Deanna Kinziger teaches ecology and other science subjects at the high school level, as well as two dual-credit courses in conjunction with Lewis-Clark State College. She is known for the creative, challenging experiences she develops for her students, including working with Lewiston’s City Forester, conducting water quality testing, investigating solar energy for the school, and managing the school’s recycling program. Her students are challenged to conduct research, interview community members, grapple with local environmental problems, and design their own solutions. As one of her students said: “Her class is not easy. We work hard, but it’s fun.”
Deanna advises an after-school science club and serves on a number of school district committees. She has helped design and review PLT’s educational materials and teacher professional development. As a PLT workshop facilitator, she demonstrates for her peers how PLT can be applied in their classrooms to meet academic standards.
“Highly engaged and motivated high school students don’t just happen. They are the result of Deanna Kinziger’s instruction, leadership, and passion for PLT and environmental education.”
– Michelle Youngquist, Idaho PLT State Coordinator
Deanna was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2015.
Michael (Mike) Sustin, an Ohio science teacher for 24 years, teaches environmental science and chemistry. He established and coaches the school’s Envirothon team and leads other extracurricular activities, such as summer ecology expeditions and an after-school Nature Club for fifth graders and their high school mentors. As a facilitator of PLT professional development workshops, he helps other educators integrate environmental education into various subject areas.
Through Mike, students are involved in innovative projects that extend beyond the classroom walls. They have planted trees, created rain gardens, and constructed an outdoor learning lab on school grounds. They lead recycling, composting, and energy-saving programs. They worked with the Ohio Division of Wildlife to develop a bobcat and black bear population study and were honored by the National Wildlife Federation for a wetlands project.
In 2012, Mike went to the Arctic Circle as a National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellow. In 2014, he traveled to Alaska after being selected by the National Park Service and No Barriers Youth as a teacher-leader for their inaugural Climate Change Academy. His passion for engaging students in learning about and developing an appreciation for the environment has resulted in numerous awards. In 2014, West Geauga High School was recognized as a Green Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education, and Mike received the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Education.
“Mike gives so much of his time and talents to his students. A leader of learners, he is a true explorer and a living legacy.”
– Katie Nainiger and Gail Prunty, Geauga Soil and Water Conservation District, Ohio
Mike was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2015, as well as National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2014.
Michael Hotz, Science Teacher, Wyandotte High School, Kansas City, Kansas
Michael Hotz teaches a range of science subjects at Wyandotte High School and incorporates environmental education into all the courses he teaches, with PLT at the core. In 2006, he helped his students form a Green Team to become a PLT GreenSchool. His students developed an outdoor classroom, raised garden beds, and aquaponics system. Under his leadership, they launched a “Save a Teacher” Campaign to save enough energy to make up the cost of one teacher’s salary when Wyandotte was faced with the threat of staff cuts due to budget shortfalls. They instituted many energy-saving projects and were able to meet their goal. He and his students mentored another PLT GreenSchool in the district. Michael regularly gives presentations and trainings to encourage other teachers to use PLT.
“Dr. Hotz provides inspiration for teachers across the region. He has taken PLT activities to a higher level, deeply incorporating the program into not only his classroom, but across all disciplines in the curriculum and into programs such as the KCK Saturday Academy and the Kansas Green Schools.”
– Cynthia Annett, Research Associate Professor, Kansas State University
Michael was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2015.
Donald Sprangers, Science Teacher, Washington Academy, East Machias, Maine
Donald (Don) Sprangers teaches biology, chemistry, and other science courses at Washington Academy and is also an adjunct faculty member at Lesley University and the University of Maine, Machias. Since coming to Washington Academy in 1992, his classes have been marked by hands-on field work and service learning. He has motivated many of his colleagues to integrate PLT into their teaching. For the past five years, he has hosted PLT workshops for pre-service teachers and uses PLT GreenWorks! as an example of how to develop service-learning projects. He is the founding force behind Maine’s Forest Inventory Growth project, which is based on PLT.
“Many teachers come and go on campus impacting student lives. Few transform an institution. Through 25 years of tireless support of environmental education, Don Sprangers has connected the lives of Washington County students with our unique coastal community and the worldwide environmental agenda.”
– Judson McBrine, Head of School, Washington Academy, East Machias, Maine
Don was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2015.
Sara Forness finds creative and effective ways to involve her students in the community, from conducting research to implementing service-learning projects. Her students helped the West Fargo Forestry Department educate the public about the emerald ash borer. They also planted trees as part of the city’s Arbor Day celebrations.
Sara has taught at West Fargo for the past 18 years and continues to find new ways to engage students and exceed expectations. When the state required high school students to take a third lab science, Sara created a PLT-based Field Biology course that resulted in improved test scores. She often brings resource professionals into her classroom as guest speakers. As part of a project grant, students work alongside professionals to plant and harvest fruit trees, and observe their pollinators.
Sara coaches students to participate in the state Envirothon, where they have won four championships. She also helped pilot-test PLT’s Focus on Forests secondary module. Her students monitor Cheyenne River water quality and present these data to local and state officials. Their related project, called “Fish Don’t Do Drugs,” won a Voyageur Award from the International Water Symposium and is the basis of an ongoing program of the West Fargo Police Department.
“Sara is committed to sharing her love of science with her students. She continually searches for ways to make the student experience better in and out of the classroom.”
– Ryan Stewart, Assistant Principal, West Fargo High School, West Fargo, North Dakota
Sara was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2014.
Matthew Schnabel uses PLT as a foundation for his Advanced Placement Environmental Science and Environmental/Nature Studies courses. He brings in guest speakers and introduces his students to outdoor learning through field studies at their school, national parks, local universities, and other locations. Matt encourages his students to take action to improve local environmental issues, such as soil erosion and water pollution.
Matt facilitates K-12 PLT educator workshops that emphasize opportunities to apply what students learn in the classroom to real-world situations. He first participated in, and then led, the South Carolina Teachers’ Tour, an annual forestry program for teachers throughout the state.
His numerous achievements include the 2013 South Carolina PLT Outstanding Teacher Award and the 2012 Lexington County Soil & Water Conservation District Teacher of the Year Award. He serves on the South Carolina PLT Steering Committee, as a regional coordinator for the Environmental Education Association of South Carolina, and in many other organizations.
“His enthusiasm for the environment has influenced several students to pursue natural resources or environmental education degrees in college. His dedication and initiative have won him the respect of his peers in both the education and natural resource fields.”
– Stephanie Kolok, South Carolina PLT State Coordinator
Matt was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2014.
Eric Nelson, Mathematics Teacher, New Britain High School, New Britain, Connecticut
Eric Nelson incorporates environmental-based problems into his daily math lessons, making the subject come alive for students and imparting valuable environmental content. He helped his school become a PLT GreenSchool and now advises their active Green Team. Students on the Green Team implement action plans based on their investigations. They took home the top prize in the Connecticut Business and Industry Association’s competitive challenge for their efforts to save energy, reduce waste, and spread the word about environmental responsibility. Eric is also the lead teacher in Cyber-Challenge, a multi-partner program for urban high schools in the state. He maintains a strong focus on service learning and student voice.
“Eric has high expectations coupled with a well-thought, strategic plan for supporting students in meeting those expectations. He creates an environment in which students are active participants in their learning.”
– Kerri-Lynn Major, Associate Principal–Freshman Academy, New Britain High School, New Britain, Connecticut
Eric was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2014.
Kathleen Yeloushan, Education Coordinator, Renaissance High School, Clarkston, Michigan
A former school principal in Ohio, Kathleen Yeloushan retired to Michigan and joined the Farm & Garden Club. Over the course of several years, she convinced garden club members (and eventually school district administrators) to provide PLT training for all K-12 science teachers in the area. She also works with Clarkston Renaissance High School and took the lead to bring PLT GreenSchools programming to this at-risk student population. She set up training for teachers and students, integrated PLT across the curriculum, and wrote grants to support action plans to enhance student learning. Kathleen’s students have instituted recycling and composting programs, a garden, solar panels, a bioswale, and an electronic charging station. The school is a PLT GreenSchool and a 2013 GreenWorks! grant recipient. In 2014, the school was recognized as a Green Ribbon School by the Department of Education.
“After deciding that we wanted to teach our curriculum through the lens of environmental, global citizens with an eye on the future, Kathy took the ideas and made it happen.”
– Billie I. Pambid, Director, Clarkston Renaissance High School, Clarkston, Michigan
Kathleen was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2014.
Cheri Goggin is known for her ability to make learning fun for her students and involve them in hands-on, meaningful experiences beyond the classroom. “If it’s not fun, don’t do it!” is one of her favorite teaching mottos.
Her passion for the environment and commitment to positive change inspires her students. Through student-led projects, she connects youth to the outdoors and encourages them to give back to their communities. Cheri also works with other teachers, including art, photography, physical education, math, and language arts teachers, to integrate environmental education into their subject areas.
Cheri’s students use PLT’s GreenSchools Investigations to investigate problems on the school campus and then devise solutions. With Cheri’s assistance, students have written and received grants to provide funding for a rain garden, outdoor learning stations, and a native species habitat. They have installed bird stations on campus and regularly participate in FeederWatch and other backyard bird count programs. She also involves students, teachers, parents, and school administrators in making their school more green and healthy.
Cheri was one of the first educators in Ohio to be trained in PLT. Now a PLT facilitator, Cheri participates in many other environmental education programs and workshops, including programs with the Geauga Soil and Water Conservation District and Ohio Department of Natural Resources. She was honored as the 2011 Ohio Conservation Teacher of the Year by the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts.
“Cheri is one of the most creative teachers I have known. She thinks ‘outside the box,’ which keeps her students interested and engaged, and encourages and empowers her students to be proactive problem solvers. Every year her students perform very well on state mandated tests.”
– Stephen Reedy, Principal, Berkshire Junior/Senior High School, Burton, Ohio
Cheri was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2013.
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.
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.
Sandy Gresham, a recently retired science teacher and environmental education coordinator, used PLT to completely transform Lowcountry Preparatory School in Pawleys Island, South Carolina.
After becoming a PLT facilitator, Sandy helped change Lowcountry Preparatory School’s curriculum to fully incorporate PLT as a major component, adopting environmental education as the overall vision. She trained the entire faculty in the use of the PLT curriculum, helping teachers in all subject areas incorporate environmental themes into their classes. Sandy also organized a PLT workshop for early childhood educators in coastal area school districts and worked with a middle school in another part of the state to become a PLT School.
Sandy was then asked by her school’s board of directors to serve on the search committee to select a new head of school committed to environmental education as a core value. Through Sandy’s efforts, Lowcountry Preparatory School became a South Carolina PLT Environmental School and is now part of PLT’s GreenSchools initiative, in which students take the lead in investigating and helping to improve their school environment. Sandy also worked with students in various clubs to develop two outdoor classrooms and a trail around their school campus.
Now that she has retired, Sandy trains teachers in McCormick to use PLT and is serving as vice chair of the South Carolina PLT Steering Committee.
“Never in my 14 years as the South Carolina PLT State Coordinator have I seen an individual educator who so enthusiastically embraced the PLT program and made such a difference in her school and community so quickly.”
– Jerry Shrum, South Carolina PLT State Coordinator
Sandy was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2011, as well as being a National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2010.
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.
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.
Olivia Griset became a classroom teacher, in part, to help children to learn about the environment. She studied at Utah State University and moved to Maine in 2003 to work for the Maine Audubon Society. She now teaches biology, oceanography, and field ecology to grades 10 through 12 at Lisbon High School in Lisbon Falls.
Olivia continually looks for hands-on, relevant ways to teach her students about the environment. Through a partnership with a local sawmill and the Maine Forest Service, she created a forestry field program for her students. Partners of this initiative are together designing “From Roots to Retail,” an adult education program to show teachers how they can best explain sustainable forest management to their students.
Olivia also implements Maine’s Forestry Inventory Growth (FIG) program, based on PLT’s Forest Ecology module. This program uses an online data system to allow students in different schools to compare data and monitor changes over time. With Olivia’s leadership, this hands-on investigation tool has lead to practical learning, directly impacting many student lives.
Her passion for the outdoors is legendary. As one student says, “Almost every weekend she goes on a spectacular science journey. Whether a simple mountain biking trip or a crazy storm surfing adventure, she brings back hilarious yet educational stories that force the class to enjoy…the science field.” As a PLT facilitator and consulting teacher to a grant awarded to PLT and the University of Maine, Olivia trains other teachers to use PLT in their education work and stresses the importance of getting students outside.
“Olivia’s love of teaching is evident the second you walk into her classroom. She commands the attention of every one of her students and demands that they work toward and achieve their full academic potential.”
– Kenneth Halsey, Principal, Lisbon High School, Lisbon Falls, Maine
Olivia was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2009.
Hilary Hargrove, Ninth-Twelfth Grade Science and Honors Ecology Teacher, Riverdale High School, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Hilary Hargrove uses PLT in her physical science, ecology, and environmental science classes and to prepare her students to participate as a team in the annual Envirothon. In their first two years of competition, they received top regional honors. She also serves as an advisor to Riverdale’s environmental club. Hilary’s first exposure to PLT was when she was a high school student herself! She went on to study science in college and became trained in PLT while student teaching. Since she joined the teaching staff at Riverdale in 2003, her students have established an outdoor classroom, reclaimed wetlands on school property, improved walking trails, and planted native trees and other vegetation. Her students are often found outdoors learning in the environment they help to maintain.
Hilary was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2009.
Ina Ahern teaches chemistry, physics, and environmental science to grades 10-12 at Plymouth Regional High School in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Her passion for and commitment to the environment led her to make local issues a large part of her curriculum through an integrated, place-based, and hands-on approach.
A high school science teacher for 25 years, Ina often makes presentations to other educators about how to incorporate the local environment into teaching. In 2006, she was one of a pioneer group of teachers to participate in the year-long program “A Forest for Every Classroom,” co-sponsored in New Hampshire by PLT, the U.S. Forest Service, and Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. She has formally presented her experiences with the program to incoming teachers. She also used her “Forest for Every Classroom” experience to strengthen the field-study project her students conduct on their local watershed each year, building strong ties between the school, its community, and local natural resource professionals—a great reflection of how PLT materials can best be used.
Ina embodies the ethic of lifelong learning and works hard to foster this love of learning in her students. For her, the outdoors is an extension of the classroom, and studying the natural environment and the local community is a key strategy for bringing academics to life. Ina is committed to making environmental education a part of New Hampshire schools. Last year, she participated in a summer institute to sequence and correlate PLT activities (along with the environmental education materials from four other programs) to New Hampshire’s science frameworks for grades K-12. She also participates in the Merrimack River Watershed Ecology program and collaborates with the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest to adapt their biogeochemical forest ecosystem research for the high school classroom.
Ina was named National PLT Outstanding Educator in 2008.
Kathryn Roberts, Ninth-Twelfth Grade Science Teacher, Lakeside High School, Hot Springs, Arkansas
Kathryn Roberts has been actively involved in environmental education ever since she established Lakeside High School’s first outdoor classroom in 1977. In 1996, she introduced Environmental Science as an elective course. More recently, she received funding from the EPA to construct a greenhouse and aquaponics center, and she acquired funds from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for a schoolyard habitat and new outdoor classroom facility. Kathryn’s students have partnered with the school PTO, the Alumni Foundation, and a local Rotary Club to build and maintain their outdoor study area. Kathryn has received funding to host the first annual Dendrology Fest this fall, an event that will include activities on tree identification, dendrochronology, and leaf types for grades 5-7. Trained as a PLT facilitator in 2004, Kathryn has hosted advanced PLT/WILD/WET workshops that incorporate GIS/GPS programming and Nature Mapping.
Kathryn was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2008.
Summer Zephyr, Media Specialist, A.D. Harris High School, Panama City, Florida
A.D. Harris High School is a dropout prevention school for at-risk youth. As a media specialist at the school, Summer Zephyr uses PLT to help students build their knowledge base through experience, exploring varying viewpoints, ideas, and values. For the past two years, Summer has sponsored a project entitled “Go Native…Plants” that incorporates service-learning and takes students outside using PLT activities. Through this project, students created a school garden that identified 15 threatened native species. Another aspect of the project, All Natural Makeover, involved students in incorporating native species into the landscape of two model homes. Finally, students worked with a landscape architect to design and plant native vegetation donated by community members for another demonstration house. This year, Summer will work with her students to restore a wetlands area near the school. She has recruited other schools to join the project and incorporate PLT into their lessons.
Summer was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2008.