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Messenger receives statewide environmental education award

At the recent annual meeting of the Kentucky Association for Environmental Education (KAEE), Cheryl Messenger was named Environmental Education Individual of 2010, the highest individual honor bestowed by the statewide organization. Messenger is the director of environmental education at Mammoth Cave National Park.

Dr. Jeanine Huss (left), assistant professor of teacher education at WKU, presents the KAEE traditional award, a Kentucky-made spoonbread bowl, to Cheryl Messenger who was named Environmental Education Individual of 2010, the highest individual honor bestowed by the statewide organization.

“There is no more honest measure than being evaluated by your peers, and this award is a testimony to the quality of Mammoth Cave’s environmental education program,” said Patrick Reed, superintendent of Mammoth Cave National Park.  “Cheryl Messenger’s fellow environmental educators from across Kentucky have recognized her as the best in 2010, and here at the park we whole-heartedly agree.”

Messenger and her staff work with more than 30,000 K-12 students each year, both in the classroom and all over the park, plus college students.  “This is a large and diverse audience who represent a cross-section of the ever-changing local population,” said Reed.

Lessons are coordinated in advance with teachers and accomplish far beyond the realm of a traditional field trip.

“We want Mammoth Cave lessons to be meaningful to students and worthwhile to their teachers,” Messenger said.  “Everything we do relates back to state standards, so our lessons and curricula are focused and easy to use.”

“Messenger takes a common sense approach to her work, almost business like in its practicality and efficient use of time and resources,” said Shannon Trimboli, education coordinator for the Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning, who nominated Messenger.  “Partnerships with school systems and universities have produced results that are beneficial to the park and the schools.”

“I have seen the park efforts grow and evolve, keeping pace with changes in the field of education,” said Dr. Jeanine Huss, WKU assistant professor and KAEE awards chairman.  “The park Environmental Education rangers strive to keep their lessons and methods in line with new findings in learning research and current with teacher needs.”

The award listed ways Messenger has improved the Mammoth Cave environmental education program, including:

  • working with Barren County Middle School to develop three weeklong summer day camps at the park.
  • developing Mammoth Cave National Park’s Fire, Making Connections, and Paleontology curricula. All three curricula are correlated to Kentucky’s current Core Content and are available as free downloads from the park’s website. The Fire curriculum she developed is being used as a model for the National Park Service’s entire Southeast Region.
  • facilitating national curricula, including Project Learning Tree, Project WET, and Project Wild.  Each year she trains and certifies many pre-service teachers in the use of these curricula.
  • working with a WKU professor to write and obtain a National Park Foundation grant to bring all of WKU’s block students to Mammoth Cave National Park for an intensive, overnight learning experience.
  • providing professional development opportunities for in-service teachers through  Mammoth Cave’s Geoscience-Teacher-in-the-Park internship. Each year this internship provides two to four teachers the opportunity to spend the summer working alongside park scientists.

“One of the most important aspects of environmental education is the way it connects young people with the land,” added Reed.  “Being outside in nature allows a student to experience a lesson with all their senses, and they discover that learning can be fun.  Leave the TV and texting behind – get outside and find an adventure of your very own!”

Contact: Vickie Carson, (270) 758-2192

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