Whether she’s working on statewide policy issues or showing rubber animal poop to first graders during a Zoom lesson, Allison Martin is all in on environmental education.

As the education program manager for the Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District, Martin has typically spent most of her time visiting students in their classrooms and leading hands-on science lessons at the district’s Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area.

Allison Martin
VSWCD education program manager

Now she and her trunk of environmental teaching tools are taking the virtual route due to COVID-19 restrictions. While in-person lessons are on hold, Martin says there have been some benefits to the pandemic year.

“This whole COVID thing has allowed me to partner with other (environmental) educators, and I feel like we are making progress in supporting the notion that every school be provided with resources to support outdoor learning with an environmental educator,” Martin said, who has masters degrees in both elementary education and environmental education, and 10 years experience in EE.

One big change Martin has been a part of is the recently published outdoor learning policy from the New Mexico Public Education Department. The policy is the end result of Environmental Education of New Mexico’s fellowship program, which Martin was a member of for the past year. The fellowship group was comprised of more than a dozen people from around New Mexico from all walks of environmental education.

“We’ve been working to change policy across the state in environmental education and that’s what we helped develop this last year,” she said. “The result was ‘Every Kid, Every Day, Every Way.’ We are the only state with a plan and strategy to get every kid outside, which is a big challenge with so many inequities.”

The new policy is coupled with a plan to get EE resources at every school, Martin said, such as lending libraries with equipment like binoculars and microscopes.

“We want to connect nature to the central pedagogy of education. The teachers I’ve talked to would love to do that but don’t have time. This will get them equipment and training in how to use it to provide hands-on learning,” she said.

After finishing her fellowship, Martin was asked to join the Environmental Education Leadership Board of New Mexico, a volunteer board charged with creating opportunities for EE by seeking grants and finding funds to create projects that support environmental education.

“Me being a part of this gives Valencia County a bigger voice, part of more statewide efforts. It’s a way to represent us at the table with out concerns here,” she said. “It’s an exciting time for EE in general. I feel like I can make a positive change that is bigger than myself and the district.”

Martin has also been working hard to give local teachers EE resources through a series of videos available on the district’s YouTube channel, which has reached more than 200 students so far this year.

“Teachers and their class can watch the video and the have a Zoom meeting with me if they want, but don’t have to,” she said.

There is a three-part series for kindergarten through fourth grade, as well as videos for fifth and sixth graders. The video lesson content can be found on the district website — valenciaswcd.org — under the education programs tab. To register for a video or learn more about this initiative, email Martin at allisonmartin@valenciaswcd.org.

The district also received a $6,500 grant from the state outdoor recreation division’s outdoor equity fund which will be used to introduce 20 local at-risk youths to local wildlife preserves.

The district is partnering with H2 Academics to take the participants to Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in La Joya, Bosque del Apache in San Antonio, Rio Abajo Conservation Area south of Belen and finally to Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, where they will do a restorative planting.

“We were planning to launch this in April, but it was put on hold until we knew more about COVID restrictions,” Martin said. “We were given the funds in December and have a year to use them. We are really excited to get this going. It will be a months long project.”

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.