By: Elise Cassie and Jessica Ireland
Each year, Florida Project Learning Tree (FL PLT) recognizes a partner, facilitator, and educator who have made exceptional contributions to the program. This year, awardees include Shannon Brewer, City of Tarpon Springs, Partner of the Year; Dana Sussmann, Facilitator of the Year; Suzette Gagnon, Educator of the Year; and Robin Will, 2019 Bill Kleinhans Spirit of Florida PLT Award. Awards were presented at the FL PLT advanced professional development conference, “Growing Green Careers,” held in Lakeland, FL November 1-3, 2019.
Partner of the Year
Shannon Brewer has been employed with the City of Tarpon Springs since 2007, originally working for the Parks Department. With continuing education, classes at the local college, and additional certification, she became a Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) Certified Horticulturist in 2011 and an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) Certified Arborist in 2017.
Shannon is currently the city’s municipal arborist under the Building Department, and is also a FAA drone pilot. Shannon secured sponsorship funds from the City of Tarpon Springs for PLT professional development trainings for up to 100 new educators in the Tarpon Springs area. Through Shannon’s guidance, two professional development trainings and one Teen 4 Trees event were sponsored in 2019.
Shannon uses PLT activities to engage the public in conservation conversations during city events like Touch-A-Truck and Eco-Fest where over 600 trees have been given out this year.
Educator of the Year
Suzette Gagnon has nearly 20 years of science teaching experience and started her environmental and “tree” education several years ago after attending the Florida Forestry Teachers’ Tour. Suzette’s passion is to find a connection between conservation and the extensive industrial and business needs of her community. These experiences led her to organize an annual “Forestry” unit for 4th graders that includes hands on outdoor programs and PLT lessons.
Suzette also created an outdoor classroom at her school (approximately seven acres of forest) that is used by all K-8 classes for lessons related to the environment and wetlands. She coordinates an environmental science center at her school that houses 6 native and non-native animal species for educational purposes, as well as full room mural representative of Strawberry Creek.
Suzette has sponsored two school Green Apple Day of Service projects that have won project of the year, and she regularly invites guest speakers and plans extensive field trips (Jacksonville Zoo, St. Johns Riverkeeper tour, etc.) to help students have a realistic understanding of our unique Florida environment and the ways they can be good stewards.
Suzette’s goal for her school is to have an integrated program that promotes environmental stewardship and a culture of STEM for all students and educators with the long-term goal of having all the educators for the Diocese of St. Augustine trained in PLT.
Partner of the Year
Dana Sussmann began her career as a Cooperative Forestry Assistance Forester in 1989 in South Florida, relocating to Central Florida in 1994. Dana provides rural forestry assistance to landowners in Orange, Osceola, Seminole, and Brevard counties. Additionally, she provides environmental education and urban forestry assistance to local communities.
Dana is an International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist, a Certified Burner, and a Project Learning Tree Facilitator. Dana considers the opportunity to educate youth and adults about the positive impact forestland has on the quality of life and the economy a very rewarding part of her job. Her enthusiasm and professionalism is such an asset as PLT Facilitator.
Bill Kleinhans Spirit of Florida PLT Award
There is no one who has contributed more to Florida PLT than Robin Will. Robin is the Supervisory Refuge Ranger at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and her leadership role for Florida PLT began in 1989 as a founding member of the Steering Committee. She has served on the Steering Committee for 30 years, 16 of those years as chair, providing continuity in leadership as the program went through many changes (home organization, coordinators, funding, etc.)
Facilitating more than 130 trainings for pre-service teachers and in-service educators, Robin has worked with groups from Florida State University, Florida A&M University, and Flagler College. Over the years, Robin has helped establish partnerships with agencies, industry, and individuals, who have committed support through donations and promotion of the program.
Robin was instrumental in establishing and growing the FL PLT Schools program. In Wakulla County, FL, all public preschool and elementary schools are PLT Schools because of Robin’s efforts. Robin was the recipient of the first Florida PLT Facilitator of the Year Award in 1992 and she was also awarded the National PLT Leadership in Education award in 2018.
Project Learning Tree® (PLT) is a versatile and interdisciplinary environmental education program that teaches youth about trees, forests, and the environment, while building their skills and ability to make informed decisions. Project Learning Tree encourages youth to take personal responsibility for sustaining the environment and our quality of life that depends on it. Project Learning Tree is the environmental education program of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® and is sponsored in Florida by the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, School of Forest Resources and Conservation. 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.