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N.C. Certified Environmental Educator's project revitalizes public space, energizes public learning

Friday, August 5, 2016 - 12:00am

Katie Boleware recently completed her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification, a program administered by the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs. Boleware currently works at the North Carolina Outward Bound School and recently worked for the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville where she completed her required community partnership project for the certification program. Located just south of Asheville, the arboretum is a 434-acre public garden which operates as an affiliate entity of the University of North Carolina system.

Boleware's project revitalized the Pollinator Garden, a public learning space at the arboretum. Recently the location became designated as a "Citizen Science Hotspot," in which 3rd-8th graders may come to record and upload ecological data to not only contribute to large-scale scientific research, but also win cool prizes.

Boleware notes that "one of the aims of the project was to increase traffic in this little known public area by adding low-maintenance, low-cost, high-fun activities for younger siblings to complete while older siblings explore the Citizen Science Hotspot. Another goal was to beautify the space for field trips and summer camp groups that frequent the Pollinator Garden throughout the entire calendar year. Many varieties of vegetables were planted to harvest and cook with, host and feeder plants were added for local pollinators, and games such as tic-tac-toe and hopscotch were added to make the space generally more inviting. Through collaboration with the arboretum volunteer coordinator and United Way's Hands On! Day of Service, I organized volunteers from a local digital agency in Asheville to complete the labor required. We also began and ended the day with short discussions about the importance of garden-based environmental education, especially in our region of western North Carolina. " 

Katie's thoughts on her project are similar to many in the N.C. DEQ environmental education certification program who find it has a real, lasting impact on their communities. "My final project was very fulfilling. It allowed me to complete a long term goal at my previous workplace and leave a lasting impact on the educational space. I enjoyed collaborating with many community partners and organizing volunteers to complete a vision larger than I could have tackled on my own."

Katie relates that she also enjoyed the certification program’s field experience requirements, especially one spent at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. She also found the instructional workshops helpful in her professional development, noting that she felt the workshops "did a great job at helping me use an inquiry-based approach rather than consistently front loading every lesson. I also felt that the workshops increased my creativity when it came to coming up with new games and activities for getting my point across to a variety to audiences." 

Consider visiting the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville to view Katie's work, as well as beautiful plants, exhibits and other natural wonders. And why not participate in the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program yourself? Learn more on the N.C. Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs website,