These environmental educators are our latest slate of nominees for the Environmental Education Association of Alabama’s Board of Directors. They are listed in alphabetical order. An (I) after their name indicates they are an incumbent or former board member.
Jo Dale (I)
Jo Dale is a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT) and gifted specialist with Bessemer City Schools. She lives in Mountain Brook where she and her husband raised five children. Born in Mobile, her love of the natural wonders of Alabama goes back to childhood, spending summer time in the woods with her grandfather, a State Conservation Officer, at the farm in Hawthorn, and also with her parents on beautiful Lake Martin. She attended Auburn University (where she worked in the School of Agriculture) and the University of Montevallo. About a decade ago Jo started taking her gifted students annually to Camp McDowell’s Environmental Center. – leading to her involvement with EEAA and to many wonderful friendships with people who care about the environment and learning (and teaching others) about this beautiful state. Jo (currently Region 5 Coordinator on the EEAA Board) has served as EEAA Conference Program Chairperson for the past two years. She has presented at six national and numerous regional and state level conferences about topics she has a passion for – getting children outside, school gardening, the importance of recess and free play, and effective afterschool and summer programs that incorporate STEM, STEAM and STREAM.
Having lived in the Philippines, Germany and England (and travelled extensively in Asia, Europe, Northern Africa and the Americas) Jo believes there are few places in the world as wonderful as sweet home Alabama.
Elizabeth Franks is retired 27 veteran as an officer in the United States Army. She has lived in Alabama for the past 11 years and is both an employee and volunteer with the Huntsville Botanical Garden in their children’s education programs. She holds degrees in elementary and physical education from Athens State University. She has attended a number of workshops, conferences (including the past NAAEE conference) and environmental education programs throughout the state over the past few years.
Elizabeth says, “Although I do work for the Botanical Garden I still volunteer in our children’s programs when I am not in teacher mode. I think it is important children understand how importance the balance of our environment has on our survival. I have used walks through our tree groves as a part of the PE classes I teach during camp and some of our homeschool curriculum. I have asked the students to create their own PE events, gaveling each group cameras on day one and the next day each group’s pictures were exchanged and used as a scavenger hunt to find the other groups location of their pictures. I enjoy teaching environment education. I’ve even linked music to environmental education using Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to teach about the seasons. We made rain tubes for that lesson. We studied Nikolai Rimsky -Korsakov’s history and Opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan. In recognition of the music Flight of the Bumble Bee we studied insects. When we studied John Williams the lesson focused on the phases of the moon. I would be honored to serve on the EEAA Board.”
Misty Hertzig started working at the Huntsville Botanical Garden in 2009. She has risen from Education Associate to her current position as the Children’s Education Manager. She received her B.S. in Elementary Education from Utah State University in 2008 and her Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Environmental Education from Concordia University in 2015. She is a certified teacher in the state of Alabama. While she had always pictured herself teaching in a formal school setting, she just never quite made the transition. The Huntsville Botanical Garden was meant to be a temporary job, but falling in love with teaching outdoors and sharing a love of the environment with students inspired her to remain at the Garden. She has the pleasure of encouraging a love for nature in children from Pre-K all the way through 12th grade. She uses predesigned curriculum in addition to developing her own. She organizes and leads field trips for over 3,000 students each May along with teaching homeschool classes, summer camps and a preschool program throughout the year. She also helped to start the Tennessee Valley Environmental Educators group in Northern Alabama to bring more EE-based professional development opportunities to the educators in the Tennessee Valley. She maintains the TVEE Facebook page and helps in setting up monthly programs for its members. Down the road she hopes to have a bigger role in developing EE curriculum and provide training for teachers to better utilize it in their classroom whether it is outdoors or in. Growing up her family went camping and hiking and while she may not get out as much to do those things now, she gladly spends her time with her students helping them to appreciate the nature around them.
Maggie Wade Johnston is the Director of Educational Programming at Camp McDowell. She taught junior high science at the Alabama School for the Deaf. Maggie retired about 13 years ago and came to McDowell as Director of McDowell Environmental Center, which is the largest residential environmental center in the Southeast. She helped to found McDowell Farm School, the first residential Farm School in the southeast. After only five years, MFS is very successfully teaching students not only where their food comes from, but also helping them understand the earth’s complicated systems through project based learning. Maggie has recently founded her new “baby”, Magnolia Nature School at Camp McDowell, the first nature based preschool in Alabama. Magnolia is partnering with Headstart to allow local Winston County children the opportunity to grow and learn through the wonderful world around them. Hands on learning at its core! Maggie served on the EEAA board for six years and would like to return! She will bring her enthusiasm for science and learning to the EEAA Board!
Soozi Conner Pline is simply a naturalist at heart, embracing the twenty-first century, while never losing her innate sense of wonder she developed as a child growing up on the Atlantic coast of Florida! She began a career in agriculture in the mid- 70’s training and working in Ohio, Michigan and eventually settling in Auburn, Alabama where she earned her BS in Agricultural Science from Auburn University. The 1980’s brought children and a move from a rural tree nursery in Autauga County, AL to a fast paced life and livelihood in Atlanta, Georgia where she transitioned to formal Montessori education and eventually Montessori post-secondary teacher training and school administration. After a brief teaching sabbatical in Mexico, Soozi moved to Huntsville to be close to her aging parents. Becoming the Director of Education at Huntsville Botanical Garden in 2011 has combined her love of all things science with twenty eight years as an educator. The Garden’s mission includes education, research and horticulture and Soozi actively contributes to all areas. In an effort to support EEAA locally she helped organize the Tennessee Valley Environmental Educators (TVEE) which now has fifty two collaborating members all focused on environmental education and conservation in the TN valley!
Sierra Reavis is currently an undergraduate student at Jacksonville State University studying Environmental Biology. She has worked for the National Park Service as a Park Guide through the Pathways program since 2014, where she has gained experience in Interpretation, Resource Management, and Incident Response at Little River Canyon National Preserve and Russell Cave National Monument. She discovered her passion for biology and environmental education in high school, where she was part of the Gifted program. This allowed her to participate in both Scholars’ Bowl and Envirobowl. To gain experience, she volunteered at the Anniston Museum of Natural History and JSU Field Schools. Before entering the Park service, Sierra traveled to Italy for 3 weeks to study history and culture under JSU. Although she loves the outdoors, she also enjoys getting lost in a big city. Sierra delights in almost any outdoor activity, as well as reading, traveling, and spending time with family.
Michelle (Shelly) Taliaferro is a biology lecturer at Auburn University at Montgomery. She is a birder and a big-time fan of whooping cranes. Her background is in aquatic biology, particularly in the use of macroinvertebrate sampling to assess the ecosystem integrity of restored systems. Besides birds, bugs, and algae, Shelly’s interests include all types of outdoor activities, museums, jazz music, reading, travel, and introducing her students to the wonders of nature. In recent years, she has travelled with students, on study abroad, to Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands. Currently, Shelly is making plans to travel with students to Madagascar – a global hotspot of biodiversity, to observe its many rare, endemic species, including lemurs, primitive primates, found only in Madagascar. In addition to her trips with students, Shelly has participated, with Earthwatch organization, as a volunteer researcher, collecting/sorting/identifying arthropods in a rainforest in Borneo, and also with a project to study the effects of a parasitic fly on tree finches in Galapagos. In addition to study abroad, Shelly has worked to introduce her students to Alabama’s amazing biodiversity through a “Mountains to the Gulf” type course (developed with Toni Bruner), and by organizing numerous guest speakers and field trips throughout the state. Shelly has over 15 years of teaching experience at the secondary and college level. She has bachelors and masters degrees in both biology and secondary education, from Bowling Green State University and University of Toledo, in Ohio, her home state. At AUM, Shelly has received several awards, including Distinguished Lecturer, Service to Students, and Advisor of the Year, and she was recently promoted to Senior Lecturer. She has developed an Introduction to Environmental Biology course, which reaches a few hundred AUM students per year, and is in the process of creating an online environmental biology course, which will reach an even larger audience. In addition, Shelly has trained teachers through ecology-based workshops, most recently, as part of a Math-Science Partnership grant, in which she developed bird-themed curriculum, and trained teachers from two public school systems. Shelly is passionate about environmental education. She says, “I LOVE biology and I can think of NO job more important than exploring, learning about and appreciating the natural world with young people (and/or their teachers) – what better way to exponentially increase positive impacts on the environment?”