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ASPPH/EPA Environmental Health Fellow Builds K-12 Lesson Plans that Empower Tomorrow’s Decision-Makers

ASPPH/EPA Environmental Health Fellow, Ms. Jenna Hartley, graduate of the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, and a former high school science teacher, has learned first-hand that many students are familiar with common chronic illnesses. However, in her experience, far fewer understand how the surrounding environment is linked to these conditions.

How many of you know a family member with diabetes?  A few hands went up among the Durham, North Carolina science class.

What about asthma? More hands.

Cardiovascular disease? ADHD? High Blood Pressure? Obesity? Anxiety?  “It didn’t take long for all 30 eighth graders in that classroom to raise their hands,” Hartley recalled.

Under the mentorship of EPA’s Office of Research and Development EnviroAtlas Team, Ms. Hartley incorporated her experience as a classroom teacher and built her ASPPH/EPA Fellowship project to develop a new suite of educational materials that aim to address the knowledge gap with classroom-ready lessons that teach students about the environment’s effects on their daily lives, including their health and well-being.

Over the course of two years, Ms. Hartley developed educational materials that leverage the interactive, web-based tool from the EPA called EnviroAtlas. She was given immense creative license to design materials that were fun, engaging, and relevant to teachers.  She was also given the freedom to spend time in schools piloting, refining, and perfecting the materials on-the-ground with student and teacher feedback.

Since December 2016, Ms. Hartley piloted and conducted the lesson plans with a total of 2,687 participants.  Of those participants, 1,591 were students, of which 72 percent were from low-income or low-resource schools.  Ms. Hartley also worked with ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers and had some of the materials translated into Spanish.  In addition, she was a guest speaker in formal training workshops for educators, presented her work and Fellowship experience 17 times at formal conferences, conducted 54 classroom visits and collaborated extensively with over 20 formal classroom teachers.

By the end of her ASPPH/EPA Fellowship in August 2018, the EPA had adopted all of Ms. Hartley’s lesson plans and made them publicly available for teachers and educators on the EnviroAtlas website.

“Having been a teacher, I want these materials to empower students to be highly-informed decision-makers of tomorrow, and to know where they can find data that enable them to accomplish that,” Ms. Hartley said.

The materials include lesson plans and resources to engage kindergarten through undergraduate (K-16) students in interactive, place-based learning, addressing concepts like ecosystem services, watershed geography and management, the water cycle, air quality, urban planning, biodiversity, geospatial science, and decision-making.

For her efforts and accomplishments, Ms. Hartley was mentioned in multiple blogs and newsletters, including the EPA Science Matters Newsletter, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality Blog, and the Esri GeoNet Blog.  As part of her Skill Development efforts for her ASPPH Fellowship, she worked towards and received her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification, for which she received her certificate from the NC Department of Environmental Quality Secretary, Michael Regan (shown in photo).

Also for her efforts as an ASPPH/EPA Fellow, Ms. Hartley received two awards.  In May 2018, she received the STEM Volunteer of the Year Award from RTP’s STEM in the Park, which focuses on underrepresented minorities, girls, and students from low-income backgrounds across the state of North Carolina.  In June, she was notified that she was selected for the North Carolina Wildlife Federation’s Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards for the 2017 Environmental Educator of the Year.  That awards ceremony, which honors the highest natural-resource honors given in the state, will be held in September 2018.

Each of Ms. Hartley’s lessons include hands-on, interactive technology as well as outdoor learning portions (some of which are adapted from existing programs like Project WET) to maximize student engagement, while staying on track with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and individual state science standards which, Ms. Hartley acknowledges, were considered first and foremost. “I want the educational materials to be fun, relevant and engaging, but most importantly, I want them to be useful for teachers,” she said. “The biggest piece of knowledge I hope students will take away from these lessons is that humans are intrinsically related to the environment—not separate.”

Ms. Hartley credits the ASPPH Environmental Health Fellowship as having had “hands-down, the most positive impact on my career trajectory to date.”  While attending one of the conferences where she was presenting her ASPPH Fellowship project, Ms. Hartley met Dr. Kathryn Stevenson, who has now become Ms. Hartley’s advisor this Fall.  Ms. Hartley is now pursuing a PhD at North Carolina State University in the Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Management DepartmentHer research with Dr. Stevenson focusing on drivers of environmental education and the power of students as environmental change-agents in their families and communities, specifically related to topics of marine debris, water quality, and citizen science.  As Hartley says, “I never thought that I would be the type of person that would get a PhD, but I’m thrilled to have found an academic passion that matches my work experience, and to feel like I can not only get a PhD, but that I can really thrive while doing it.  Participating in the ASPPH/EPA Environmental Health Fellowship Program gave me that confidence.”

For information regarding the ASPPH/EPA Environmental Health Fellowship Program, please contact TrainingPrograms@aspph.org.