environmental education

Time Well Spent on a Pier

By Kelly Dulka

While vacationing in Nags Head, NC, I became curious about the pier just a few blocks down the beach and had heard it had an environmental education center, so I decided to check it out.

Jennette’s Pier originally opened in 1939, and changed fishing on the Outer Banks forever.  For more than 60 years, the pier was repaired or rebuilt from time to time due to hurricanes and nor’easters. The NC Aquarium Society bought the pier to develop it into an educational facility. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel knocked down about 540 feet (over half) of the pier, practically shutting down an Outer Banks institution. It then became time to rethink the fishing pier concept, with the aquarium taking the lead to rebuild Jennette’s as an all-concrete, 1,000-foot-long, educational ocean pier.

The new pier opened in 2011, and is a fascinating place to visit. Aside from all of the cool displays inside the educational center (like floor to ceiling aquariums), I was happy to learn that the pier was LEED certified by the US Green Building Council. This meant that “green” technology was everywhere you looked, and even in places you couldn’t see.

First off and probably most noticeable are the three wind turbines that rise 90 feet above the pier and provide over half of the energy for the pier.  Some solar cells convert sunlight into electricity, which is then stored to provide the power necessary for the pier’s lights at night. The building is heated and cooled by a geothermal HVAC system.

Collected rainwater provides water for irrigation and cleaning the deck and facility vehicles, and there is an on-site waste water treatment facility providing reclaimed water to the pier. These features are projected to reduce water use by up to 80%.

Inside the pier building, educational classes are offered year round. School groups can learn about ocean and marine life, and in the summer, camps are offered. If I hadn’t already realized this wasn’t your ordinary fishing pier, I could tell once I ventured out of the center.  It was very “user friendly” with plenty of benches for seating, tables for cleaning your “catch of the day,” and informational displays about fishing regulations and size requirements. Best of all, it was clean (and not smelly at all, I might add!) Plenty of trash and recycling receptacles, and there were even bins for recycling fishing line!

On the day I visited, there were many people visiting the pier, young, old, sportsmen, and sightseers. It was clear to me that the time I spent exploring was well worth it, and certainly worth spending more time visiting again.

About the author: Kelly Dulka has worked for EPA for many years. She currently works in the Office of Web Communications at EPA Headquarters.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Discovering Local Hidden Treasures

By Lina Younes

Recently I took several days off to stay home with my youngest daughter who was off for spring break. Let’s call it a staycation. Although I definitely had quite a long “to do list” of chores at home, I still wanted to make it fun for her so that she would feel that she had done something special during her time off from school.

So, what were we going to do? The movies? Check. The mall? Check. A trip to a museum? Check.  Staying home and watching TV? That definitely was not on my list of special memorable experiences for our staycation. As I was looking for activities in our local area, I remembered the sign on the road that I had seen and ignored many times before. The National Wildlife Visitor Center. Interesting. So, one afternoon I took my youngest to the visitors center at the Patuxent Research Refuge just five miles away from our house and found a hidden treasure in our neck of the woods.

It turns out the facility is the largest science and environmental education center in the Department of the Interior located on the Patuxent Research Refuge. During our visit, we explored interactive exhibits focusing on global environmental issues, migratory bird routes, wildlife habitat and endangered species. We also ventured on some of the hiking trails along the way. Since we were not equipped with a good set of binoculars, we didn’t see much wildlife, but we saw some geese leisurely walking by.

We definitely look forward to visiting the center again. The fact that it is so close to our home makes it even an ideal place to spend some time on a nice afternoon. Do you have any hidden treasures in your local community? Would you like to share them with us?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as acting associate director for environmental education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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New York Harbor School |Opportunities in Environmental and Maritime Training and Practical Experience

By Larry Siegel

Harbor School has 6 CTE Programs of Study which begin in the 9th grade survey course Introduction to New York Harbor.

Introduction to New York Harbor or “Harbor Class” is taken by all ninth graders at New York Harbor School and is the basis for six Career and Technical Education Programs of Study: Marine Biology Research, Aquaculture, Vessel Operations, Ocean Engineering, Marine Systems Technology, and Professional Diving.

Marine Biology Research
The Marine Biology Research Program is a three year program that will jump start high school students in core marine science topics. Students will study simple aquatic ecosystems; formulate experiments with these systems; learn the biology, chemistry, physics, and ecology behind them; and apply basic instrumentation techniques to monitor them. Students then focus on three main topics: oyster restoration, habitat characterization, and water quality monitoring.

Aquaculture
Aquaculture teaches the theory and practice of raising aquatic plants and animals. Re-circulating aquaponic systems containing tilapia and herbs/vegetables are used to teach nutrient balance, feed ratios, fish disease identification/treatment, entrepreneurialship and filter design. Oyster hatchery, nursery, and growout techniques will be taught for the purposes of restoration.

Vessel Operations
This major prepares students for careers as licensed deck hands, as well as providing them with a stepping stone into management and operations positions aboard small passenger vessels and commercial towing units.

Ocean Engineering
Students learn about design, drafting, the physics of motion, electronics, and underwater technology as well as working well in a team, managing a project, measuring and presenting outcomes by designing, and assembling and testing submersible robots.

Marine Systems Technology
This program will teach the knowledge skills and attitudes that will prepare successful graduates to be marine systems technicians. Marine systems include electrical, fuel, hydraulics, refrigeration, propulsion and plumbing systems.

Professional/Scientific Diving
The program will take students through a series of certifications as recreational divers through the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), beginning with Open Water Diver and Advanced Open Water Diver. Students will receive training in boat safety and handling, emergency marine response.

More information about the Harbor School can be found here.

About the Author: Larry Siegel has worked as a writer of corporate policies and procedures and as a technical writer. He currently works as a Pesticide Community Outreach Specialist for the Pesticide and Toxic Substances Branch in Edison, NJ

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Magnificent “Clearwater” Sloop

By Larry Siegel

Want to go sailing on a sloop? Come aboard ye landlubbers for an afternoon of fun and education for the whole family.

In 1966, a handful of Hudson river-lovers decided to change the course of events that was destroying the Hudson and reclaim a natural treasure for us all. They wanted to dramatize the river’s plight, recall its history, and help guide its future. They wanted to provide their fellow citizens with a first-hand look at the neglect and pollution of the river, and move them to action. So they built a boat. And what a magnificent boat!

By contacting the Clearwater organization you can find out the details regarding charters (for education groups as well as private parties) and public sails (on which individuals and small groups can purchase tickets).

Clearwater offers a number of educational, volunteer, and fun filled programs, but Clearwater’s “Classroom Under Sail” is the centerpiece of the Clearwater education program. This three hour shipboard program is an exploration of the Hudson River and environmental awareness that forges a lifelong connection with nature.

And, if you like folk music, not to be missed is the annual two day Clearwater Music and Environmental Festival that takes place at Croton Point Park in Croton-on-Hudson, NY in Westchester County. If you can make your way up there it is a great event.

About the Author: Larry Siegel has worked as a writer of corporate policies and procedures and as a technical writer. He currently works as a Pesticide Community Outreach Specialist for the Pesticide and Toxic Substances Branch in Edison, NJ

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Green Reading—One Leaf at a Time

By Lina Younes

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Just recently I had the opportunity to read at my youngest daughter’s school. While I eagerly volunteered for the reading assignment, selecting the right book was not that easy. I went through several children books we had at home. At first glance, I didn’t find any one particular book that caught my eye. I was leaning toward a book about the Puerto Rican tree frog commonly known as the coquí which would allow me to talk about one of my favorite subjects. However, my daughter did not seem that enthused with the idea. Even though I was not issued any specific educational instructions for this reading opportunity, I knew I had to meet some other standards set by my daughter and her classmates: the book could not be “lame.” So then, I had an “aha moment” and thought of the perfect book to teach them about taking care of the environment: The Lorax.

Thanks to a colleague, I had a Lorax plush toy while I read the classic tale of this forest creature that spoke on behalf of the trees. I was pleased to see that the children listened attentively as I read the book. I even had time to spare to ask them questions about what they had heard and their thoughts on how we can all protect the environment. What were some of their recommendations? Many of the same actions that we encourage here at EPA:

  • Do not litter
  • Recycle
  • Turn off the lights when you leave the room
  • Turn off the water faucet when you brush your teeth
  • Ride your bike
  • Plant a tree

These are all very good suggestions from these fourth graders! So, if you’re looking for some good reading material for your children, The Lorax is a good book to consider. If you are looking for some educational materials to use in the classroom or at home, there are some good tools inspired by this classic and the upcoming movie. And when spring officially starts, why not plant a tree?

Before I sign off, I’d like to leave you with some food for thought. Playing devil’s advocate here—do you think all the merchandising associated with the release of the new movie might actually go against the commercialization denounced in the original Lorax book? What are your thoughts? Would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as EPA’s Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Insights From A Peace Corps Volunteer

By Sandra O’Neill

It’s March 16, 2006. I’m in the back of a pick-up truck riding down a slick mixture of mud and clay. The truck’s wheels search for traction in places where the road has split into child-sized crevasses. It’s the rainy season in Madagascar, and water has transformed a savannah into a veritable rainforest in the span of one week. This is the road to the village where I will live for two years and it is in very poor condition. But for me, this is the first day of life in a village that promises work in environmental education. I’ve never seen the village before and my Malagasy language competence is equivalent to that of a 3 year old child. I am a Peace Corps Volunteer.

When I reach the center of my village, I am overwhelmed. The house I will live in is comprised of a styrofoam-like material that neither block views of my neighbors from me or views of me from my neighbors. Nailed tin sheets serve as a roof for my hut and I learn that my water supply for washing dishes, cooking, and cleaning are in a neighbor’s salt-water well. And yet, I am better positioned in this village than the majority of its population.

Over 200,000 Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) have served in countries like Madagascar since 1961. PCVs spend 27 months working with host country nationals on a wide array of issues relating to health, income generation, and the environment. Peace Corps provides an engaging atmosphere where volunteers are challenged to address serious issues in non-conventional contexts. During their two years abroad, PCVs learn to value American government agencies that take their mission’s seriously; they especially learn to value the environmental benefits the EPA provides in a very personal and direct way (appreciation for limits on vehicle emissions goes through the roof!)

This year, the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) at EPA are organizing to celebrate the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary with a special celebration on November 29, 2011. We welcome you to join our celebration! RPCVs will share unique insights on global issues based on their Peace Corps experience and be available to discuss how their on-the-ground experiences have informed their careers at the EPA. For me, coordinating environmental projects in Madagascar helped me to realize that I wanted to work to protect human health and the environment. Five years later, I’m working at the EPA.

About the author: Sandra O’Neill joined the EPA in 2009 and works in the Office of Environmental Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia and and enjoys promoting the combined mission statements of both the Peace Corps and the EPA: world peace, friendship, and protection of human health and the environment.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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What Do Baby Sea Turtles, Mt Rainier, and Your Backyard Have In Common?

There are of course some clear differences. After watching “Touching the Void” last night, I have zero inclination to find my way to the top of anything that steep, or that cold. While I thoroughly enjoy the outdoors, clinging to survival while climbing further UP doesn’t do it for me. A great deal of my respect goes to those that do though.
Watching from the couch, peeping through my hands that have long since covered my face in shock and fear is a much cozier place to be. Documentaries like that, and Planet Earth, remind us of the power and force that our environment has – when we more often experience milder elements such as rain, fog, sunshine or partly cloudy skies going to and from our homes and work.
Fragile, is probably the last word that comes to mind when you see snow capped mountains. I struggle to think what looks more sturdy and imposing. It is hard to imagine that our environment as it exists today is a fragile balance of elements. It’s vast, it’s big, it’s far away (right?). So then, where does it all begin and end? Where are those boundaries where it stops being our backyard and becomes the wild, and the untouched?
It is modern human nature to work with such concepts as lines and boundaries. It helps us manage things by separating and compartmentalizing. Unless we’re reminded by commercials for car insurance it’s rather impossible, and comedic, to envision ourselves as anything but the highly intelligent and evolved human beings we’ve become since we lived in caves and took down mammoths. We gained an improved posture, the ability to harness fire for energy, the wheel and sliced bread, but I think somewhere along the line something else seems to have gone quite far off course.
Back then, there was no separation between life, survival and our environment. It was a part of everything our ancient ancestors did and no choice they made could be without consideration of their surroundings. Somewhere our perception of that connection changed. Our environment is everything around us. There hasn’t been a single photo submitted to State of the Environment that isn’t part of that picture.
Jeanethe Falvey, State of the Environment project lead for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Boston, Massachusetts.

By Jeanethe Falvey

There are of course some clear differences. After watching “Touching the Void” last night, I have zero inclination to find my way to the top of anything that steep, or that cold. While I thoroughly enjoy the outdoors, clinging to survival while climbing further UP doesn’t do it for me. A great deal of my respect goes to those that do though.

Watching from the couch, peeping through my hands that have long since covered my face in shock and fear is a much cozier place to be. Documentaries like that, and Planet Earth, remind us of the power and force that our environment has – when we more often experience milder elements such as rain, fog, sunshine or partly cloudy skies going to and from our homes and work.

Mount Rainier just before sunrise, from 18,000 feet by Scott Butner

Fragile, is probably the last word that comes to mind when you see snow capped mountains. I struggle to think what looks more sturdy and imposing. It is hard to imagine that our environment as it exists today is a fragile balance of elements. It’s vast, it’s big, it’s far away (right?). So then, where does it all begin and end? Where are those boundaries where it stops being our backyard and becomes the wild, and the untouched?

It is modern human nature to work with such concepts as lines and boundaries. It helps us manage things by separating and compartmentalizing. Unless we’re reminded by commercials for car insurance it’s rather impossible, and comedic, to envision ourselves as anything but the highly intelligent and evolved human beings we’ve become since we lived in caves and took down mammoths. We gained an improved posture, the ability to harness fire for energy, the wheel and sliced bread, but I think somewhere along the line something else seems to have gone quite far off course.

Back then, there was no separation between life, survival and our environment. It was a part of everything our ancient ancestors did and no choice they made could be without consideration of their surroundings. Somewhere our perception of that connection changed. Our environment is everything around us. There hasn’t been a single photo submitted to State of the Environment that isn’t part of that picture.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, State of the Environment project lead for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Boston, Massachusetts.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Passing the Winding Stream Forward- More Than Just a Pretty Day in the Park

By Andrea Bolks

The big yellow bus pulls up with heads looking in every direction, excited students ready for a morning in the Indiana Dunes with us. They are Julian Middle School 6th graders, from a suburb of Chicago. I am an ORISE fellow, here with some EPA staff along with my mentor, who has been such an amazing teacher to me.  Watching from a bit of a distance as they unload I wonder, will we be able to get across the seemingly complex ideas of stream evolution, health and monitoring to them?

When I was a senior in high school, I switched to an environmental magnet school. I felt like my world opened as I was exposed to important, complex, even life changing environmental concepts. I was touched then; today, it has made me a huge believer in environmental education. This learning process not only fosters positive environmental attitudes, it also motivates and engrains a feeling of commitment to make informed decisions and take responsible action. I really wanted these children to walk away having learned concepts that they could share and that would stick with them as they grew. I hoped today would be more than just a pretty day in the park.

The children’s big smiles and energy filled the air as each of us from EPA went to our stations to teach them about dune formation, the daylighting restoration project, and many types of monitoring including macroinvertebrate, chemistry and habitat. I was absolutely amazed when they connected the eroding stream bank to the beginnings of the formations of an oxbow, when they understood why the winding of the stream slowed its flow and helped create a healthier system, or when they could piece together the linkages between the macroinvertebrate communities they had just learned about and habitat quality.  And they were in awe when they looked along this beautiful stream as we told them a few short years ago this land was a parking lot.

These children were sponges; they took what they had learned in the classroom and what they saw and their wheels started turning.  They didn’t just memorize some facts, they understood concepts, and these concepts might just stick with them, like they did with me.  Stick with them enough so that they too can pass the winding stream forward.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

About the author: Andrea Bolks is a fellow from the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Postgraduate Research Participation Program working in the Water Division at Region 5 in Chicago, IL.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Bridge Builders

By Leon Carter

Recently, EPA staffed an information booth at the first of what promises to be an annual event: Urban Resolutions for Bridging African Americans to Natural Environments. The purpose of the U.R.B.A.A.N.E. Conference 2011 was to discuss, develop and possibly deliver resources related to the conference’s themes: environmental education/ justice, the creation of green jobs, green industry/development and urban agriculture. All relate to EPA’s mission.

The conference combined informative classes and workshops corresponding with one or more of the of conference’s themes. Absent were scientific jargon and circuitous thoughts. Discussions were in “plain English”. Getting the word out is important. We must convey our mission or message to those we serve for it to serve its purpose. The conference was good at this and I plan to replicate that skill myself.

As an African American who grew up in the inner city, I relate to the difficulties faced by the urban community for whom venturing into the “great outdoors” or the “natural environment” was an adventure unto itself which was rarely great and very far from natural. The everyday existence within many communities of color is often marred by violence and blight, which is further exacerbated by environmental injustices that are easily hidden due to a lack of public interest, attention, or both. There were times in my childhood when the term “open space” referred to “vacant lots” that had become the target of fly dumpers. “Fresh air” meant you were upwind of the smoke stacks. So, I applaud those within the community who are fighting for change through the creation of public forums where social and environmental issues are openly addressed. This is no easy task, but a necessary one if communities hope to further their transition from “quiet resistance” into “stakeholder” and accept accountability and ownership for the direction of the community

As the event wound down, I spoke with many who came by my booth to voice thanks for EPA’s efforts and the job we’ve done. I was doubly proud: to have been the face of the EPA at this event and to be well represented and have our issues recognized by others outside of our community.

About the author: Leon Carter is an intern in EPA’s Chicago office in the Energy Star Program. He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Urban Planning-Land Use and Policy at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Can EPA Compete with a Roller Coaster?

By Wendy Dew

Well we did! I recently attended an outreach event at Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colorado. The event was meant to reach out to kids, teachers and parents about outdoor and environmental education opportunities. Our booth was a huge hit. We had our climate change quiz and recycled pencils as prizes for those who got most the questions right and for those who only got a few right! We also had educational outreach materials and coloring books for the kids.

Folks who came by the table had fun testing their knowledge and learning more about climate change and environmental education. I learned that we have a long way to go for kids and adults to understand the basics of climate change science. It is so important for EPA to reach out to folks in many different venues to help get the message out.

We will be back next year to reach out to more thrill seeking adventurers! I may try to get a spot not so close to the roller coaster next time, however.
To learn more visit EPA’s new Climate for Students website

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Environmental Education and Outreach Coordinator for Region 8 in Denver, Colorado.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.