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The 2017-2018 ExPLORE NC program kicked off July 17 with a four-day-long retreat in Morehead City, NC.

ExPLORE NC, which stands for Experiencing Place-based Learning Outdoors in Rivers and Ecosystems of North Carolina, helps elementary school teachers develop creative and engaging methods of teaching children about natural science.

Director Sarah Yelton says that helping teachers become more confident and getting kids out of the classroom and into nature are two main goals of the program.

Nineteen fourth and fifth grade teachers, primarily from the Tar-Pamlico river basin region of eastern North Carolina, form the upcoming year’s cohort. They will participate in ExPLORE NC webinars and other retreats throughout the school year.

Prospective teachers undergo a rigorous selection process and have a range of experience – some are first-year teachers while others have two decades of classroom experience under their belts. This diversity is a large part of what makes ExPLORE NC such a robust and helpful program.

Yelton says the networking experiences that being an ExPLORE NC participant grants are invaluable.

Since so many of the participants live and teach in close proximity to watersheds, experiential learning – for both the teachers and their students – is the most straight-forward way to build relationships between people and nature. Organizations like the Pine Knoll Shores Aquarium, Museum of Natural Sciences and NC Coastal Federation that help connect teachers to local resources and play a significant role in getting educators closer to nature.

During July’s retreat, for instance, the teachers participated in classroom-friendly activities, such as nature journaling and citizen science, and attended field experiences in the maritime forests and sounds with leaders from North Carolina’s top environmental organizations.

Aside from the teachers and educators that enrich the ExPLORE NC program, Yelton notes her appreciation of generous sponsors, including the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership (APNEP), the Eddie and Jo Allison Smith Family Foundation and an anonymous donor.

Upcoming ExPLORE NC retreats include visiting Medoc Mountain State Park in Hollister, NC and Goose Creek State Park in Washington, NC.


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