Educating for Change
The North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) is a US-based nonprofit organization. It is an integrated network of education professionals with members in more than 30 countries throughout the world. This October, NAAEE hosted its 51st Annual Conference in partnership with the Arizona Association of Environmental Education (AAEE) in Tucson, Arizona. The conference’s theme was Educating For Change, emphasizing the powerful role education can play in creating healthier communities and tackling today’s complex environmental and social issues.
As BRN’s Youth Education Program Coordinator, I received the 2021 Excellence in Environmental Education Awards from the AAEE for my work on an online course on jaguar habitat restoration and community advocacy and for moving the Borderlands Earth Care Youth, forward planning for its expansion to Nogales and Rio Rico, AZ. Now, I am a part of the AAEE eeFellow Program, a career development program designed for young professionals to advance their profession in environmental education (EE).
Through the fellowship, participants gain skills in creating formal and non-formal EE programs with measurable outcomes, build their understanding of quality and meaningful educational experiences, and have the accessibility to tools, resources, and mentors to grow as a skilled EE provider.
Through the Fellowship Program and support from BRN, I had the opportunity to attend the NAAEE conference, which was my first ever large national conference. At the event, I got to meet many great people in person including my colleagues and mentors from the program. The first session I attended, Advancing a Diverse and Resilient Green Careers Sector, really set the bar high for my expectations for the rest of the conference as three empowered women talked about their experiences in the field. They shared research and anecdotes showcasing the importance of increasing exposure to STEM-related fields for populations that are disproportionately impacted by environmental justice issues. The session was relevant to the services and opportunities BRN provides to enhance youth’s pursuit of the field through experiential work, culturally competent curriculum, and accessibility to mentors.
I attended over 10 sessions that included traditional presentations, hands-on workshops, and an evaluation clinic. The conference also led nature walks, art ecology activities, tabling and field trips. In one of the sessions, I learned a lot about using Universal Design for Learning in creating inclusive EE programs so that we can be more welcoming and accessible for all learners. In another, a young, inspiring college student shared their invention of “Watershed Clue,” an interactive game about watersheds built using NOAA’s MWEE framework. Since then, I’ve been extremely motivated to leverage existing frameworks to incorporate more collaborative activities that allow for artistic expression and integrates outdoor exploration that meets an individual’s learning needs.
One of the last sessions I attended was to support students and staff from the University of Arizona. A panel from UArizona and partnering organizations shared their experiences and actionable strategies for engaging diverse students with environmental learning opportunities. The panel helped me consider the barriers and opportunities that exist for connecting students with minoritized identities to environmental education experiences and projects. This was relevant to the work I do for BRN in the sense that we are trying to develop a pathway for youth to pursue restoration-related careers at a local level. Part of this is trying to build awareness of the different pathways youth can consider, including pursuing sustainability-related programs in college, university or technical trainings, but also providing opportunities starting at a young age. We need to empower, guide and support today’s youth who are the next stewards of their communities, places and environment.