Educator says DEQ program supports science literacy and engages youth

Monday, August 21, 2017 - 10:33am

Mandy Nix is a nonformal educator who had a very busy year. In addition to working in several seasonal positions, Nix used her training and experiences to complete her N.C. Environmental Education Certification.

She worked as an environmental education instructor at Mountain Trail Outdoor School in Hendersonville where she actively engaged second to eighth-grade school groups in high adventure and discovery-based curricula throughout 1,400 acres of southern Appalachian bogs, ponds, streams and forests. She taught a hands-on and “minds-on” natural science curriculum on native flora and fauna for the Nature Explorers Camp at the N.C. Botanical Garden.

In September, Nix will begin a year of service as an AmeriCorps member with Trout Unlimited. She will serve as a West Virginia Volunteer Restoration and Monitoring Organizer, engaging volunteers from local communities in the restoration, monitoring and protection of the clean water in our Appalachian waterways.

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Nix points to the teaching resources. “I’m laughably greedy about new curricula - books, educational posters and advanced field ID training - and the environmental education certification program left me breathless with such invaluable teaching resources. I’ve never felt more equipped to forge daily connections between communities and backyard flora/fauna,” said Nix.

For her community partnership project, Nix developed the Lemur S.C.O.U.T. Patch Program at the Duke Lemur Center to engage local youth, ages six to 12, in lemur science and conservation. The program gave the participants a toolkit of skills during the five-step program to “Study, Conserve, Observe, Understand and Teach.” The program also allowed her to create connections between the program, the Piedmont Girl Scouts and YMCA Guides.

Nix says the program changed her approach to teaching others. “The program was hugely transformative for both my teaching and my perception of environmental education,” she said. “It reinforced the fact that we’re not teaching our communities to be scientists; we’re teaching them to be science lovers and science literate, thus empowering them to be intimate participants in conservation.”

Nix feels that the program helps support her views about the importance of working with communities and engaging youth early-on. “The certification program fortified my belief that conservation is rooted in deep, personal connections in and with nature. My own relationship with the natural world was born from sticky summers in the North Carolina Piedmont, where Kerr Lake was a quick hop-skip through the mixed hardwood and pine forests I called my backyard. But while I was lucky to have a childhood that kept dirt under my fingernails and between my toes, many lack my own experience and exposure. It’s important that I play an active role in growing that accessibility and engaging our communities in wild, green spaces. Moreover, those connections should begin early, with our youngest citizens.”