Committed to Environmental Education On and Off the Job

By Kim Bartels

From the very beginning of my career with EPA as a kids’ environmental health coordinator, I have been afforded the opportunity to share my passion for protecting the environment and my love of science with children. This has been a significant aspect of my life personally, because no matter what my job title is, at the heart of it all, I am a scientist and a mom.  I care about this work so much that I’ve even started volunteering at a neighborhood school.  Now in my third year as a science volunteer, coordinating science enrichment activities at my kids’ elementary school, I have had the opportunity to engage hundreds of kids in fun ways of learning about science and the environment.

I coordinate the Science Explorer’s Club and it has become so popular with students that we have expanded it to run the entire school year. We meet once a month before school and have been told by a few parents that their young scientists amazingly bounce out of bed at their earlier time, excited to join us. Roughly 70 young scientists conduct projects and experiments that include spooky science, egg drop challenges, leaning towers of pasta, borax snowflakes, holiday chemistry, forensics, bubbleology, candy science, color mixology, fun with dry ice, and a liquid nitrogen demonstration.

As I became known for my enthusiasm for science and all things sustainable, my involvement with other enrichment activities expanded to include the Science Fair and an annual week-long Waste Free Lunch Challenge, and I am now a mentor for the school’s Green Team. This advisory team of 5th and 6th grade students serves as recycle ambassadors for their assigned classrooms, coordinates special recycling efforts for a few hard-to-recycle lunchroom items and sponsors a month-long clothing reuse/recycling collection drive as an Earth Day activity and a fundraiser.

Beyond the importance of fostering kids’ enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering and math, another reason I love my volunteer work is the kids’ priceless reactions. My daughter recently shared with me that if she could have one wish granted from a genie and she couldn’t wish for more wishes (obviously), she would wish for the whole world to reuse and recycle EVERYTHING. After hearing that my son gets to do a lot of science experiments at home, his classmate expressed that she wished she could come to our house for more science. Probably one of the best declarations came from my 4 year old “assistant,” who attends all of my volunteer gigs, as she announced, “Mom, I just want to do science with you FOREVER!” My immediate response: Um, yes please!

About the author: Kim Bartels is the Region 8 Children’s Environmental Health Coordinator.  She has a BA in Biology and a MS in Environmental Science.  She enjoys spending time outdoors with her family of five, finding creative ways to show her children how the world can be their very own science laboratory.

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