By Kris M. Irwin, PhD., Co-Founder of ATEEG
Once upon a time, the Advanced Training for Environmental Education in Georgia (ATEEG) certification program was just an idea created by members of the Environmental Education Alliance (EEA) of Georgia. No, this is not a fairy tale. This is a success story for all EEA members to be proud of. The happy ending to this story is that the ATEEG Certification Program is the first state environmental education certification program in the country to receive accreditation status from the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).
The ATEEG certification program is an EEA initiative to advance and professionalize the field and practice of environmental education. A significant amount of time and effort is required to complete the ATEEG program of study. Briefly, this includes: attend and complete all assessments for the three core courses (20 contact hours each), document 30 hours of specialization (e.g., educator training in two of the following: Project Learning Tree, Project WILD, or Project WET; attend conference presentations, etc.), and complete an independent study project. While this list of requirements may look overwhelming, keep in mind that a participant has three years to complete them all and the clock starts the date the participant attends Core Course 1.
Now, here is the rest of the story. In fall 2006, a small group of EEA members began the process of constructing a new environmental education certification program for Georgia. To begin, an EEA member attended the 2006 NAAEE conference to learn more about the requirements and process for the national NAAEE accreditation program. The effort and expense of attending the conference was well worth it, because they were able to use the knowledge gained to guide our actions and move us forward.
A working group formed in 2007 to critically evaluate the need for an EE certification program in Georgia. That February, the ATEEG sub-committee held its first meeting at the Newman Wetlands Center in Jonesboro to explore the idea/options surrounding the concept of developing an EE certification program. Sixteen people representing higher education, formal education, environmental NGO’s, and state government organizations attended. The primary action item identified was the need to gather input from the EEA constituency to determine if proceeding with the development of an EE certification program was fully supported. The results of two stakeholder surveys and a focus group discussion provided evidence there was indeed sufficient support to proceed with the development of an EE certification program.
With support of the EEA board, the ATEEG committee moved forward investigating other state EE certification programs, meeting with NAAEE staff, gathering information, and developing a deeper understanding about what skills and knowledge Georgia environmental educators should expect to gain from an EE certification program. Key partnerships were formalized with stakeholders including the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Non-Game Division and the Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources at The University of Georgia. The Warnell School agreed to serve in the required role of certifying agent. A member of the ATEEG committee attended the 2007 NAAEE Conference to solicit answers to important questions about the accreditation application and process. As 2007 came to an end, the ATEEG committee formed a curriculum team to draft the framework of instructional requirements that included course content and assessment strategies, a list of appropriate professional development experiences, and identify the structure and process for the final independent study project.
In 2008, a great deal of time and effort was spent working on the ATEEG curriculum content and assessment procedures. To support our efforts, the ATEEG committee applied for and received a $5,000 grant from NAAEE to cover the costs of a three-day retreat for the committee to draft curriculum and assessment documents for the three core courses. The committee also constructed an operating budget and marketing plan for the ATEEG program.
By the beginning of 2009, the ATEEG committee was fully engaged. Because we were all volunteering to work on ATEEG, it was very difficult to accommodate everyone’s busy work schedules. Therefore, we had to use various strategies to communicate: our committee work was facilitated by multiple conference calls, face-to-face meetings, and three overnight retreats supported by two additional $5,000 grants from NAAEE. The hard work of the ATEEG committee paid off and we completed drafting all instructional materials and operational plans. With our core courses drafted, it was time to move to the next phase of conducting the very important pilot test of all three core courses. We held the pilot test for Core Course 1 in June, Core Course 2 in August, and Core Course 3 in September. These pilot tests proved invaluable; revisions were made to materials, operational protocols, and assessment tools for each core course. The ATEEG committee also finalized the specializations requirements and framework for the independent study.
On June 1, 2010, the first official ATEEG cohort of 11 participants convened at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield to attend Core Course 1 and begin their ATEEG journey. But, the road to accreditation did not end here. On February 1, 2011, the ATEEG Certification Advisory Board submitted the required Letter of Intent to the NAAEE Accreditation Board indicating that EEA will submit all required documentation for accreditation by February 1, 2012. Fully committed now, the ATEEG committee continued to offer all core courses, approve independent study project proposals, and worked hard to continually improve instructional materials and operational procedures. Then, on December 10, 2012, the ATEEG program administrator received an electronic copy of the official letter with these words, “Based upon the review of your initial application and accompanying documentation in May, and the subsequent review of the requested addendum and additional documentation pertaining to you assessment of candidates in August, the Chair of the Accreditation Review Panel team and Chair of the Accreditation Board have concurred with a decision to recognize Georgia’s certification program, ATEEG, with full accreditation by the NAAEE.”
A special thank you goes to all EEA members who have supported the development of the ATEEG certification program, especially to the ATEEG committee members who stuck with us from the very beginning. This super achievement would not have been possible without the vision and guidance provided by Kim Morris-Zarneke, past EEA president. Kim kept the group focused and always had the ability to remember the smallest details and yet kept the vision of what ATEEG should and could be. Thank you Kim! I also want to make sure that Susan Meyers, who was hired to serve as the first ATEEG program administrator is recognized for doing an exceptional job of planning and promoting the core course offerings, organizing and maintaining participant records, and keeping costs to a minimum. Thank you Susan!
3,880+ Specialization Hours Completed
129 Completed Core Courses
46 Projects Proposed
36 Certifications Earned
3 Recertifications Earned