This past week was about sharing, learning and networking.  A few of us in the Free-Choice Learning Program participated in the North American Association for Environmental Education  (NAAEE) Conference in the so-called “Charm City” of Baltimore.  Many presentations, keynote speakers, round-tables, social networking and casual conversations later, I (at least) came back home with refreshed energy and feeling empowered to really do better.

The kick-off keynote speaker was a major realization about the outstanding environmental education (EE) work that really happens out there and how ideas do materialize and are successful in changing lives and reconnecting people to nature.  One of the most engaging and provocative speakers I have ever heard, Stephen Ritz is a South Bronx teacher who received the U.S. EPA award (among many others) for transforming landscapes and mindsets in New York City. His classroom contains an indoor edible wall that feeds students healthy meals and trains the youngest nationally certified workforce in America. His speech was engaging, super electric, and very passionate, as he tells the story of how he moves generations of Bronx students into a better life and academic success while rebuilding the Bronx neighborhood. As he said, “it is easy to raise a healthy kid than to fix a broken man”, we are “AmeriCANs (

There were many other outstanding speakers I could be talking about as well, including the founder and president of Spitfire Strategies, a public relation firm that works with non-profit organizations to create positive social change. Shawn would love her thought provoking, hilarious and yet very effective presentation on communicating messages. I will leave the details of that for a lab meeting, after all, it was not just about the speakers and sessions, but about self-discovery and fitting my work with the work of others, discovering great programs, realizing some bad ones, learning from lessons learned and critically applying academic knowledge.

When environmental educators get together it is about celebrating the true power of environmental messages. What we do matters and it is indeed transformative. Seeing such wonderful examples of powerful dedicated work towards a more environmentally literate society is energizing and reassuring, so that we don’t catch ourselves looking at the “glass half empty”, but fill that glass with hope and empowerment.

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