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June 2023 Newsletter

☀️ Greetings

Happy official start to the summer! We are excited to share a prospective report from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park PEC Team on their upcoming teacher professional development (PD), some thoughts from Joan Haley on recognizing and addressing intergenerational inequalities embedded in the climate crisis, and ideas for monitoring and mapping resources. Without further ado, let’s dive in!


🌳 Partnering with Earth to Sky and the Local Community at Great Smoky Mountains National Park

We’re doing something a little different with the PEC professional development feature this month: Instead of doing a retrospective on a workshop that’s already happened, I checked in with Susan Sachs (NPS) of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GRSM) to learn about her PEC Team’s upcoming workshop in late November. The GRSM PEC team is collaborating with Earth to Sky, a partnership between NASA, NPS, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) aimed at providing relevant and accessible science and data to educators across the US.

Photo of Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Credit: NPS / Victoria Stauffenberg)

Their workshop will take place over three days in late November at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, a residential environmental education center in the park . The workshop is open to educators of all grades and subjects in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. Partnering organizations for the workshop include The Science House at North Carolina State University, Southwestern Community College, NC DNR Air Quality Division, and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Division of Natural Resources. Content-wise, the plan is to dive into the trove of citizen-science data the park has on salamander populations, tree phenology, and terrestrial invertebrate phenology, review climate change basics, and learn about local environmental justice issues. Susan highlighted both water availability and air quality as two local issues they plan to explore, but also emphasized that those specifics will be dictated by participants’ interests.

Inspired by the structure of Earth to Sky workshops, the GRSM PEC Team is planning to have about half of the workshop be content-delivery and a full half be reserved for participants to have time to reflect and process and do some of their own planning in small groups. For example, if there were to be a climate change basics presentation for an hour, that presentation would be followed up by an hour of small group discussion and processing.

Another notable aspect of their planned workshop is their dedication to jointly integrating climate action and student voices into the curriculum. Though educators of all grade-levels are welcome to attend the workshop, the GRSM PEC Team is asking that participants commit to executing a student-determined climate action following the workshop. To help the teachers with this potentially daunting task, the team is offering to connect them with an array of local partners. (You can tell they’re well-connected by the list of workshop partners above!)

Photo of salamander at GRSM (Credit: NPS)

Speaking of thinking about what teachers might need, when I asked Susan (who has planned and facilitated many a PD) if she had any advice for other teams planning their own PD, she emphasized the importance of asking teachers what they want and need. For this PEC workshop, this looked like sending an online survey to teachers on the North Carolina Environmental Education Email List and putting the survey in a newsletter that goes to teachers in eastern Tennessee. Susan emphasized how a network of community partners can strengthen your PD offerings and that it’s important to remember “you don’t need to do it all yourself.” When considering what your teachers asked for, think about whom in your community network might be able to help answer the questions and needs your potential participants identified.

All in all, it sounds like Susan and her colleague Natrieifia Miller (NPS) and the rest of the GRSM PEC Team partners have an impressive PD planned. We are excited to hear about how it goes in November and wish the GRSM team all the best with the rest of the planning process. Thanks so much to Susan for taking the time to talk with me and tell me all about their upcoming workshop!


🏫 Supporting the Next Generation Amidst Climate Change

Intergenerational inequalities have been brought up a few times in our Community of Practice conversations, so this month's newsletter speaks to that issue - Joan Haley (Director of PEC)

In the field of education, climate change is sparking conversations about how to best equip our students with the necessary tools to navigate the challenges ahead. This pursuit aligns well with the goals of the National Park Service education programs, and by extension, Park for Every Classroom, which strive to engage local schools and communities in stewardship of our natural and cultural resources. As we delve into this work and think about our impact, it is important to recognize that actions might speak louder than our words or even our lesson plans ever can.

During a conversation with a young climate leader, I posed the question, "How do you envision climate change impacting your life in the next 15 to 25 years?" Immediately, a shift occurred in the young woman's demeanor. The atmosphere between us grew a little tense, and the awkwardness and insensitivity of my question finally dawned on me. Coming from a position of privilege, shielded from the harsh realities of climate change for much of my life, I asked such a question without fully comprehending its potential offense. For this 19-year-old, contemplating the future in the face of such uncertainty was unsettling, especially when the question comes from a generation (mine!) that is so complicit in the crisis.

Understandably, this young woman carried a palpable sense of unease about the lack of progress in addressing climate change over the past decades. She, and others like her, have expressed confusion and disappointment that people from older generations, who possess greater resources, connections, experience, and power, often look to youth to solve this complex issue.

By observing adults, youth witness what is possible and what society truly values. The old adage of "Do as I say, not as I do" holds little weight. The choices we make as adults—the vehicles we drive, the food we consume, the clothes we buy, the careers we choose, the homes we build, the policies we support—speak volumes to the younger generation about our commitment to their well-being and the health of our planet.

It is both humbling and inspiring to observe many young individuals making substantial lifestyle changes and working diligently to challenge unsustainable practices, often surpassing the efforts of many adults, including myself. While we have faith in the ability of our community's youth to make a difference, how can we burden them with this responsibility if we, as adults, are not willing to lead by example? Our Park for Every Classroom community strives to build student agency, but our efforts will be most meaningful and impactful when students see that agency manifested in our own actions.

If you are part of Park for Every Classroom, you are already serving as a role model by working with others locally to make changes. The more youth can directly observe or be a part of this collective movement toward climate resilience, the more they will see there are people trying hard to make a difference and youth are not alone in this endeavor.

In addition to serving as role models and collaborating on climate action with youth, one of the most important things we can do is truly listen to our young people and learn from them. The world they are growing up in is significantly different from even a few years ago. Understanding their realities will help us forge stronger youth partnerships for climate resilience and create more relevant education programming. Through our efforts, we can help rebuild young people's faith in the future, showing them through our actions that we are in this together and are trying to meet the standards they rightfully expect from us, the grown-ups. And if we can share compassion and joy in our work with youth, our combined efforts will surely grow strong roots for a climate resilient future.

We invite you to share any enlightening conversations or experiences with youth lately that might help us deepen our understanding about climate change education. And if you are closer to the 19-year-old in age than middle age, please feel free to share your perspective as well.


🍄 PEC Community of Practice on July 13th

The next CoP meeting will be on Thursday, July 13th at 3:00-4:15 pm EDT, and the team from Everglades National Park will be presenting on their recent PD workshop, so mark your calendars (if they’re not already) and get excited!


🎨 Monitoring and Mapping Resources

Monitoring and mapping resources can be a useful tool in climate change education curricula – especially with the recent interest in monitoring air quality. Here are some monitoring and mapping resources related to national parks, climate, and air quality:


🌱 Thanks for reading!

That’s all for now! You can send ideas, questions, and/or feedback about this newsletter to

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