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The North Carolina Arboretum (Asheville) has been cultivating two curriculum-based Environmental Education and Community Science initiatives in the Mountain Region for some time. This year, they have taken the next step to provide these programs to educators across the state.
The North Carolina Arboretum is a 434 acre public garden space, located along the Blue Ridge Parkway and French Broad Watershed in Asheville, NC. As an affiliate of the UNC System, and with a mission to “creatively connect people, plants, and places through education…”, the organization has been focused on growing its education impact since its inception. Through the Continuing Education and regional Certificate of Merit Programs, the nearly 15 years of summer Discovery Camps and Field Trip programs the Education Department has connected tens of thousands of participants to the unique WNC ecosystems and natural history.
Project EXPLORE and Outdoor Wonders and Learning (OWL) are two programs that have made such an impact, they have been able to grow statewide. In 2018 The Arboretum was awarded a grant from the North Carolina GlaxoSmithKline Foundation in the amount of one million dollars in order to support curriculum and website development, teaching materials, and coach/facilitator trainings for these two programs, as well as the student-led ecoEXPLORE program. Project EXPLORE is a mini-grant/stipend program to help classroom teachers dive into Community Science Projects at their school and to align them with grade level standards. Outdoor Wonders and Learning is a K-5 curriculum guide and workshop to introduce Environmental Education activities and their connection to grade level standards.The statewide launch of these programs was intended for 2020, but a national pandemic put that on hold and required some inventive thinking on how to continue reaching students and educators with these programs.
Instead of the planned week-long in person training, Project EXPLORE has hosted six monthly virtual Coach Trainings since December 2020. These virtual training sessions have been centered on establishing a learning community of environmental educators to provide effective and relevant environmental education content while supporting public school teachers. Although the format was different than expected, the Project EXPLORE team worked to make the training engaging and effective. As one participant said, “These are the best virtual sessions I have attended.” Our coaches are eager to put their skills into practice at schools this fall!
As summer came to an end and school schedules were starting up, OWL completed its Facilitator Training over a long weekend at Camp Agape in Fuquay-Varina, NC. During their time together, six educators from around the state, representing both the formal and informal sides of education, dug deep into the history and intentions of the OWL program, its pedagogy, and the activities from the curriculum guide. One facilitator said, “I’m really looking forward to sharing OWL with my staff and applying what we learned here to my own teaching practice as well!” These Facilitators are now able to offer workshops and staff training in their regions - and they’re very excited to get started!
For more information about Project EXPLORE and to find the Coach in your area, visit www.ncprojectexplore.org.
For more information about Outdoor Wonders and Learning and to find the Facilitator in your area, visit www.ncowl.org.