Each year, Florida Project Learning Tree (PLT) recognizes facilitators, educators, and partners who have made exceptional contributions, dedicating their time, energy, and ideas to the program. 2020 awardees include Dawn Perez, Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County (SWA), Facilitator of the Year; Donna Foley, Clay County District Schools, Facilitator of the Year; Janet Schnauss, Duval County Public Schools, Educator of the Year; Ben and Louann Williams, Wetland Preserve, LLC, Partner of the Year; and Ken and Lynetta Griner, Usher Land & Timber, Partner of the Year. Awards were presented during a virtual event, “Meeting With FL PLT in Our Virtual World,” on November 6, 2020.
Facilitators of the Year
Dawn Perez, Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County
Dawn Perez has worked for the Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County (SWA) for over 5 years as an Education Specialist. She provides community presentations and facility tours, classroom lessons and field trip experiences, virtual programming, special events, and professional development centered on useful recycling and waste reduction practices.
Dawn became a Florida PLT facilitator in 2017. Each summer, SWA offers a weeklong professional development opportunity that Dawn has coordinated for the past two years. PLT curricula is an integral part of this training. In 2020, Dawn successfully adapted the ReTeach Waste Program to a virtual format and enthusiastically helped facilitate four virtual Florida PLT professional development trainings.
Donna Foley, Ridgeview High School
Donna Foley is an environmental and marine science and anatomy and physiology teacher at Ridgeview High School in Orange Park, Florida. Donna has been a PLT facilitator since 1994, facilitating PLT professional development trainings for every age level. Donna also assisted with the evaluation of the PLT Southeastern Forests and Climate Change Secondary Module.
She expands Florida PLT’s reach by presenting at conferences, and in 2019, helped to make PLT formally part of the Florida Forestry Teachers’ Tour, providing training to 45 educators. Donna brings an incredible level of enthusiasm, expertise, and experience to each of the trainings that she leads.
Educator of the Year
Janet Schnauss, Duval County Public Schools
As a teacher, Janet Schnauss incorporated activities from multiple PLT guides into her classrooms (elementary through high school), encouraging observation, discovery, and creativity while promoting STEM skills.
Currently as a K-5 Elementary Science Specialist for Duval County Public Schools, Janet encourages teachers in Duval County to incorporate PLT into their lessons and continues to provide and promote PLT professional development training opportunities. Janet promotes PLT at meetings, conferences, and within organizations, such as Florida Association of Science Teachers, where she is the Regional Director for Area 4. Janet’s positive attitude and willingness to assist PLT whenever she can is commendable.
Partners of the Year
Ben and Louann Williams, Wetland Preserve, LLC
Wetland Preserve is a 3,725-acre certified Tree Farm and Stewardship Forest in Putnam County, Florida. Landowners Ben and Louann Williams were recognized as the 2019 Florida Land Stewards of the Year. Ben and Louann, along with their daughter Ashley, have a passion for educating both youth and adults about the importance of stewardship forests and sustainable forest management for multiple uses.
In 2019, Ben and Louann worked closely with Crystal McCazzio, Florida PLT Facilitator and Putnam County 4-H Youth Development Agent to plan and host a PLT professional development training, which included a guided tour of their forest and a glimpse into their management practices.
Ben and Louann have generously offered to host additional Florida PLT professional development trainings at Wetland Preserve saying, “Wetland Preserve was happy to host a workshop for Project Learning Tree. If you are an educator who has not taken advantage of this amazing program in one way or another, we encourage you to! We hope to continue working with these amazing people who are striving to make a difference.”
Ken and Lynetta Griner, Usher Land & Timber
Usher Land and Timber operates a cattle ranch and tree farm in Levy County, managed by Ken and Lynetta Griner and son Korey.
Lynetta recognized the importance for forest education after receiving notes from students at a local elementary school as part of a class project. One note talked about how they were “bad” for cutting down trees. It was that moment that Lynetta realized the critical need to educate students about the connection between people and working forests; after all, we all need trees! Lynetta created the “Working Forests Box Demo” using pencils as trees to help students learn about best management practices.
In October 2019, Ken and Lynetta hosted a PLT professional development training for Levy County teachers, providing teachers with firsthand experience with a working forest. Lynetta welcomed the teachers and shared the history of Usher Land and Timber as well as the environmental and economic contributions of the timber operation to the local community. Forester Eric Handley led a “Working Forests Box Demo” and demonstrated the use of an increment borer.
The Griners have graciously offered to host future FL PLT trainings; as Lynetta said, “Thanks to each of you for a great PLT workshop! Ken, Eric, and I were very impressed with your program and activities and the energy you bring to each unit. I only wish that we could reach every single teacher.”
Project Learning Tree ® (PLT)® 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.