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.
Laurie Root, Naturalist, South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks, Rapid City, South Dakota
Laurie Root has trained more educators and recruited more facilitators than anyone else in South Dakota PLT history! She excels in teaching about the state’s wildlife, habitats, natural history, and outdoor skills to people of all ages. She is the hub connecting many spokes of environmental education activity in South Dakota, helping teachers partner with natural resource professionals and building a community of educators and others who are interested in the environment. Laurie brings a sense of humor, an amazing connection to her audience, and the power to build relationships to every presentation she gives. In addition to providing traditional teacher workshops, she has been instrumental in training day care facilities, Head Start staff, and youth group leaders.
Laurie was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2010.
Micheline Hickenbotham, Assistant Professor of Education, Black Hills State University, Spearfish, South Dakota
Micheline Hickenbotham teaches pre-service K-8 educators Science and Math Methods. She is also a math elementary and middle school specialist for the Rapid City and Belle Fourche school districts, and a math consultant for K-8 schools on the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation. Micheline trains around 80 pre-service teachers in PLT each year. She has written and received several grants to create an outdoor learning center, build a trail, and field-test an outdoor curriculum designed by her students on the Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. Last year, Micheline and her pre-service students showcased PLT and other environmental education programs during the South Dakota Science Teachers Association (SDSTA). This year, Micheline is president of SDSTA, and she led a PLT Energy & Society workshop at the conference in February that included a tour of an ethanol plant.
Micheline was named National PLT Outstanding Educator Honoree in 2006.