Environmental Educators from eight southeastern states gather each year for a regional conference that is organized by a professional group from one of the participating states. At the meetings, educators sharpen their skills and share their ideas. This year the honor came to Florida for the first time. On March 16-18, the League of Environmental Educators in Florida (LEEF) hosted the 6th Annual Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance Conference at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg. The multi-day event drew over 225 educators from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Sharing the Master of Ceremonies role with LEEF’s Past President and Conference Chair Barbara Stalbird, was Archbold Biological Station’s Education Coordinator and current LEEF President Dustin Angell.
“Bringing all the southeastern states to Florida gave us a chance to show off some of the inspiring projects happening throughout our state, including in Highlands County. I was so proud when the keynote speaker mentioned Archbold twice in her talk,” says Angell. Keynote speaker Lindsay Cross, Executive Director of the Florida Wildlife Corridor, gave a presentation that celebrated Florida’s wildlands and stressed the importance of conservation allies, like Florida ranches and military lands, in providing habitat and safe passage for wildlife.
The work of Florida’s universities was also highlighted during a half-day research symposium on the first day. The audience, mostly outdoor educators and K-12 teachers, were treated to presentations from the University of Florida, the University of South Florida, Northern Kentucky University, and North Carolina State University. Dr. Martha Monroe from University of Florida gave the research symposium keynote speech, which described recent research exploring which methods are best to teach about our changing climate.
Angell stresses the importance of the conference for LEEF, Florida’s only statewide professional group for educators interested in teaching about environmental issues. “This conference came at the perfect time, because LEEF has been going through a growth spurt and renewal phase. Hosting this southeastern conference pushed LEEF forward on a number of projects, like updating our membership software, creating a new logo and website, and making connections with other types of education groups throughout the state.”
Archbold Biological Station has supported LEEF for over 25 years by encouraging Station education staff to participate and become board members. Angell is the first Archboldian to take on the role of LEEF President for the 200+ membership organization. “I’m part of an all-volunteer board. We have no staff, so when I took on the position of President, which is a three-year commitment, I knew it was going to be a lot more work. I’m two years in and really love it. I feel so grateful to have the chance to support and connect with educators from across the state and even nationwide, through LEEF’s affiliation with the North American Association for Environmental Education.”
During the conference, Southeastern Environmental Education Alliance Executive Director Ashley Hoffman presented Angell with a gift for his leadership. She explains, “In order to advance our field, we need dedicated individuals working toward the bigger picture—connecting their work to the greater network at the state, regional and national level. Dustin has taken LEEF to new heights with his leadership and vision for the organization, putting Florida on the map as a leader in the field of environmental education.”