Overton, Teacher and Building Representative, Martin L. King Jr. Elementary School
Netosh was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2013.
Rebecca Wolfson, Music Teacher, Florida Virtual School, Orlando, Florida
Rebecca Wolfson taught grades 1, 2, and 4 at Lake Butler Elementary School from 2002-2012, where she participated in the pilot for the national PLT GreenSchools program. With her assistance, the school took the lead in establishing Union County’s first recycling program. Earlier in her career, she was an elementary music teacher, and in 2012 she returned to teaching music, specifically guitar to high school students, through the Florida Virtual School. She remains active in PLT and draws from the PLT Early Childhood curriculum to explore the connections between the environment and music. She has participated in and facilitated environment-related summer camps and field trips and has been active with Union County 4-H.
“What a pleasure to work and be associated with Rebecca Wolfson as a co-worker and valued friend…She is highly qualified, eager to work and excel, always providing a positive learning experience for everyone she interacts with.”
– Colan Coody, Union County 4-H Assistant, Florida
Rebecca was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2013.
Brooke Mohr has taught for more than 25 years in almost every elementary grade, as well as gifted instruction and early intervention for at-risk students. She now teaches at Medart Elementary School in Crawfordville, Florida.
Each year, she involves local organizations and parents in a “PLT Week” during which each class participates in various activities surrounding a central theme to grow environmental awareness and stewardship in both her students and the entire school community.
She has taken a leading role to promote environmental education throughout Wakulla County, the first in the state to have all its elementary schools designated as Florida PLT Schools. Her teaching philosophy is based on her belief that teaching students to care about the environment creates positive change in schools, at home, and in the community. She became a National Board Certified Teacher in 2006 and was named Florida PLT Educator of the Year in 2011.
“Mrs. Mohr exemplifies an outstanding educator with her dedication, creativity, student and partner engagement plans, and commitment to caring for the environment.”
– Robin Will, ranger at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
Brooke was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2012.
Kyle Langille, Principal, Bicentennial Elementary School, Nashua, New Hampshire
Kyle Langille has led Bicentennial Elementary and its staff to integrate environmental education throughout the curriculum. Under her leadership, Bicentennial participated in a three-year partnership with New Hampshire PLT called “Connecting Schools to People and Place,” and she ensured that the effort would be sustained after the program officially ended in 2011. Various green initiatives are now a staple of school life, and Bicentennial was recognized as a PLT GreenSchool in 2011. Kyle ensures that environmental education is taught at every grade in ways that strengthen learning and adhere to state standards. In fact, the school’s science standardized test scores have improved as a direct result of her environmental education integration.
“Involvement in PLT has made a difference for teaching and learning at Bicentennial…Project Learning Tree would not have happened [at Bicentennial] without Kyle’s support, direction, and enthusiasm.”
– Althea Sheaff, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, Nashua
Kyle was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2012.
Doug Chapman, Fifth Grade Science Teacher, Wolford Elementary School, McKinney, Texas
Doug Chapman came to Wolford Elementary School in 2007, after teaching in Texas and California. He has established a reputation as a teacher of excellence with a strong commitment to environmental education. He founded an environmental club for students in grades 4 and 5, with the ultimate goal of helping Wolford Elementary become a PLT GreenSchool. With PTA support and a student-led Green Team, the effort has already resulted in measurable improvements in energy usage, waste reduction, and cost savings. Doug is involved in the Texas Conservation Institute and many other environmental programs in the McKinney community.
“Students have participated in various community service projects at school and in our community due to his efforts…He continually raises their awareness of environmental concerns.”
– Fern Gratt, Principal, Wolford Elementary School
Doug was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2012.
Cindy Kilpatrick has been a leader in incorporating environmental lessons into every classroom at Oil City Magnet School in Oil City, Louisiana. As the Environmental Science Facilitator, she coordinated more than 100 field trips in 2009-2010 alone, helping students learn about connections to the environment at a grocery store, a landfill, a hospital, and a power plant.
Using PLT to anchor the environmental education program, Oil City has become the highest performing Title I school in the state. Cindy was inspired by PLT to help students create a nature trail, garden, and bird feeding and watching stations, among other projects. Cindy and her students use the school greenhouse to hold a “plant camp” each year where community residents can store their houseplants for the winter. The students use the fees they collect to purchase gardening supplies.
A teacher for more than 34 years, Cindy led the initiative to make Oil City a PLT-certified school, and Oil City is now part of PLT’s GreenSchools pilot program with a Learn and Serve grant. She also teaches pre-service teachers at Louisiana State University in Shreveport to use PLT. Cindy has spoken at numerous state and national conferences, and she regularly hosts visitors from other schools to learn from Oil City Magnet School’s successful model.
“Through Mrs. Kilpatrick’s guidance, Oil City School has received national recognition as a leader in environmental science education. Her use of PLT activities encourages student participation and resulted in students achieving academic success.”
– Mike Irvin, Oil City Magnet School Principal
Cindy was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2011.
Rob Taylor uses the outdoors in creative ways to increase students’ understanding of science and engage them in opportunities for leadership in their community. He serves as Gifted and Talented Coordinator and Science Teacher for the elementary, middle, and high schools in Jay, Maine.
Using grants that he obtained for Jay Middle School, including a PLT GreenWorks! grant, he involved students in creating a greenhouse, powered by solar energy, to grow food for the school cafeteria. They are now constructing a wind turbine and creating a composting program.
Earlier in his career, Rob introduced a six-week outdoor segment into his science curriculum. Since then, he has used PLT to engage students in learning about the world around them. For many years, he has involved students in improving the Jay Recreation Area, a 200-acre municipal property next to the school. The students are now taking the lead in planning a well-managed timber harvest, which will bring in more than $150,000 to the Town of Jay to support recreation.
Rob is also a long-time advisor for Jay’s Envirothon teams. The teams are top competitors and were Maine’s state champions in 2009 and 2010, representing the state at the Canon International Envirothon.
“Through his work with the Gifted and Talented program, middle school students are challenged as never before.”
– Scott Albert, Jay Middle School Principal
Rob was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2011.
Jennifer Richardson, Fifth Grade Science and Social Studies Teacher, Wooster Elementary School, Greenbrier, Arkansas
Jennifer Richardson is a champion of environmental education in Arkansas. She serves on the Arkansas Environmental Literacy Plan Committee, which is charged with developing a plan for the future of environmental education in the state. She uses PLT with her fifth graders and leads many school-wide greening efforts, including recycling, composting, and developing a nature trail. Students became so enthused about working on the trail during recess that recess-related discipline problems declined and standardized science test scores rose. Jennifer also coordinates school-wide programs such as National Green Week, Earth Day, and an Environmental Science club, as well as a community-wide EcoFest. Jennifer is a National Board Certified Teacher and was a finalist in the 2010 Presidential Award in Science for the State of Arkansas. She also coordinates a monthly publication called Wooster Wild in which teachers share instructional strategies and resources. When she participated in the George Washington Teacher Institute, she even developed a lesson plan on Washington’s life as a farmer and environmentalist that incorporates PLT information about conservation during the 18th century!
Jennifer was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2011 and 2010.
Linda Jordan, Fourth Grade Teacher, Indian Rocks Christian School, Seminole, Florida
An elementary school teacher for 25 years, Linda Jordan has been at Indian Rocks Christian School in Seminole, Florida, for the past six years, where she expanded the school’s math and science curriculum by introducing teachers to PLT. She uses the outdoors as an important component to learning; for example, yields from the students’ herb garden help pay for field trips. Linda has been trained in PLT’s Early Childhood, PreK-8, and High School curricula and she works with teachers in those grades to incorporate PLT. Linda first developed and now continues to facilitate a popular Summer Science Camp and has obtained grants for other special programs, such as the school’s Weather Bug Center and an “agriculture quilt” project that received awards at the Florida State Fair.
Linda was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2011.
Jennifer Piccinini, Fourth and Fifth Grade Teacher, Coral Academy of Science Charter School, Reno, Nevada
Jennifer Piccinini’s first introduction to environmental education in the fall of 2007 whetted her appetite for more. In 2009, she worked with Seeds of Change (producers of organically grown vegetable, flower, herb, and cover crop seeds) to start a school garden, and also helped initiate recycling and composting programs. She became a PLT facilitator and now regularly hosts PLT workshops at her own school, Coral Academy of Science Charter School, and neighboring schools. She was first an attendee and is now a planner and presenter for the PLT/Sierra Nevada Journeys’ annual LIFE conference, even getting her entire family involved. She is considered a dynamic and powerful communicator who possesses the gift of making intricate subjects understandable.
Jennifer was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2011.
Brandy Vavruska, Kindergarten Teacher, West Elementary School, Spearfish, South Dakota
Brandy Vavruska was first introduced to PLT as a student at Black Hills State University in 2003. The program reinforced the love of outdoors she gained from growing up on a ranch. Since then, she has attended other PLT workshops and spread her enthusiasm for PLT with other teachers. She also shows student teachers working in her kindergarten classroom at West Elementary School in Spearfish, South Dakota, how to use PLT. She helped pilot PLT’s Early Childhood curriculum in her classroom and provided useful feedback to improve it. Taking students outside, having them learn about their natural environment, and carrying those experiences across the curriculum are important facets of Brandy’s teaching. Her students are regularly featured in the local newspaper as they experience PLT at parks, on the school grounds, and in the nearby National Forest.
Brandy was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2011.
Ginger Reasonover, Science Lab Coordinator, David Lipscomb Elementary School, Nashville, Tennessee
Ginger Reasonover is a nonformal educator who reaches students through her work as a science lab coordinator, as well as through Scout, church, and other community groups. She has helped shape environmental education at her school by developing an outdoor classroom, school-wide recycling, and other activities to green her school. Thanks to Ginger’s efforts, the school is recognized as a model on the Environmental Education in Tennessee website, and she often answers inquiries from other schools who aspire to meet that criteria. She serves on the Tennessee Outdoor Classroom Symposium committee and the Tennessee Environmental Literacy Plan committee. She uses PLT with 360 students, PreK through grade 4.
Ginger was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2011.
Debra (Deb) Wagner is recognized for her expertise and enthusiasm in bringing the study of the environment not only into her fourth grade classroom, but also throughout her entire school. A teacher for more than 28 years, she led the initiative to make St. Paul Lutheran School in Lakeland, Florida, a PLT-certified school. Thanks to her efforts, the school also became a Nationally Certified Schoolyard Habitat and is part of the national PLT GreenSchools program.
Deb also coordinates an annual “Celebrate Creation,” which involves the entire PreK-8 school in PLT activities that teach about the environment through hands-on learning. Deb has created an after-school science club that initiated school-wide recycling, hydroponics, and butterfly gardens. Her students raise milkweed seedlings for grade 1 students’ home butterfly garden projects; construct rain barrels for campus and home use; and make vegetables available to local families in need. Through a partnership with Polk County Cooperative Extension Service, Deb also helps teachers at other elementary schools and their students install rain barrels and construct gardens.
In addition to her work at St. Paul, Deb is an environmental education leader in Florida. For example, she serves as a mentor to PLT workshop facilitators and participates in initiatives at the University of Florida to use PLT to improve student literacy. Deb is a long-standing and active member of many organizations, including the League of Environmental Educators in Florida, the Audubon Society, and the Native Plant Society. She has received many grants for her projects and, in 2007, was the Florida Agriculture in the Classroom Elementary Teacher of the Year.
“Debra’s love of the land is contagious and her projects successfully involve students, their parents, and our community. She has touched the lives of many through her teaching of environmental and agricultural concepts.”
– Leo Raschke, Principal, St. Paul Lutheran School, Lakeland, Florida
Debra was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2010.
Amber Hodges, Project Associate, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Roanoke, Virginia
Amber Hodges provides classroom presentations, after-school programs, and interpretative programs, reaching about 1,800 K–12 students per year. As a result of her efforts, PLT was adopted by the new city-wide magnet school for environmental education. Amber conducts workshops in the Roanoke Valley area and at the annual meeting of the National Camping Institute. She helps other extension agents and PLT educators conduct workshops and promote PLT. Virginia’s Governor Bob McDonnell congratulated Amber on her PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree Award at a special ceremony during the Virginia Forestry Association’s Annual Convention.
Amber was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2010.
A North Carolina resident who teaches in South Carolina, Denise Trufan is active in environmental education in both states. She is a certified Environmental Educator in North Carolina, where she volunteers at state parks and other facilities. In South Carolina, in addition to her work at Indian Land Elementary School, she often volunteers at workshops and conferences promoting PLT to other educators.
As Indian Land’s science lab facilitator, Denise helps teachers and students in grades K through 5 to enhance learning with hands-on activities, many based on PLT. She is planning PLT workshops for the 85 teachers at Indian Land Elementary, bringing the school one step closer to becoming a “South Carolina PLT Certified School,” which means PLT will be used to strengthen learning throughout the entire curriculum. She has also organized many PLT trainings for teachers at other schools.
Denise has used PLT activities to increase the school’s performance on science standardized tests. For example, she created a Discovery Box containing nature items, such as acorns and bark, that students use to conduct both quantitative and qualitative analysis. They also go outdoors as often as possible to learn about tree characteristics and plant growth. Last year, Denise launched a recycling program that both saved the school thousands of dollars and enthusiastically involved students in all grades. In one year, they recycled more than two tons of paper, more then 4,000 plastic bottles, and thousands of aluminum cans. Her after-school club, the Ecowarriors, performs environmental plays for the school and community, researches environmental issues, and designs gardens that have been certified as Backyard Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.
“Denise’s dedication to her students, love for environmental education, and infusion of PLT materials into her programs make her the epitome of what this award represents.”
– Jerry Shrum, South Carolina PLT State Coordinator
Denise was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2009.
Deborah Todd, Fifth Grade Language Arts and Science Teacher, Slate Hill Elementary School, Worthington, Ohio
Deborah (Deb) Todd teaches language arts and science at Slate Hill Elementary, where she created an outdoor learning lab that she and other teachers actively use with their students. Her students often make field trips to the lab to conduct water and wildlife monitoring, sharing what they learn with students at other schools or with younger students at their own school. Deb co-facilitates an online class through Miami University of Ohio that focuses on how the use of PLT affects students’ academic achievement. She also makes presentations and teaches how to use PLT in many other state and national settings. As a member of the Ohio PLT Board, Deb has developed new and improved evaluation tools for PLT workshops, strengthened facilitator mentoring, and created a facilitator blog.
Deb was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2009.
Pam Wilson, K-8 Substitute Teacher and Facilitator, Oregon Natural Resources Program, Corvallis, Oregon
Pam Wilson, a former classroom teacher and Forest Service interpreter, continues to use PLT activities as a substitute teacher with grades K-8. She also volunteers with Oregon Trout’s Salmon Watch program, often to teach about local watershed issues. She is also a well-respected facilitator of the Oregon Natural Resources Education Program. After discovering PLT in the mid-1980s, she became an enthusiastic facilitator and has since used PLT with both kids and adults. Her experience and enthusiasm to share serve her well as she teaches new generations of teachers about PLT at Linn Benton Community College and at Oregon State University.
Pam was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2009.
Elizabeth Burke, Parent Volunteer and Master Naturalist, Fairfax County, Virginia
Elizabeth Burke has been instrumental in enriching the learning environment at Wolftrap Elementary School by organizing HOWL—Helping Our World through Learning. She worked with Wolftrap administration and teachers to ensure that the enrichment program connects to state science standards. Using PLT, she trains parents to be classroom docents and conducts PLT workshops for local area teachers. She also involves Scout groups in service projects on school grounds. In her encounters with other schoolyard garden coordinators, she has advocated incorporating PLT into HOWL and Wolftrap’s gardening efforts. In addition to being a PLT facilitator, she is a Fairfax Master Naturalist and a certified Environmental Educator in North Carolina, where she serves on the board of the Environmental Educators of North Carolina.
Elizabeth was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2009.
Jane Ulrich, Fourth Grade Teacher, Sunny Hills Elementary School, Issaquah, Washington
Jane Ulrich is a leader in integrating PLT throughout her school district. She has been a member of the district environmental education committee since it began in 1998. In 1995, she co-chaired a committee that integrated PLT and Project WILD into curriculum frameworks. As a result, all fourth graders study local forest ecosystems, third graders study salmon, and second graders study habitat. At Sunny Hills, Jane planned and coordinated the creation of a trail and garden on the school grounds that are a source of pride for students and teachers alike. A unit she developed involving nature photography and haikus has transformed and enriched the lives of her students. She has taught other teachers how to use photography with their students and how to use PLT in a variety of ways.
Jane was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2009.
Rob Marohn, who was first introduced to PLT in college, now uses PLT activities every week with his fifth grade students at Bay View Elementary School in Duluth, Minnesota. Rob is a tireless advocate for the Bay View School Forest and is also its primary steward. He encourages all teachers to use the forest site and has helped train fellow educators in how to teach in an outdoor setting to enhance classroom learning, including hosting a two-day PLT “How to Teach in Your School Forest” workshop.
Rob uses PLT in two programs he created for students: Forest Buddies, in which fifth graders take younger students into the forest to conduct PLT activities, and the after-school Bay View School Forest Club, which offers activities focusing on recreation, education, and conservation for different grade levels each month. Rob’s students have made several presentations to the Proctor and Duluth City Councils on issues affecting forests, watershed health, and land development.
Rob himself is working with the State of Minnesota, St. Louis County, and City of Duluth to secure an additional 90 acres for the Proctor School District to utilize as a school forest. In addition to planning for an eight-week Urban Wilderness Summer Camp and managing bins full of worms used for vermicomposting, this spring Rob has been helping his students prepare five gallons of maple syrup for their annual community pancake breakfast. The funds generated from this event support their class field trip, a two-night stay at an environmental learning center.
The mayor appointed Rob to the City of Duluth Tree Commission. Rob is also a board member of the Superior Hiking Trail Association and Hartley Nature Center, as well as a City of Duluth Parks and recreation volunteer. He has helped edit several curriculum guides used statewide, including the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ Minnesota School Forest Handbook. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Education: Natural Science and Environmental Education degree at Hamline University.
Rob was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2008.
Daniel Edmiston, Fifth Grade Science Teacher, E.A. Harrold Elementary School, Millington, Tennessee
Through the “E Club” (Environmental Club), Daniel Edmiston involves his students in creating and maintaining outdoor classrooms and landscaping the school campus. Last year, his students gave each teacher a butterfly chrysalis harvested from the school gardens so that each class could witness a butterfly emerge. Dan has been a consultant for outdoor classrooms at nine different schools in Shelby County. At his own school, E.A. Harrold Elementary, Dan also organizes a science fair, a family science night, and an Earth Day Celebration at which over 40 natural resource professionals and conservationists are invited to share their craft with the whole school. All the teachers now utilize the outdoor classrooms as a result of Dan’s introduction to environmental education. Dan was first trained in PLT in 1996 and received further training in 2006 when he attended a week-long Teacher Conservation Workshop.
Dan was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2008.
Michelle Hunter teaches all subjects to fourth graders at Shadeville Elementary School in Crawfordville, Florida. The school has been certified as a Florida PLT School since 2000, and Michelle has been the school’s PLT Coordinator for the past three years.
For the school to maintain its designation as a PLT School, at least 80% of the faculty members are required to attend a PLT workshop, and of these 80%, at least 50% are required to participate in an annual PLT week. Michelle organizes this school-wide, week-long environmental education unit that incorporates multiple, grade-level-appropriate PLT activities for each student, a science and literary fair, and community guest speaker presentations around a particular theme. Over 650 youth, 50 faculty members, and hundreds of parent volunteers participate. This year, the week-long event “Wakulla Water Wonders” held in April combined PLT activities and guest speakers from St. Marks Wildlife Refuge and Wakulla Springs State Park.
A trained PLT facilitator, Michelle leads in-service PLT professional development workshops to help her fellow colleagues incorporate the PLT curriculum methods and techniques into their own classrooms throughout the year. To further help teachers provide experiential experiences that enhance student learning, Michelle works with a local nursery to maintain the school’s butterfly garden and outdoor classroom. Here, students learn about native plants, bird identification, and animal habitats through hands-on, outdoor investigations.
Michelle also organizes school environmental field trips for several classes and encourages other teachers to take part. This year, students visited Marianna Caverns, Gulf World, Bear Creek, and Gulf Specimen Marine Lab. Michelle’s own annual class trip to St. Marks Wildlife Refuge gives students the opportunity not only to experience Florida’s wiregrass ecosystem, but also to help restore it by planting wiregrass plugs.
Michelle was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2007.
Jim Chandler has been involved in environmental education for 30 years and has been a PLT facilitator since 1988. He is an innovator of a wide range of ongoing formal and non-formal education programs that use PLT materials to increase students’ understanding of the forest environment and resource conservation. In his current position as a consulting teacher in science with the Auburn School Department, he administers the K-8 science curriculum and arranges professional development for 11 schools in Auburn, Maine. PLT is incorporated throughout the curriculum and most of the teachers have been trained in PLT.
He is also Director of the Auburn Land Lab, an environmental center serving schools in central Maine that uses the environment as a context for learning for more than 3,500 visiting K-12 students each year and for coaching Canon Envirothon teams. Jim brought the Envirothon program (North America’s largest high school environmental education competition) into Maine in 1989. Today, 80 teams, representing one third of the state’s high schools, participate each year. Jim served as Secretary of Canon Envirothon from 1996 to 2002, helping to expand the program to international prominence, as well as developing educational standards and judging rubrics.
For 10 years beginning in 1987, Jim started a variety of educational and conservation programs for the Oxford County Soil and Water Conservation District that are ongoing to this day—for example, Kids for Trees (a Christmas tree-growing project), a Forestry Demonstration Trail based on the PLT model at the Maine Conservation School, and an annual Agriculture Education Day at the Oxford County Fair. In the late 1990s, Jim taught seventh grade science at Oxford Hills Middle School.
Jim is an active board member and two-term past president of the Maine Environmental Education Association. In this role, he has helped develop state-wide workshops showing how environmental education can be used to achieve Maine Learning Results, the state’s education standards. Now he is coordinating an effort to involve the environmental education community in the mandated Maine Learning Results Review.
Jim was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2007.
Melanie Cornelius oversees the elementary science curriculum of Frisco Independent School District in Frisco, Texas, teaching resources, and professional development. Two days a week, she teaches bilingual science at one of Frisco’s elementary schools.
Melanie joined Frisco Independent School District in 2001. She helps elementary teachers in 22 schools deliver science education to approximately 8,000 elementary-aged students speaking 35 different languages in this booming suburb north of Dallas. When her school district’s science curriculum was rewritten in 2003, Melanie was instrumental in making PLT activities a requirement for specific units in grades two, four, and five.
Melanie holds PLT professional development workshops several times a year for those grade-level teachers with science responsibilities. For the past three years, Melanie has acquired U.S. Department of Education grants to implement these trainings. Last year, she expanded the experience to a weekend on Lake Texoma where teachers not only received training in the PLT activities required by the curriculum but also advanced training in differentiated instruction for English Language Learners (ELLs). Melanie has found PLT to be very effective with students from all backgrounds. She believes her school district’s ELLs have improved performance on benchmarks for state-mandated science tests due in large part to PLT activities that are conducted in English and Spanish.
Melanie’s career in education began in Oklahoma in 1989 as a fifth grade classroom teacher. Then Melanie taught third and fourth grade in an international school in Saudi Arabia for seven years before moving to Texas in 1998, where she taught for one year in a private school. In her present position as an elementary science instruction specialist, Melanie has created a Science Resource Center for teachers in her district to purchase supplies and requisition equipment that helps them conduct hands-on science lessons and experiments.
Melanie was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2007.
Hazel Scharosch is a classroom teacher in a one-room school house! Located in a ranching community, Red Creek Elementary School in Casper, Wyoming, has one multi-age classroom for all students. Hazel teaches all subject areas to the school’s kindergarten through sixth grade students, a range of 9-12 students in any given year. She has been teaching in this small rural school for 17 years.
Hazel was introduced to PLT 15 years ago at a four-day environmental education workshop hosted in part by two of the original developers of the PLT curriculum. The workshop forever changed her methods of teaching and deepened her commitment to expanding environmental literacy for all. Since then, Hazel has conducted numerous PLT workshops for both classroom teachers and non-formal educators, including Girl Scout leaders, child care providers, and 4-H club members. She has taught a three-day joint PLT, Project WET, and Project Wild workshop at least twice a year every year. She has correlated PLT activities to the Girl Scout Manuals and shown camp counselors how to integrate PLT with Girl Scout activities to enrich learning.
Hazel has played a critical role in delivering the PLT program to a wide range of educators across Wyoming for many years. She has recruited new facilitators, helping to almost double the number of trained PLT facilitators in Wyoming and expand PLT into other areas of the state. Hazel uses several outdoor study areas close to her school for hands-on studies and organizes a major environmental field trip for her whole class each year, including her students’ parents and siblings. Hazel is currently serving on Natrona County School District’s Science Adoption Committee, which has a goal of incorporating environmental education into a new science curriculum.
Hazel was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2007.
Sandy Watson, Second Grade Teacher, Lakewood Elementary School, Phenix City, Alabama
Although it is located inside city limits, Lakewood Elementary School’s campus consists of 88 wooded acres and a seasonal stream. Knowing that this environment would make an excellent classroom, Sandy Watson attended PLT and other environmental education workshops to obtain the tools, training, and resources she needed to take students outdoors. Over the past five years, Sandy has acquired sponsors, materials, and labor to create an outdoor classroom, a nature trail with two outdoor learning stations, a butterfly garden, a secret garden, and a vegetable garden. Teachers, parents, local businesses, and students have all gotten involved. Sandy invites natural resource professionals to visit her school to teach PLT and other environmental education lessons outdoors to provide students with a real-world understanding of the forest and its realm of benefits. In November 2006, the Alabama Wildlife Federation certified Lakewood as an Outdoor Classroom/Schoolyard Habitat (one of only 11 in Alabama).
Sandy was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2007.
Kari Abbott volunteers two to three days a week in two public schools and one private school in Williamsburg and James City County, Virginia. She uses Virginia Cooperative Extension’s 4-H Junior Master Gardener Project, for which she is the volunteer chairperson, to teach an in-school science adjunct that infuses environmental education into the first and third grade courses of study. Seven first grade classes and eleven third grade classes, a total of 390 students, participate in year-long PLT-based programs developed by Kari that use experiential learning to teach important science facts and inspire children to care for the environment. W3 [Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife] and U for first grade students is woven around 18 PLT activities; the third grade program Cycling Through Third Grade uses an additional nine PLT activities. Kari leads each PLT activity in every teacher’s classroom, giving teachers and student teachers personal training in PLT without having them miss class time. She has received several grants to support these curriculum programs and fund environmental field trips, as well as literature donations to support PLT’s reading connections.
Kari was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2007.
Jane Thornes teaches fourth grade at Heyburn Elementary School in St. Maries, Idaho. She and her forester husband, Jim, own, manage, and live on Pettis Peak Tree Farm, south of St. Maries. Jane makes full use of this 270-acre working forest as an outdoor classroom. She uses PLT and other environmental education activities to give all her visitors—her own students, other youth, and adults—a better understanding of a well-managed forest.
Jane regularly takes her own class on other field trips, for example, to a local stream to study water quality. She has received grants for water testing equipment and recruits professionals from the U.S. Forest Service and Idaho Department of Lands to help students conduct science experiments. Jane uses PLT’s Awareness, Knowledge, Challenge, Action (AKCA) learning process to teach real-life lessons. After noticing dead and dying subalpine fir trees along a highway, Jane worked with the U.S. Forest Service to identify the balsam wooly adelgid as the likely cause and set up a research project for her students. Through indoor and outdoor research, Jane’s students learned that this tiny aphid-like insect is spreading to grand fir trees, a valuable timber species in the area. Jane inspired her students to collect scientific data from study plots and send the information to the U.S. Forest Service to help it address the problem.
Jane was one of three educators in Idaho selected to correlate all K-12 activities from PLT, Project WILD, and Project WET to Idaho Achievement Standards that are now available in a searchable online database hosted by the Idaho Department of Education. Jane has been a PLT facilitator since 1999. She has lead nearly 20 workshops instructing forestland owners, teachers from Idaho, and Girl Scout leaders from across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom how to use PLT to explore the environment with youth. Jane encourages other tree farmers to conduct tours on their properties and use PLT to teach the importance of environmental stewardship.
Jane was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2006.
Brenda Smith teaches fourth grade math, science, and environmental science at Oil City Elementary Magnet School in Oil City, Louisiana. Five years ago, Oil City Elementary faced dropping enrollment numbers and low performance measures. To address this situation, staff and faculty dedicated their educational focus to an environmental science theme. The entire faculty was trained in PLT. Brenda was instrumental in implementing this plan and organizing staff professional development. New and refresher PLT workshops have been held every year since to follow up on activity use, introduce new materials, and train new faculty. Consequently, the school is one of four PLT-certified schools in Louisiana.
The results speak for themselves. In 2001, before Brenda began using PLT, 38% of her fourth grade students scored in the basic to proficient level on the science portion of the state and national standardized tests, and 62% fell in the unsatisfactory category. In 2005, 4% had reached the advanced level, 63% were considered basic to proficient, and just 33% remained in the unsatisfactory category.
Brenda has taken her PLT training a step further and written and received several grants for her students to participate in a variety of educational and community service projects at the school, local hospital, downtown, and throughout the community. The school grounds now sport three outdoor classrooms, a nature trail, and a Louisiana native tree arboretum. Brenda secured a grant for a pavilion on the shores of Lake Caddo and helped her students design educational kiosks that describe the lake’s history and its value to the environment and community. The pavilion is used by the public, area schools, and her school’s students as a base for conducting water quality tests and other science experiments.
Oil City Elementary School has received several awards in recognition of its improvement, and much of this is due to Brenda and PLT! Most recently the school was one of six to receive New York Fordham University’s “National School Change” award.
Brenda was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2006.
Judy Mansfield, Second Grade Teacher, Mount Harmony Elementary School, Owings, Maryland
Judy Mansfield infuses PLT activities and a hands-on learning style into her everyday curriculum to engage her students both in the classroom and in outdoor projects. She uses PLT’s reading connections to encourage her students’ interest in reading and to improve their writing skills. She includes books on the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and uses a model of a marshland and a river system in class to teach about local environmental issues affecting water quality. Each year, her students grow bay grasses and visit a river site where their grasses are planted. Her students’ understanding of environmental topics is readily reflected in their journal writings, poetry, and artwork. Judy also involves her students and their parents in school yard projects, such as planting trees, creating rain gardens to capture run-off from school buildings, and constructing erosion control measures.
Judy was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2006.