Coming Together - A Recap of the 2018 NEEEA Conference
By Lauren Chicote, VTSWEEP Board Member and Conference Planning Co-Chair
VT SWEEP, in partnership with New Hampshire Environmental Educators (NHEE) and The Wellborn Hub, hosted the New England Environmental Education Alliance's (NEEEA) Annual Conference this past November at the Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee, Vermont. While the weather was slightly dismal with rain and dense fog, the atmosphere at the conference was anything but dismal or foggy!
With over 250 attendees from across all six affiliate states, the three-day event was filled with positive energy and connections. Everything about the conference exemplified the theme of Coming Together to Share Our Collective Work of Building Environmentally Resilient and Just Communities. We kicked things off with the Wellborn Hub Leadership Conference on the first day, which helped set the tone for the rest of the conference. Cheryl Charles, founding Executive Director of the Nature Based Leadership Institute at Antioch University New England and the Co-Founder, President and CEO Emerita of the Children & Nature Network, gave an inspiring keynote speech, 'Ecology of Hope'. The rest of the day was filled great discussions, networking, and learning for all.
Over the next two days, you could feel the energy and excitement build as new connections were made, old friends were reunited, and everyone shared the collective learning and inspiration that were sparked by the many workshops and presentations. Marianne Krasny, Director of the Civic Ecology Lab at Cornell University, gave an exciting keynote on Urban Environmental Education and the work of the Civic Ecology Lab. We were thrilled to have Judy Braus, Executive Director of the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), give a lively, witty, and upbeat second keynote address at dinner. At every NEEEA conference, awards are given to honor outstanding environmental educators and programs from the New England region in three categories: Non-formal Environmental Educator, Formal Environmental Educator, and Maria Pirie Environmental Education Program Award. Edmund Smith from Two Rivers Magnet Middle School in East Hartford, Connecticut, and Tara Jo Holmberg, a professor at Northwestern Connecticut Community College, were awarded the Formal Educator Award. The award for Non-formal Educator was presented to Dr. Laurence "Larry" Davis, Director of Nature Programs and Teaching at Camp Pemigewassett ("Pemi") in Wentworth, New Hampshire. The Maria Pirie Environmental Education Program Award was given to two very different, but equally outstanding, organizations for their passion and dedication to engaging youth in environmental education: Amoskeag Fishways of Manchester, New Hampshire, and Environmental Living and Learning for Maine Students (ELLMS) Collaborative of Maine. A Lifetime Achievement Award was also awarded at this year's conference to honor Coleen O'Connell. Coleen has dedicated her life to environmental education and inspires others to lead the charge. She recently retired from Lesley University, where she taught for over 20 years. She is currently on the VT SWEEP Board and the NEEEA Board as the Vermont representative. We are fortunate to have Coleen's participation in VT SWEEP, where she continues to dedicate herself to advancing the field of environmental education and serving as an excellent role model to many.
The Coming Together theme played out over the whole process of putting this conference together, and celebrated the collaborative efforts of the partnership for planning the conference. I had the pleasure of getting to know and working with some amazing educators and leaders in the environmental education field in our region. As we move forward, I hope the collaborative spirit that was sparked at the conference continues and flourishes as we progress into the future together.