Through public, school, and youth group programs at Oxbow, Jan Forrest Kent has connected people of all ages to the natural world around them. Since she began organizing outdoor and environmental education activities at Oxbow in 2011, the program has more than doubled in size. In the past seven years, Jan has provided professional development to more than 1,350 educators, and since 2011 alone, she has engaged over 7,000 students in PLT activities. For example, Jan was an Environmental Science and Natural Resources instructor for Georgia’s Governor’s Honors Program, where she provided six weeks of study to high school students.
Jan ensures PLT activities are aligned to state and national academic standards. She expands connections to STEM subjects to meet the needs of today’s K-12 educators and opportunities for students to apply their learning to the real world, for example through Girl Scout summer camps and Columbus State University. Jan serves on the Georgia PLT Steering Committee, Georgia Forestry Foundation’s Teacher Conservation Workshop Committee, and the Advisory Board for Advanced Training in Environmental Education in Georgia. She was named Georgia PLT Outstanding Educator in 2011.
“Education is Georgia’s key to a healthy forest, and Jan is playing a vital role in educating our citizens. Her enthusiasm attracts learners of all ages, and she truly inspires those she teaches.”
– Amanda Buice, Math Science Partnership Program Specialist, Georgia Department of Education
Jan was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2014, as well as National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2013.
Once Joy Cowart experienced PLT’s hands-on activities, she was hooked. As a teacher of English for Speakers of Other Languages for grades 6-12 at Lowndes County Schools in Valdosta, Georgia, she uses PLT to teach language arts, English as a second language, literature, and more. She uses PLT’s reading and writing strategies and multi-disciplinary activities to increase her students’ vocabulary, reading comprehension, and writing skills, while at the same time increasing their awareness and knowledge of environmental issues.
“I believe my students are like trees,” Joy says. “They must receive raindrops of love in a nonthreatening environment. To shed light on the lessons they learn, they must be engaged. Last but not least, they need encouragement, or fertilizer, to help them grow and reach their goals.”
Through a PLT GreenWorks! grant, Joy involved Hahira students in an environmental service-learning project to landscape their public library. She also uses PLT’s hands-on activities as a Sunday school teacher, at summer camps, and in a Migrant Summer School curriculum. Now a PLT facilitator, Joy has conducted more than 25 workshops at Valdosta State University, training more than 1,000 future science teachers how to use PLT’s environmental education lessons. Joy earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in middle school education and also has a master’s in educational leadership. She became a National Board Certified Teacher in 2008.
“Joy has a natural ability to bring the outdoors alive in the classroom setting. She is able to capture every teachable moment, enhancing the education of everyone she encounters.”
– Barbara Boler, chair of Georgia PLT’s steering committee
Joy was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2010, as well as National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2009.
Gail Lutowski, an education program specialist, uses PLT activities and learning methods as a foundation for the many outdoor education programs she develops for the University of Georgia’s Mary Kahrs Warnell Forest Education Center in Guyton. Gail’s programs have reached over 20,000 students and teachers since the Center opened in 2001.
Gail leads K-12 field trips for local area schools and youth groups around the Center’s 3,300-acre working forest. She also coordinates the Savannah Society of American Foresters (SAF) chapter Walk in the Warnell Forest educational program for fourth grade students, teachers, and parents that is used as a model for other SAF chapters.
In 1997, Gail was trained in PLT; in 2001, she became a PLT facilitator. She conducts PLT training workshops for local school teachers, pre-service teachers, area foresters, and other natural resource professionals to teach others how to use PLT with their students. As a Regional Coordinator for the Georgia PLT program, she serves as a team leader for all PLT facilitators in her 15-county district, sets workshop goals, and mentors facilitators. Gail researches school systems, PTO groups, Scouts, day care centers, after-school programs, and other groups that would benefit from PLT training and directs education leaders and curriculum coordinators to workshop opportunities. For example, she initiated a partnership with Georgia Southern State University College of Education in Statesboro to make PLT educator workshops a part of the required curriculum for all senior-level pre-service teachers, and she works with Regional Educational Service Agencies to establish PLT in school systems.
Gail devotes much personal time to community groups, schools, and professional associations. She began a Georgia Adopt-A-Wetland program for Effingham County seventh grade students, and formed an after-school program for girls in grades 5-9 to encourage them to pursue careers in science. She works with her local FFA chapter, Boy Scout, Girl Scout, and Venture Crew troops and coaches several Science Olympiad events at the middle and high school levels.
Gail was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2007, as well as National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2006.