State Agency Recognizes Southeast Ohio Teachers For Environmental Education

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A state agency is recognizing three Southeast Ohio educators for their commitment to environmental education.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Forestry announced Tuesday its decision to honor Joe Brehm of Athens, Lola Lewis of Massillon, Jenny Ridenauer of Pomeroy and four others from across the state for their roles with the Project Learning Tree education program.

The non-profit education program, which is co-sponsored by ODNR, equips educators with lesson plans and materials that are helpful for teaching students about environmental issues.  The curriculum caters to a wide-range of youth, from pre-school aged children to high school seniors.

"It stimulates critical and creative thinking and helps develop [a student's] ability to make informed decisions about environmental issues," said Sue Wintering, an information specialist with the ODNR Division of Forestry and state coordinator for the program. "It encourages youth leaders to get children to take positive environmental action in their local communities."

Since 1980, more than 22,000 volunteer educators have been trained through the program to teach children how to tackle environmental issues like energy use, air quality, water quality, solid waste and recycling using an unbiased approach.

"Project Learning Tree teaches students how to think, not what to think about environmental issues," said Wintering. "We really emphasize teaching students to look at as many sides of issues any they can so they can come to their own conclusions."

Wintering said between 45 and 75 Project Learning Tree training workshops are held across the state each year, many of them in Southeast Ohio. 

"When you look at the wealth of natural resources that exist in that unique part of the state, it's really important for youth to understand it and to appreciate it. In doing so, they can be active citizens making informed decisions," she said. 

Project Learning Tree educators like Brehm, Lewis and Ridenauer each work in different capacities within the program, but Wintering said they all fulfill a crucial need.

"When you're dealing particularly with children, you want teachers to know that when you teach about environmental issues, it's important to make sure that [students] are as aware as they can be and have accurate information about the topic so that they can be good decision makers as they grow up," she said. "It's showing them how to think and to explore and come up with their own values. That's not an easy thing for educators to teach them to do."

The Division of Forestry annually recognizes people who have substantially contributed to the environmental education program, and selects many of its honorees through a nomination process.