DEQ Secretary presents environmental education certificate to retired teacher after 40-year career

Tuesday, February 6, 2018 - 12:47pm

DEQ’s Secretary Michael Regan visited the North Carolina Botanical Garden last week to present Kim Kelleher, a recently retired school counselor, with her North Carolina Environmental Education Certificate.

The N.C. Botanical Garden was an appropriate location for Kelleher to receive her environmental education certificate. Many of the courses Kelleher took for her certification were provided by the garden, including workshops on horticultural therapy, vegetable gardening, winter backyard birds and Caterpillars Count, a citizen science workshop for educators.

Staff from the garden were on hand to celebrate with Kelleher and her husband. Secretary Regan noted the importance of the garden for preserving the biological diversity of the southeast and for its role in environmental education. “We are fortunate to have the botanical garden as a resource in the state, providing outstanding environmental education programs for educators like Kim,” said Regan.

Kelleher says the certification program led to changes in her approach to teaching. “I have been a school counselor for many years and have used various approaches in helping children, staff members and parents. When I started taking the students outside to build a nature trail, grow plants in our greenhouse and lead interpretations for other children and visitors, it changed my students in positive ways. We had an increase in attendance, a decrease in office referrals and improved academic performance, motivation and attention.”

Among her many accomplishments, Kelleher created the New Hope Nature Trail at her former school with students and Boy Scouts that included a bridge, butterfly garden, outdoor learning areas and picnic tables. “Our plan was to have the students recreate a one-mile nature trail in the woodland forest that surrounds our school.  During this work, students were taught to identify trees, flowers, animal footprints, cloud names, composting techniques, science concepts and gardening skills. They also learned respect, responsibility, teamwork, perseverance and environmental stewardship,” said Kelleher.

Through the trail project, Kelleher’s students became Junior Rangers. “Becoming a Junior Ranger gave these children hope and helped them cope with other challenges they were facing such as poverty, grieving the loss of a family member or learning disabilities,” said Kelleher.

For her certification project, Kim wrote and taught a 16-week environmental education curriculum for students at her school. Twenty students in grades 3 - 5 participated in her outdoor course called ‘The Great Outdoors.’  Kelleher says the improvements in her students were striking. “At the conclusion of this hands on, outdoor course, there was a significant increase in post assessment data. Some students grew to middle and high school levels, said Kelleher.”

Kelleher retired in July 2017 after a 40-year career in education. Also in 2017, she was awarded the N.C. Wildlife Federation’s Environmental Educator of the Year, and she recently accepted the award for Environmental Educator of the Year from the Environmental Educators of North Carolina.

In the nomination for Environmental Educator of the Year, one of Kelleher’s peers wrote, “The entire school, school system and community are so proud of Ms. Kelleher’s energy and passion to promote environmental stewardship and her ‘outside the box’ thinking to leave no child behind. Her challenging students who were frequently in school suspension are now learning, thriving and admired by their peers as leaders.”