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Brooke Wilson of Rowan Wild at Dan Nicholas Park recently obtained her Environmental Education Certification (EEC) through the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. This certification encourages professional development in environmental education and acknowledges educators committed to environmental stewardship. The main goal of the program is to increase environmental literacy, provide practice in environmental education teaching methods, and to foster community leadership.
It took Wilson a little more than four years to complete her certification, which involves 200 hours of continuing education activities and a final community project. While the certification can be completed in a shorter amount of time, “with having a full-time job and a personal life as well, four years is a reasonable amount of time to complete this,” Wilson says.
The end result of the certification is a community project, which Wilson completed at Eagle Point Nature Preserve by refreshing the signage along the Plant Loop Trail, which had not been updated in 15 years. Part of the project also involved the development of a trail guide with both educator and student versions. The guidebooks have been shared with Muddy Sneakers, an environmental education program that works with fifth-grade public school students to educate core concepts of the state science curriculum. A recent visit of Muddy Sneakers to Eagle Point was reported in the Salisbury Post.
Wilson must obtain an additional 50 hours of continuing education to keep her certification current over the next four years. Her supervisor, Mike Lambert, and Director, Bob Pendergrass, are both very supportive of pursuing certifications and allowing time for continuing education activities. “When I first applied for this job, it was a temporary position and one of the things they asked me was if I had heard of the certification and if I was interested in starting it. I was already half way through the certification process at that point…From Day One, they have been supportive for me to go to workshops and get the certification,” she said. Lambert also has obtained his EEC and met the recertification requirements.
Wilson works with two part-time education staff to coordinate in-house educational programs for school groups at the Nature Center as well as spring break camps (new in 2018) and summer camps. In her education reports during the busy season, she reports that the Nature Center sees around 2500 students per month on average for both scheduled and impromptu programs. If schedules allow, she also goes out into the community to participate in outreach activities.
Gears are always turning for Wilson, whose passion for environmental education is palpable. Because there is a 10-person minimum for scheduled programs, Wilson has come up with an idea for “wildlife backpacks” that will appeal to families and smaller groups. Backpacks will contain a scavenger hunt and activity books geared toward K-2, 3-5, and 6-8 grades. She is also creating“nature trunks” to allow outreach to schools that cannot physically visit the park. These trunks will be filled with activities for K-8 that will be correlated to NC Science Essential Standards and can be rented to teachers for two weeks.
“Studies have shown it’s extremely important for students to be out in nature and have time to just exhale and process information… When we were coming up with the trunks, we wanted to make it practical for teachers when they only have a certain amount of time to get all this information in and they don’t have time to just look at animal pelts or snake sheds… We need to make it worth their while. They can turn around to the principal and say, ‘This is the activity that we’re doing for the week, and it correlates with the NC Essential Standards for Science.’ It takes the burden off of them and kids get something different, nature and animal-themed.”
There are three completed nature trunks at this point with the hope of completing all five by next school year. Wilson intends to host a teacher open-house to introduce the nature trunks this summer. Her priority is to complete the trunks first, and to roll out the nature backpacks on a more flexible schedule.
Like all Rowan Wild staff, Wilson wears many hats. In addition to her role as an environmental educator, she is also in charge of feeding all the reptiles. She loves working with animals and, at one point, thought that she would become a veterinarian before realizing that medicine was not for her.
While she considers herself an introvert by nature, Wilson enjoys interacting with the public, especially when she can share something she’s passionate about. “The best part of my job is I get to educate people about animals. I get to talk to people and I get to work with animals - it’s the best of both worlds.”
“Every day is completely different - I walk in the door and I’m like, ‘what’s happening today’?” Wilson says. She continues, “The spontaneity is a really cool part of my job, too.” Case in point, during this interview, a man walks in wanting information on re-homing a quail. “You can imagine, as with the guy who walks in about the quail…that doesn’t happen every Tuesday!”
Wilson has also been a Certified Interpretive Guide (CIG) since 2014 and just recently renewed this certification. CIG is an international program through the National Association for Interpretation and requires continuing education for recertification as well.
After graduating with her degree in zoology, Wilson served in AmeriCorps in the Mountains to the Sea program, whose goal was to place environmental educators in rural and underserved areas from the mountains to the sea in North Carolina. She was placed in the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island during this year-long program and was able to begin her EEC during that time.
Although she has taken some master’s level coursework, Wilson has no immediate plans to pursue her degree. “I like working more than I like going to school,” she jokes. Wilson is a true Rowan County original who plans to keep her certifications current and continue doing all that she can to improve environmental education in Rowan County and beyond.