One Hundred Miles 100:Educators
Honoring those who educate, both inside and outside the classroom, and who inspire appreciation and respect for our Georgia coast
Have you caught the excitement? For 22 years, CoastFest has been a mainstay for kids age 0-99 who love Georgia’s natural resources. The free festival is held every year on the first Saturday in October on the grounds of the Department of Natural Resources in Brunswick. With more than 80 interactive environmental, educational, research, and resource exhibitors from across the Southeast, visitors participate in activities ranging from recycling to coastal weather, native plants to sea turtles, and kayaking to archeology. CoastFest also holds an annual art contest in local schools to inspire young artists to learn about local landscapes and wildlife: recent themes range from a celebration of Georgia’s salt marsh to life in the maritime forest. With more than 10,000 participants in a single day, CoastFest is a remarkable education event that shares Georgia’s wildlife and natural resources with our community members – and teaches them what they can do to help.
Handling an indigo snake, trekking through a cave of bats, and searching sand dunes for nesting loggerhead sea turtles is all in a day’s work for Sharon Collins, the host and executive producer of Georgia Public Broadcasting’s Georgia Outdoors. Being exposed to new natural wonders is at the core of Sharon’s show, and she takes viewers along for the ride every step of the way. According to Sharon, “Many viewers write to thank us for informing them about an animal, place or issue they knew nothing about.” The episodes combine her love of storytelling and a mission of educating Georgians about the beauty of their natural world – pulling viewers away from video games and into a natural world that’s often too incredible to be believed. And best of all, Sharon’s viewers have the opportunity to experience parts of the coast that might otherwise be out of reach – from the land of the trembling earth at the Okefenokee Swamp to Madagascan lemurs on St. Catherines Islands, and so many hidden spots in between.
“When I first found Georgia’s coast, it grabbed me,” says Stacia Hendricks. As Naturalist Manager on Little St. Simons Island, Stacia spends her days examining tide pools, monitoring wildlife on the beach and marsh, and most importantly, sharing the barrier island’s landscape with guests from across the country. She is an encyclopedia of natural history, ecology, and biology of Georgia’s coast, and her passion for this place is infectious. As Stacia describes her role, “I interpret the landscape for those who don’t speak the language.” Over the years, Stacia also served as the naturalist for the Cloister on Sea Island, Cabin Bluff, and for Greyfield Inn on Cumberland Island. After growing up in twelve states and abroad, she relishes every season she is privileged to experience on Georgia’s coast. For anyone who’s had the pleasure of accompanying Stacia on one of her nature walks, the feeling is mutual.
“Place compassion above all other things.” It’s a quote that describes Savannah State University’s Dr. Dionne Hoskins’ approach with her students, as well as how she guides her own life as a professional and lifelong learner. For Dionne, teaching about our marine environment isn’t just a job – it represents a lifelong passion and commitment to promoting science in minority communities. Over the years, Dionne has worked as a Fishery Biologist through the Galveston Laboratory of NOAA Fisheries and as an Associate Graduate Professor in the Marine Science program at SSU, where today she works with undergraduate and graduate students on a variety of research topics. She has also conducted interviews with local residents as part as part of the African American Fishermen Oral History Project to study traditional ecological knowledge and the role of fisheries in historic Gullah-Geechee fishing communities. Dionne serves as the Board of Education District 2 Representative and stays active within the Savannah community by volunteering with the Savannah Black Heritage Festival, and regional boards related to marine education and environmental leadership. Her incredible work ethic and passion for our coast is a testament to the type of world Dionne hopes to leave for all of our children.
A descendant of slaves, Joseph McGill has devoted his life to preserving former slave dwellings in the United States. In order to bring attention to the often neglected, yet vitally-important historic structures of America’s built environment, he founded the Slave Dwelling Project. Joe travels the country to workshops and speaking engagements for school groups and other visitors, on a mission to sleep in every former slave dwelling still standing in the United States. That’s all in addition to his day job as a history consultant for Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, South Carolina. His goal is to bring together historians, educators, legislators, corporations, and the general public to save these important markers of American history – before it’s too late. “Americans tend to focus on the ‘big house,’ the mansion and gardens, and neglect the buildings out back,” Joe has said. “But if we lose slave dwellings, it’s that much easier to forget the slaves themselves.”
Are you Team Mary Lee, Lydia, or Katharine? Or perhaps you’re intrigued by the mysterious Gray Lady. Whatever your white shark of choice, chances are you’ve been ‘hooked” by the team at OCEARCH and the amazing animals they follow. Since 2007, founder Chris Fischer and his team have led more than 27 global research expeditions to advance science and education while unlocking the mysteries surrounding the life history of white sharks and other giants of the ocean. Over the next few months, the team is working along Georgia’s coast, where many of the tagged sharks like to congregate. Chris believes that being inclusive is inspiring and that education creates generational change. Through this collaborative approach, OCEARCH is connecting young people to the science of our oceans through their K-8 STEM educational curriculum: to date, teachers across the world have downloaded more than 3,900 lesson plans! And with the click of a mouse, anyone can connect to their online Global Shark Tracker – helping demystify these often-misunderstood predators and inspiring a new generation of marine conservationists. As Chris famously said in his Emmy-winning Offshore Adventures television series, “Go out! Discover the world’s ocean and be a responsible steward of the seas.” It’s a directive we can all take to heart – and one that resonates with shark enthusiasts the world over.
Debra Power believes in the importance of first-hand educational experiences. A gifted Science Lab instructor at Gould Elementary School in Garden City, Debbie teaches lessons that not only educate students but inspire interest in the coastline. She organizes a variety of field trips so that her students can better understand the animals and habitats outside the classroom. For the past two years, she’s brought a small group of her students to Capitol Conservation Day in Atlanta. There she’s helped the young advocates navigate both the halls of the state capitol, and 1:1 conversations with legislators on issues ranging from the marsh buffer to offshore drilling and aquifer storage. These are experiences these students will likely never forget, and thanks to their dedicated teacher Debbie Powers, the lessons learned will help them continue to make their voice heard for our coast for years to come.
Paul Pressly is an educator through and through. He currently serves as director of the Ossabaw Island Education Alliance. Under Paul’s leadership, the Alliance hosted a symposium on African American life in the coastal region that led to a book, African Life in the Georgia Lowcountry: the Gullah Geechee and the Atlantic World. Recently, Paul and the Alliance hosted the first-of-its kind symposium on the environmental histories of the Georgia Coast, and is working with the University of Georgia Press to produce a book from the papers presented. A renowned historian and gifted communicator, Paul is also the author of On the Rim of the Caribbean, a study of how Georgians turned a struggling colony into an economic success. In 2009, Helen Downing, then-board chair of the Ossabaw Island Foundation described him best: “Paul has a deep, almost spiritual, commitment to people, and a passion for the history of the coast that is evident in everything that he does.” Indeed, through his both his personal and professional endeavors, Paul has given back to Savannah’s coastal region for decades.
It’s reality TV at its finest. For the past two winters, residents and bird watchers across our coast have tuned in en masse to the Landings Bird Cam. From the initial egg laying to “hatch watch,” feedings, and tentative branching efforts, cameras have followed a pair of nesting great horned owls 24/7 beside the Palmetto golf course at The Landings on Skidaway Island. Using a nest originally built by bald eagles, the owls fledged two owlets in both 2015 and 2016. The owl cam caught the attention of residents and students around the world through the power of social media and digital education. With nature’s best audio (think hoots, squawks, gusts of wind, claps of lightening, and perhaps the wayward swoosh of a nearby golf ball) and infrared capabilities allowing nighttime viewing without disturbing the owls, transfixed viewers tune in at all hours of the day and night. The initiative has an impressive educational reach: during the 2015 season, the cam’s YouTube feed garnered more than 1.5 million views; its Facebook page has more than 7,300 likes. As we enter the 2016-17 nesting season, fans can only hope the owls (or perhaps a new pair of occupants, like eagles or ospreys) decide to return. The only downside of this engaging educational tool? Sooner or later, the baby owlets leave the nest – leaving all of us who love them with a serious case of empty nest syndrome.
For more than 40 years, the University of Georgia’s Marine Extension Service (MAREX) has been educating the state of Georgia and its coastal constituents. The goal of MAREX is to conduct outreach, education, and education to sustain our natural resources, increase coastal stewardship, and help communities across our coast improve their quality of life. To that end, their team utilizes virtually every aspect of our coast’s “outdoor classroom.” Whether it’s dissecting a fish during a school program, getting muddy in the marsh during summer camp, testing water quality during Adopt-a-Wetland training workshops, or learning about marine debris, phytoplankton, and oyster shell recycling during citizen science programs, MAREX programs make learning about our coast memorable and fun for all ages. They also operate the interactive UGA Aquarium on Skidaway Island, connecting visitors with our coast’s most amazing wildlife. If education is the key to our coast’s future, then the wonderful team at MAREX ensures it will be a bright one.
Banner photo courtesy of UGA Marine Extension, Georgia Sea Grant