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Florida Project Learning Tree Announces 2018 Award Recipients

by Jessica Ireland, FL PLT Coordinator


Project Learning Tree (PLT) is a versatile and interdisciplinary environmental education program that teaches youth about trees, forests, and the environment. PLT builds their skills and ability to make informed decisions and take personal responsibility for sustaining the environment. Florida Project Learning Tree (FL PLT) is an affiliate of the national Project Learning Tree program, an initiative of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative Inc. FL PLT advances environmental literacy and promotes stewardship through excellence in environmental education, professional development, and curriculum resources that use trees and forests as windows on the world.

Each year Florida Project Learning Tree recognizes a partner, facilitator, and educator who have made exceptional contributions to the program. This year, awardees include Phillip Allen, Partner of the Year; Sue Flak, Facilitator of the Year; and Kirsten Brazier, Educator of the Year. Awards were presented at the annual FL PLT advanced professional development conference, “Your Urban Forest: Discover What’s Inside,” held at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, November 2-4, 2018.

Partner of the Year

Phillip Allen is committed to educating youth; a commitment stemming from his mother’s 25 year teaching career in Georgia, who inspired him to recognize the importance of education, including environmental education. Mr. Allen is a forester by education and training, with PLT a perfect marriage of forestry and education.  He believes that proper education for our teachers and students about the many benefits that our forests provide is critical – clean water & air, wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities, and sustainable renewable forest products. Mr. Allen has been working with Rayonier Inc. for 18 years, and is currently the Sr. Timber Marketing Manager. Mr. Allen has made a personal commitment to FL PLT, through consistent and generous support, recognizing the value of FL PLT. Mr. Allen’s generous support since 2014 has enabled approximately 200 educators to received professional development training in a variety of PLT curricula: Prek-8 Environmental Education, Environmental Experiences in Early Childhood, Biotechnology, Biodiversity, Energy and Society, Energy in Ecosystems, and Focus on Forests.

Educator of the Year

Kirsten Brazier started teaching at Crawfordville Elementary School in 2009 and became the PLT School Coordinator in 2010. In her role as the PLT School Coordinator, she leads a committee of teachers from each grade level, encourages new faculty to attend trainings to receive PLT certification, and offers support to ensure PLT lessons are taught in the classrooms. She also arranges for guests to visit the campus each year for a week full of PLT activities. Kristen creates a PLT Committee each year, with one teacher from each grade. She develops a theme for the school’s PLT Week. “Teachers enjoy PLT week because it gives them a break from required subjects yet provides easy integration of activities to all subjects.”

Facilitator of the Year

Sue Flak has been an elementary educator for 23 years and has taught all grades from kindergarten through 5th. After attending a PLT educator training, Sue became a facilitator and opened her own environmental school in South Carolina. When she moved to Florida and began teaching at Pelican Island Elementary, she brought PLT with her and trained nearly all of the teachers at the school.

Sue’s dedication to FL PLT and the field of environmental education is truly commendable. She uses her extensive experience in environmental education to teach children to become productive environmental stewards both on campus and within the community. During her time as a teacher at Pelican Island Elementary, Sue conducted at least one PLT workshop each year and led the Green Team at the school which received the 2018 Keep Indian River Beautiful Environmental Stewardship Award. Sue recently accepted a new position as the Recycling Education and Marketing Coordinator for Indian River County; in this role, she looks forward to training formal and non-formal educators throughout Indian River County. “PLT is infused in my personal mission and vision and is a vital part of the vision and mission of our school. I believe it has a huge impact on the global education of our children today.”

Bill Kleinhans Spirit of FL PLT Award

Elise Cassie became a PLT Facilitator in 1991 and has been conducting workshops and activities for youth since. Working in the environmental education field for over 20 years, Elise has written curriculum, developed programs, provided educator training, managed Florida’s environmental education grants program, served on the board of the League of Environmental Educators of Florida, and served on the Alachua County Environmental Advisory Committee. Elise has volunteered countless hours towards advancing environmental education in Florida. Elise has been the FL PLT Assistant Coordinator since 2015, helping to grow the program. Recently, she has gone above and beyond, putting in many long days to keep the program running smoothly during the transition time between FL PLT Coordinator Nancy Peterson’s retirement and Jessica Ireland coming on board as the new Coordinator. Elise believes that every child deserves and needs the opportunity to connect with the outside world.

In the cover photo, from left: Robert Raze, Vice-Chair, FL PLT Steering Committee; Sue Flak, FL PLT 2018 Facilitator of the Year; Kirsten Brazier, FL PLT 2018 Educator of the Year; Elise Cassie, 2018 Bill Kleinhans Spirit of FL PLT Award recipient; Kim Sartor, accepting the award for Phillip Allen, FL PLT 2018 Partner of the Year; and Robin Will, Chair, FL PLT Steering Committee.