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SAMUEL PROCTOR ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM at
the University of Florida
Interviewer: Mark Lesney
Interviewee: Dr. Nancy P. Arny
L: I am interviewing Dr. Nancy Ary. It is April 8, 1994. It is taking place on campus. The
interviewer is Mark Lesney. Dr. Arny, will you please state your full name and when and where
you were born?
A: This is Nancy Colleen Ary, and I was born in Lawrenceville, New Jersey on June 10, 1945.
L: Where did you get your education?
A: My undergraduate education was at Boston University where I studies elementary education. My
masters and doctoral degree are from the University of Massachussets.
L: How did you end up getting to the University of Florida?
A: Through a very route of experiences and employment, some dealing with the
environment and some of it not. There was a position here at the University of Florida that
involved a combination of education and forestry background, which seemed well suited for my
interests and educational experience. I applied for the job. It was offered to me.
L: When was this?
A: It was in 1984. In 1984, I came to the University of Florida.
L: And that was as an assistant professor in this school.
A: Yes, as an assistant professor in the school of forestry services and the conservation department.
L: How did you get a more active role in environmental education? What kinds of things are involved
in the environmental education program?
A: I guess I have really been in involved in environmental education since I was a child. My father
would let me hang out with the cub scouts troops when he working with them identifying trees. My
mother took me along when she did programs for summer playground children about the
environment, nature, and how it works. So I was exposed from a very early age to the out of
doors and nature. A respect for, fascination about, and wonder of the environment was instilled in
me at a very early age. Essentially, I came to the realization that sharing this kind of wonder was
a terrific way for me to live.
L: Institutionally, how was it set up for you to do something about environmental education? What
was the setup here that attracted you? What kind of programs were here?
A: The University of Florida, like all land grant universities, has what is known as a cooperative
extension program sequence. The cooperative extension program of the University of Florida
supports positions in a lot of different units here at the University of Florida, which are designed to
provide outreach to take the information that is generated by researchers at the University and
extend that information out to the public. One portion of that program is known as 4-H, and this is
the youth component of the extension program. The position that I applied for and was offered
here was a natural resources educational extension specialist with an emphasis on youth. So the
position was developed specifically to do much of what I am doing now, which is to educate young
people and leaders that work with young people about Florida's natural resources.
L: Was this a fairly new move that the IFAS experiment station moved into? I know that 4-H has
been around for a while, but this kind of environmental thing that you started.
A: The position that I had had been held by a gentleman who was more into forestry and wildlife than
into education in the past. Tony Jensen [Anthony Svend Jensen, associate professor, Forest
Resources and Conservation] who was a legend in his own time, sort of placed the path that I
have been walking on. He developed programs, the 4-H forest ecology program here in Florida to
introduce young people to the plants and animals. Tony Jensen was a unique man, who like me,
had that love of outdoors and the skilled ability to share it with children. He developed the 4-H
forest ecology program and did programs directly with kids. He was known as the pied piper of
the outdoors here in Florida. Much of what I have done has built on things that he began. I have
gone often in other ways. In fact, when I met him, shortly after I was hired, I talked with him about
how hard it was going to be to fill his shoes. With the wisdom that Tony had, he said, "Do not try
to fill them--make your own path." That has sort of helped me to develop. There is no way I could
do some of the things that he did as well as he did them. I have taken on the things that I felt I
had strengths in and gone in those directions, and known that I was doing what I should be doing.
L: What kind of directions did you see as most important that you did put your own stamp on?
A: One of the programs that has become my trademark here at Florida is the Project Learning Tree
program. Project Learning Tree is a program that was developed in the western United States. It
began in about 1973, and it was an environmental educational curriculum, or actually, a collection
of activities that were developed by foresters working as educators in an effort to educate the
public. It was primarily to educate children from kindergarten through highschool about all the
things that come from forests and the important and the need to manage forests. It provided an
opportunity for them to look at things in a balanced way. This environmental education program,
like many, had it seeds in the seventies, which was kind of the beginning of the recent
environmental education movement. Here in Florida, a gentleman by the name of Jim Phillips
went to one of the early workshops in the early 1970s out west. He brought Project Learning Tree
back to Florida. He did a few workshops. There were some people trained in it. When I came
here in 1984, he had lost his position within the Department of Education in Florida.
L: The state or the University?
A: This was the state Department of Education. They had in the late 1960s and 1970s, I guess, a
program which incorporated some mini grant funds, some training dollars, and the position that
Mr. Phillips held to do environmental education in the state. Jim had gone out to this workshop
and brought this idea back. During 1983 and 1984, there were a lot of major budget cuts in the
state. The position that he held in the Department of Education was eliminated. So Project
Learning Tree in Florida was without a leader. Although he had the talent and ability to do it, he
did not have the flexibility within his job situation because he was transferred to another division
that had nothing to do with that. I had heard of Project Learning Tree when I was working as an
extension forester in Pennsylvania at Penn State University. I had seen the materials and thought
that they were very well designed and were very usable. So I contacted people here in Florida to
find out who was running that program here because I thought it would interface very well with the
4-H program. I discovered much to my surprise and disappointment that there was nobody in
charge of it. I called the national Project Learning Tree headquarters to find out...
L: Was that in Washington D.C.?
A: That would be Washington D.C. It was affiliated with the American Forest Council.
L: This was an association rather than a government [office]?
A: Right, this is a program that is a partnership between the Western Regional Environmental
Educational Council, which is people from educational institutions in the western United States
working with the American Forest Council, which is forest prized industry consortium. So these
partners ran the program at the national level, and paid the salary of the national coordinator. I
called her, Kathy McLaughlin, and asked her what the story was so far. She explained the fact
that the program was without leadership here. I said, "Gee, that is really too bad." She said
something to the effect, "Oh, it sure would be nice to have somebody there." I said, "Well, I guess
I could see if I could do it." Project Learning Tree became my baby. In the years since then, the
program has grown. At the beginning, [it grew] very slowly, but now I have a lot of partners that I
am working with. It is an expanding operation.
L: Do you want to give a little bit of the mechanics of the organization? Do you have people going
out to the schools? How has it gotten to the teachers?
A: To be involved in Project Learning Tree, you have to attend a workshop. That is the only way that
you can get the material. You cannot just go to the bookstores and buy them. The reason for this
is that it has been discovered that the most effective way to get any educational program adopted
by and in frequent use by educators is to provide them with experiences actually used in the
materials. So we bring people in for a six hour workshop. During this workshop, the teachers, 4-
H leaders, girl scout leaders, boy scout leader, home school parents, or whoever participates in a
lot of activities that are in the guide. They then have a chance to become familiar with the guide
and see what other kind of activities are in there, how it is organized, and how they can find
information about it. They usually have some time to plan how they are going to use it until they
can take it back to wherever they work with young people. Then each of them has the opportunity
to use the activities with kids. In order to get more workshops done, the system works such that
we train facilitators in usually a two day session, which is seventeen to twenty hours of intensive
exposure to materials. We then have a second day of procuring and leading some activities.
Then those people can go out and do other workshops for other teachers and leaders to deliver
the materials to them.
L: Where does the money come from? Is it somewhat voluntary?
A: Originally, the books were all paid for and the guides were the primary cost for doing the
workshop. The books were all provided free by the American Forests Council because it was in
their best interests to educate people so that we could help people to recognize all the value of
forest, and to recognize that harvesting trees was not an inherently evil thing. So, at the
beginning, forest industry was pumping lots of dollars in and providing these books, which would
then be given to teachers at the workshops. In the early to mid 1980s, the program Project
Learning Tree had expanded to the point that the forest industry was starting to look at the budget
aspect of it, and starting to recognize that there were thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of
teachers and news leaders getting these activity guides each year. It was becoming a major
budget item for them. In the mid 1980s, they started charging for the books. So the way the
system works is that the books are developed and printed at national level, and then they are
distributed to the states through the state coordinator in each state. It is the responsibility of the
state coordinator to find a way to pay for books now, so that the program is basically paying its on
freight. This became somewhat of a problem. In fact, I managed to get myself in severe straights
by ordering a lot of books, which I did not have payment for. They never get all of that taken care
of. Fortunately in Florida, at just about that point in time, a lot of other people decide that
cooperative extension managed to come together in the right time at the right place to recognize
that Project Learning Tree was a powerful tool that could be used to educate a lot of people about
our forest resources. Most of the organizations that bought into project Learning Tree did so
because they recognized that the program was balanced. In fact, Project Learning Tree at the
national level has won recognition from I believe, the Audobon Society for its balanced approach
to dealing with forestry issues. The program's bywords are that Project Learning Tree teaches
children how to think, not what to think. It was not designed as propaganda, but rather as a way
to explore both sides of a lot of issues and questions. It came into being at the height of the
Controversy. I suspect that is a big part of why it came into being. It was spawned out of the
clear cut controversy in the western United States. Although, I have not heard that that is in fact
what happened. It just seems logical to me as a the timing just definitely seems to be
right for that. So, the program here in Florida from 1984 until about 1989 was growing and
happening as much as I had time and resources to do it with. The Cooperative Extension Service
was paying my salary and my travel. I had a limited amount of money that you need to buy paper,
crayons, and things that you need to do workshops. If I did not do them, not very many
workshops happen because there had been very few people trained as facilitators in the state. In
fact, when I came here I can only think of three active facilitators in the state. They were Jim
Phillips, who was the original person who had brought the program here, Audrey Swindle, and
Pat Burkett. It seems that there was one other, but his name escapes me at the moment.
Basically, Jim, Audrey, Pat, and I were the only ones that were doing workshops. Around 1985 or
1986, I discussed with the national headquarters people, and they said, "Why do we not come
down and help you train some more facilitators?" So they came down and did a facilitator training
L: Was that here at the University?
A: No, actually it was in a wonderful facility called Wakulla Springs Lodge, which is now a state
owned facility south of Tallahassee at Wakulla Springs. We met there, and Kathy McLaughlin
from national Learning Tree headquarters and Sue Shado from the southern region of the
American Forest Council came down, and conducted the first Project Learning Tree facilitator
training that had been held in Florida for eight years.
L: How many people were there?
A: There were somewhere between twelve and twenty people there. Some of the people came
because they wanted to know about the program. Fortunately, about half of the people who came
came because they wanted to do Project Learning Tree. So from that original group, maybe half
of them became active facilitators, and started doing workshops.
L: Was that a major effect?
A: That helped a lot. Even so, things were still plodding along relatively slowly. I conducted, over the
next three to four years, two or three more facilitator workshops, some of which were better
attended than others. I think the smallest one I did was for four people. I did others where there
was maybe fifteen or twenty people in attendance. So slowly, we got more people trained as
facilitators, but out of any one two day investment of my time, I was generally lucky if I got five or
six people that actually went out and did workshops. It was kind of like pulling teeth because it is
a lot of toll, or can be a lot of trouble to put on a workshop. You have to make arrangements,
recruit people to come, find someway to pay for the things that need to be paid for, work out
everybody' schedules, and get the materials. It is a lot of work to do that. Since it is totally a
voluntary network, there was no pay for anybody for doing this. It basically came out of peoples'
L: Did the schools encourage this curricula and the level of individual teachers? Were they
A: It really varied. In those early days, in the 1980s, Project Learning Tree happened where you
caught the imagination of an individual teacher or a few individual teachers within a school district,
or within a school.
L: So it was not organized.
A: It was not really organized. If you found a wonderful teacher who got really excited by the
materials and by learning about forests, the exciting things that come from them, and the way they
work, you would get somebody who was really turned on. They would use it a lot with their kids.
If they had been trained as a facilitator, they would do workshops for other people. This is another
important thing to realize here. When I say this, I am talking about teachers and educators. In
those days, it was really tough to get a forester to come in and be trained in Project Learning Tree.
We were teaching teachers how to use these materials. A lot of the teachers had very little
background and knowledge of trees, forests, how they work, forest products, or anything else.
They could these wonderful activities to the level that information was provided in the activity,
and/or information was provided at the workshop. I worked at trying to infuse a reasonable
amount of content knowledge into the workshops. I always did a little mini lesson on dendrology;
how you have knew leaf trees and broad leaf trees; how you have evergreen and citrus trees;
trees have different kinds of margin; and how there are simple leaves and compound leaves. I
would try to incorporate that kind of information and information on basic tree physiology, or how
trees grow. I would build it around the activity list within Project Learning Tree called tree cookies,
which deals with the cross section of a tree across its round. It looks like a cookie. That activity
has always been known as tree cookies. We would explore how there is a difference in the size of
the annual rings on a tree. Then we would relate to the teachers how the difference in size was
effected by the conditions under which the tree was grown. Still, if they did not learn it at the
workshop, and it was not in the book, they did not have it.
L: So they were not in positions to field questions or give any depth.
A: Right, some of the experiences that children had would appeal to materials, that I feel were pretty
shallow. They were fun activities and fun games. They may learn a little bit, but they did not
really have the opportunity to develop a very deep, complete, or thorough understanding of either
the function of a tree or forest. I felt that was a real weakness. I kept trying to recruit foresters to
attend workshops and help teachers. Until about 1989 or 1990, it was pretty much slogging uphill.
If I did not do it, it did not get done. I had a lot of other things to do, like that 4-H forestry program
that I talked about a while ago. I needed to give time and attention to that, to do the continuing
education for forestry, and to help in the department of forestry.
L: It was a much bigger role.
A: Project Learning Tree was not all that I had to do. In fact, it was a relatively small part of what I
had to do. Around 1989 or 1990, a critical mass of just the right people at just the right in the
same place finally occurred. At that point in time, we had a supervisor of the National Forests in
Florida, who was a great supporter of Project Learning Tree and had learned about it in other
regions of the country where he had worked. Steve was the supervisor of National Forests in
Florida, and he believed in PLT. He had seen it in action in other regions. We had a new
employee at the Florida Forestry Association who had been a Project Learning Tree coordinator
when he worked with the association in Tennessee. He believed in Project Learning Tree and
had seen its power. That same year, there was a presentation made by Jane Diflin of the
American Forest Council at a national meeting of state foresters. Our Florida state forester that
year was Harold Michael. When he came back from that meeting, he called me to find out about
Project Learning Tree. I had been mentioning it at the Society of American Foresters for six,
seven, eight years, and nobody was too involved. The society had provided a couple hundred
dollars each year to help support the program. They thought it was really nice, but there was not
much involvement. When Harold Michael had the vision of Project Learning Tree imbedded in his
head by Jane Diflin. I had a chance to visit with him, and tell him about it and where it was going.
We got these three major forestry based organizations all thinking about the same thing, which
the Department of Forestry, and the School of Forestry Resources at the main university in the
state that had forestry responsibilities had been leaving. We had the four major players that
needed to be involved all buying into this. Chris Vaycheck, who was an information specialist
working with Steve on the national forest in Florida, took it upon herself to call together a group of
people. She did not know very much about Project Learning Tree. Maybe she had been exposed
to it someplace before. I know that she knew enough about Project Learning Tree to recognize
that it was a good thing. Chris got a group of people together, and we met at the Leon County
Cooperative Extension Service office following a Project Learning Tree facilitator training session
that I had scheduled up in that area. We had representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the
Florida Division of Forestry, the Florida Forestry Association, Georgia Pacific (one of major private
forest companies), and I think Champion International, which is another of our major forest
product industries. Of course, I was there from the University of Florida Cooperative Extension. I
think, although I am not sure, that at that first meeting we also had Robin Well, from the St. Marks
Wildlife Refuge, and Robin Marks from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. We had a
representative from the Division of Forestry. We sat around and talked about Project Learning
Tree. I introduced it to the folks that were there who were not familiar with it. I told them a little bit
about it. Some of the folks that were there had attended the facilitator workshops the preceding
day. They decided that it was time to do something and to work together. From that one meeting
grew the Florida Project Learning Tree steering committee, which consists of representation of a
broad scope of organizations and agencies that have interests in and concern for both
environmental education and Florida's forest resources. That team of people was a few
membership shifts in the last few year, this now being 1994. We have had two or three people
that have come on to the committee, and two or three people who have come off. There is a good
balance of folks both in forestry industry and management and in education. We have made a
conscious effort to keep the steering committee balanced, not all run by forest industry or
educators because we want the folks who steer this program to be as balanced as the program
itself is. That group of people have been doing a wonderful job of planning for the program,
developing additional materials for the program, fundraising, conducting workshops, and assisting
me in conducting workshops. As state coordinator, I am responsible for doing all the facilitator
training in the state. The program has grown to the point now that I am hardpressed to even keep
up with the demands for facilitator training, let alone teacher workshops. Over the last few years,
between 1985 and 1993, we grew from nine teachers trained for a year in 1985. In 1993, and this
was not even through all the year, we trained 515 teachers. In 1985, there were no facilitators
trained. In 1986, we trained three; in 1987 we trained fifteen; in 1988 we trained six; and in 1990
when the steering committee got on board and started helping things happen, we trained forty-
seven facilitators that year. We trained forty-nine the year after that. We trained 107 in 1992. By
1993, we had 108 facilitators trained. By the end of 1992, we probably had over 350 people
trained as facilitators. The wonderful thing about that is that they are not all teachers. One of the
policies that the steering committee adopted is that no Project Learning Tree workshop will be
conducted without an educator and a resource professional working together as a team. We
came to realize that there were not a whole lot of people, like me, that had a degree in education
and in forestry. I could answer and respond to questions from educators that asked, "How can
you use this activity in a whole language approach?" Or, "How can you use this as an
interdisciplinary lesson in my third grade class?" I could also field questions about why are the
rings on this tree this size; what kind of tree is this; and what kind of wood do you use to make
baseball bats. There were few foresters that could deal with the questions that educators came
up with about education applications. There were few educators who knew very much about trees
on a research base. It is now our policy to have a team do a workshop. It not only provides the
benefit of having information and understanding from both sides and providing things in a balance,
but it also makes it a little bit less onerous a task to put on a workshop because you have
somebody to help you. You do not have to find a place, recruit teachers, get refreshments, order
books, do the paperwork, send out news releases, arrange the tables in the morning, or put the
coffee on all by yourself. Of course, you also had to do the activities. This seemed to work, and a
lot of people felt better about it. In fact, sometimes now, we have three or four facilitators working
together to do a workshop. So it is not too much work for anybody, but he workshops end up
being better and richer because the participants have a chance to experience a lot of different
teaching styles, strategies, and different ways of looking at things.
L: I would imagine there are maybe more people willing to participate now that they are not a one
A: That is right. It is a lot easier and less formidable a task if you have a partner to help you, just as I
have a whole wonderful group of partners to help me on the steering committee on Project
Learning Tree. On an individual workshop basis, if you have partners to help you it is easier, it is
more fun, and it is less agony for anybody because they do not have to put the amount of time
and effort in all by themselves.
L: Has the state Department of Education taken any reasonable notice yet? Or are they still behind
the Division of Forestry?
A: Well, in 1989 there was a piece of legislation that was finally voted in here in Florida--the Florida
Environmental Education Act. Through that act, the Office of Environmental Education was
established. Shortly after the steering committee was created, we went to the Office of
Environmental Education, and asked them to designate somebody to work with us on Project
Learning Tree. They authorized one of their staff members to serve on the steering committee.
Now the Florida Department of Education is one of the partners in leadership in the Project
Learning Tree steering committee. The other partners are Florida Forestry Foundation, the
National Forest in Florida (the USDA forest service), the Florida Division of Forestry, the
University of Florida Cooperative Extension, Georgia Pacific, Stone _Corporation. We
have had various kinds of representation from ITT Raymere and Champion International. Girl
Scouts of the Apalachee Bends, which is the local girl scout council in Tallahassee where we
usually have our meeting. The U.S. Department of the Interior the Fish and Wildlife Service found
representation through Robin Well at St. Marks Wildlife Refuge, and required the Florida Game
and Fresh Water Fish Commission to have representation by the coordinator of Project Wild.
Project Wild is a wildlife base program that was modeled after Project Learning Tree and which
shares one of the same parent organizations as PLT. The Western Mutual Environmental Council
recognized that PLT was so useful and that teachers loved it so much that they picked that same
model and developed activities in workshop format for Project Wild, which does the same kinds of
things for wildlife questions, issues, and topics.
L: So the state of Florida finally got its act together a little bit on the educational level.
A: Environmental education in Florida has some pretty deep roots. There are a lot of individual
people who have been doing things for a long time in this state. Jim Phillips, who was with the
Department of Education, had been doing real good environmental education for quite a long time,
at least as early as the 1960s. My predecessor, Tony Jensen, and cooperative extension have
been doing environmental education from at least as early as the 1960s, maybe even earlier than
that. Sometime in the late 1960s or early 1970s, a group of people from around the state got
together and created an organization called LEEF, the League of Environmental Educators in
Florida. These were people from a broad scope. Some people worked for agencies and
organizations. There were some who were classroom teachers and some who worked at nature
centers. That organization has grown substantially over the past few years to the point that now
there are probably somewhere between 200 and 400 people who attend their annual meeting.
The legislation for environmental education stimulated a lot of activity and action. Through that
legislation in 1989, which was amended in 1991 and 1992, five regional environmental education
projects were established to serve as regional coordinators or nodes for environmental education.
We had one of those the first three years of that program based here at the University of Florida.
We feel we did a pretty good job. We were really the only one of the five that were effective at
helping the school districts develop comprehensive environmental education plans, which was
one of the mandates of the legislation. I do not think they were required, but they were to
encourage and assist in the development of comprehensive environmental education plans in for
every school district in the state. The region two service project that I coordinated went a long
way towards making that happen. In fact, Mr. Robert Joseph Hatten, who worked as my project
coordinator here when we had the regional service project the last year that we had the contract
from the department of education to run that, is now being contracted by school districts in other
regions to help them draw off their comprehensive plans. He is a business man, and he knows
how to do business. Planning that kind of planning; trying to incorporate not only lessons that
teachers will teach; helping get schools doing things in a more environmental way like how to
design school facilities; how, when, where, and if to put in outdoor classrooms; how and when to
incorporate in service training for teachers-- all of this is a true comprehensive plan. It is not just
curriculum. It is looking at the whole picture. Mr. Hatten was very successful at that and is now
continuing to work with school districts to make those plans happen. A lot of things have been
happening. Some of what has happened has been coordinated, but there is still a lot of
fragmentation. What I see is an incredible amount of energy put into developing lesson plans and
teaching materials, which teachers are doing by themselves on their own. Efforts have been
made to coordinate these things to let people know what is available.
A: An effort was made in 1989 or 1990 shortly after the environmental education act was passed to
bring some sort of coordination into all of this. An organization called the Interagency
Environmental Education Council was created by the legislation. The original IC, as it was known,
brought together representatives from a lot of different state agencies, including the Department of
Education, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Community Affairs, Sea Grant
Extension, Cooperative Extension, the Florida Game and Freshwater Fish Commission, the
Department of State--a lot of the state agencies. The water management district were big players
in that too. They came together and met on a relatively regular basis several times a year. We
shared information or materials that were available. This gave a lot of people access to a lot of
materials that they did not know were available. A lot of the people had not been familiar with the
excellent 4-H program materials that were out there. Some of us did not know about things that
the Game and Freshwater Fish Commission had. Everybody was inventing good stuff, but
nobody knew all about it. So we put together as a product of the Interagency Environmental
Education coordinating committee, a resource guide that listed all of these materials that the state
agencies created. After the Environmental Education Act was amended and the Office of
Environmental Education set up the usual service project, it tried to develop a program called Free
For Teachers, which was to be a computerized database of environmental education materials.
That has had some problems, and I know a lot of people that have tried to call or computer
network into that have been frustrated. I am not sure whether the glitches in the system have
been overcome. It is a wonderful idea that if that does not work out, I am sure that somebody
somewhere will come up with an effective database, so that teachers can just punch in and find
out what kinds of things are available on a given topic. It is certainly a good start. There is so
much out there that a lot of people do not know about, yet there are probably a lot of other things
that nobody has dealt with, like developing new materials on We still have a ways to
go. It is not all perfect by any means. One of my goals is to develop a teachers resource guide
that will bring it all together, provide information, the content find information on various
ecosystems, and incorporate new ideas and materials for lessons on that. A wonderful thing that
is really important for me, and I hope that this is something that your class project can help people
to understand is that environmental education is not just a nature study thing, and it is not just the
biology that happens. The true environmental education is dealing with the biology of things, the
economics of things, the energy aspects of things, and the cultural and societal aspects of things
because our environment is really everything around us. It does not just include the birds, trees,
flowers, soil, sun, and air, but it also includes the people, economic system, transportation system,
political system, policies, and everything else. To really do environmental education, a teacher
needs to know a lot more than he or she is going to learn in a biology class, a six hour workshop
on anything, or a two or three year course of study. Real environmental education encompasses
the whole of everything around us. It is really hard to get a grasp on that.
L: Is that maybe one reason why you are having so much more success is having multiple people
A: Yes. Within the steering committee we have a lot of different viewpoints and people who have
different expertise in different areas. The forest product industry people understand the
economics of what is going on. The folks that work in the Division of Forestry understand the
policy and the politics of what is going on. Those of us from universities and agencies deal with
the biology of what goes on. We can work together to see what needs to be done.
L: From the sound of it, it seems like Project Learning Tree almost has to be located in time and
space for each state. Is that the case? There are the Florida issues that are included in terms of
Florida species. Is it a national, or more homogeneous than that?
A: Project Learning Tree materials are developed at the national level. They have been adapted and
changed. In fact, this year, 1994, is the first year that we have been distributing a brand new
Project Learning Tree guide, which we spent the last three years nationwide developing. One of
the kinds of activities that appeared in the earlier versions of PLT dealt with some pretty specific
examples of forestry situations that kids in Florida would have a hard time relating to. Those
materials did not deal at all with things like tropical rain forests. The new materials not only
provide examples from a lot of different regions of the United States, but also incorporate a fair
number of lessons that deal with global issues of environment and forestry because on of the
goals of the new Project Learning Tree is to help young people to recognize that they are part of
the global system, both the global biological system and the global economic system. So there
are activities that can be used in Louisiana, Maine, California, Nevada, American Samoa, or
Florida. Some of them need to be adapted a little bit for a specific area. If you take an activity like
the one that is called every tree for itself, which deals with managing the stand of the forest (the
stand of trees), I am sure that the people in Maine, when they do this activity, do it very differently
than we do it in Florida. That is simply because the forests in Maine are different. Although,
Maine may not be a good example because Maine is pretty much a coniferous forest, and Florida
is pretty much a coniferous forest. Certainly if you took Pennsylvania and Florida, you would have
very different issues. In Pennsylvania, you are dealing primarily with a hardwood resource, where
harvesting is done on a selective basis. They have thinnings, and harvest an individual tree here
or there. They have either thinnings or shelterwood cuttings. Here in Florida, much of the forest
resource is harvested in way. That is you kick down a lot of trees around one another all
at the same time and assure a new generation of those trees all at the same time. The reason for
that is the basic ecology of the region and the trees. Down here, the native species that grow on
much of the land in Florida are pines, which do generate naturally even in sand. It is just the way
they work biologically. Whereas in much of Pennsylvania and a lot of other regions, the trees
grow naturally as individual trees in uneven aged stands where you may have some very young
trees growing under some older trees, which are growing under some really old trees. Under
natural conditions, the really old trees would eventually die and fall down to make space where
some of these other trees could come up under them. That kind of situation is normal and natural
in some regions of the country, but it is not normal and natural in other regions. The Project
Learning Tree materials have been devised so that you can twist, tweak, and move them around
to address the way things are where you are.
L: I presume that the facilitators and the workshop leaders are the ones who do the twisting and the
tweaking for each region.
A: Yes. So when we do a workshop, we provide information on the specifics of what happens here
in Florida in the forests. We usually try to introduce the people to some of the forestry issues here
in Florida, like red cockaded woodpeckers and long-leaf pine trees. Everybody has heard about
the spotted owls in the ancient forests of the Pacific northwest, but we have a very similar issue
here in Florida. We feel that it is incumbent upon our young people to know as much about what
is happening in their own back yard as they do about what is happening in the Pacific Northwest
or the tropical rainforests of Brazil.
L: Do you want to touch a little bit on the red cockaded woodpecker, or just [[mumbling--please fill
A: Okay. One of the most successful Project Learning Tree workshops, from my point of view, that
we have ever had was one that we held in connection a meeting with the Legal Environmental
Educators in Florida. We met at Camp Meade up near Live Oak, and loaded the workshop
participants on a bus to take them the Osceola National Forest. We were met there by several
folks who work on the forest, including Susan Ket, who is the culturalist on Osceola. Susan
is a very knowledgeable woman, and is also fortunately very familiar with Project Learning Tree,
since she is a trained facilitator. She worked with us to incorporate one of the activities from
Project Learning Tree called how big is that tree? We went into a stand of trees and did the
measurements that the activity called for. Then we had a chance to stand around the tree after
we figured out two or three different ways of measuring how tall the were, what there diameter
breast height (DBH) was, and calculate how many board feet of timber there were in these trees.
Then she pointed out to the area around us and asked the people to look at the trees that had
white bands painted on them. She asked us if we knew what those represented. It turns out that
those were trees that had the cockaded woodpecker nests in them. Either they had nests, or they
were trees that the red cockaded woodpeckers were foraging for insects on. We discussed the
fact that all those trees with white bands on them and a lot of other trees in that immediate area
could not be harvested because they were habitat for the endangered red cockaded woodpecker.
The red cockaded woodpecker is, I guess, the only woodpecker that builds its nest in live trees.
The reason being that once they peck into the hardwood of the tree in the really old longleaf and
pine trees, it is frequently pretty soft because there is a disease (a heart rock kind of thing) that
effects the these trees. It is easy for the woodpeckers to excavate cavities in them, but they not
only have a pretty easy time excavating, but they also have the benefit of living tissue on the
outside of the tree creating sap, which runs down the resonance. It sort of oozes out of the injured
cambium and the sapwood of the tree. This active sap running down the tree helps to protect the
nestlings from predators such as snakes, that will climb the tree and eat the eggs of the young. If
these rat snakes cannot get up there, then the babies are safe. The woodpeckers need these old
live trees. There are not a whole lot of these woodpecker, so they are considered to be
threatened or endangered. The government is required to protect their habitat. We had an
opportunity to talk about the "so whats" of that. From the teachers point of view, it might be a so
what, the birds are important, and we need to protect their habitat. We need not to cut down the
trees in our national park. Then we had the opportunity for Susan to talk a little bit with them
about national forest policies and the fact that when trees are harvested from a national forest, a
certain percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the trees is turned over to the local
government for use in primarily supporting the schools. Those lands that are taken out of the
regular tax base by becoming federally owned lands need to return money back to the community,
or the community cannot function. All of a sudden the teachers are looking at, well let us see, we
can leave the habitat for the woodpeckers and not cut down the trees. If we do not cut down the
trees, then we do not get that extra money from the forest service, so we could buy books, chalk,
pencils, and things for our kids. Maybe it is not so easy as we thought it was. This is what real
environmental education is about--learning to see the whole picture, the economics, biology,
ethics, and politics of it. There were very few opportunities for teachers or anybody else to get
that kind of holistic picture.
L: A lot of times two rights make a wrong.
A: That can happen. I think a really critical important part of environmental education is helping
people to look at all sides of it and to recognize that nothing is easy. I do not remember what
philosopher or statesman it was who said it, but there is an easy solution to every problem, but it
is usually wrong. In environmental issues, this is really obvious. There are easy answers to
everything. The answer to the spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest is do not cut down anymore
trees. Let the ancient forests remain ancient forests. What are the American people going to do
for the wood products for their lifestyle that they have become accustomed to? What are the
people going to do who lose their jobs because of mills closing down because there are not
anymore trees to process? What are the people who work in furniture stores going to do when
they do not have anymore wood to make furniture?
L: That is part of the reason the Japanese turned to rainforests.
A: Exactly. What other forests in other countries will supply the wood for the wants and needs of the
American people? What is going to happen to the American balance of trade when all the
furniture, paper, books, chemical products that come from trees, fruits that come from trees, and
nuts that come from trees are all coming from other countries? What is going to happen to our
balance of trade and what is going to become of our political clout in the global system if money is
going out from us and all the resources are coming in from them? There are no easy answers.
L: It seems important then that you are trying to get children to think about these complex issues.
A: If today's politicians had learned some of the things that kids at Project Learning Tree workshops
are learning, I think we would all be a lot better off. One of the activities that I love best in the new
Project Learning Tree is called values on the line. In this particular activity, there are about fifteen
or twenty statements that children look at to rate how they feel about these statements. They are
things such as the major problem on earth today being too many people. You have a chance to
rate them one, where you totally disagree with that, and up to ten, where you totally agree. You
take the kids on any one issue and line them up, literally. You line them up next to one another,
and then you split the line in half and have halfway up the line to the end of the line come down
and face across from the other half. The first team, let us say the A team, has one minute to
explain why they feel the way they do about that particular issue. The B team, across from them,
has thirty seconds to tell the A team what they heard them say--not what they think, but what they
heard them say. Then they would change roles and the B team would have a minute to tell the A
team why they feel the way they do. The A team has thirty seconds to tell the B team what they
heard them say. Would it not be wonderful if politicians could learn to listen to the other side,
instead of spending all their time and energy trying to figure out after the first word is out of
somebody's mouth how they are going to respond. Conflict resolution, consensus building, critical
thinking skills, and learning to look at problems and issues from more than viewpoint are all part of
Project Learning Tree, and should be all part of any environmental education program. Until the
population as a whole gets to the point that they can look at things, think about them, and make
intelligent decisions, and then do another thing that PLT is good for--that is act upon the
information that they have--we are going to have a lot of politicians making decisions about
resources with little information, no information, or wrong information. I think that is what I love
most about environmental education, that there is the potential to really make a difference. If
tomorrow's citizens know more than yesterday's citizens, we may prevent making some of the
same mistakes we have made in the past.
L: Are you saying that Project Learning Tree also includes some sort of work on your information and
activities as well?
A: What do you mean?
L: You said in terms of when people learn about an issue then they can act on it. Are there any
conservation oriented activities and things like that?
A: Yes. There are a number of environmental education programs now. Project Learning Tree is
one of them, and 4-H environmental education ship is another. There are others around
the country that incorporate within the program, not just learning about something, but learning
how to do something about something. In environmental education, you can do things from a lot
of different directions and a lot of different levels. Individuals, classes of children, or clubs of
children can adopt and you fill in the blank. You can adopt a manatee, a whale, a bird of prey, a
beach, a river, or you just about anything you want. In most cases, or in some cases adopt
means you send money that helps to provide habitat for, provide research on, or to feed whatever
it is your adopting. In some cases, instead of sending money and getting periodic reports, adopt
means go and do something about it. Adopt a shore means that you go to that shoreline and pick
up that litter there. You may even become part of a research project that documents what kind of
litter you pick up. You go and contact whatever is the source of that litter and see what they are
willing to do about not having that litter to get to where you have to pick it up. That is one kind of
action--you can adopt things. Other kinds of action that young people can get involved in include
taking political action and working to inform the people who make the decisions in their local
community, in their state, or even nationally to inform these people about their opinions and what
they have learned of the facts regarding some particular environmental issues. Another way of
taking action is becoming a better steward of the land yourself, becoming a better steward of
resources, learning to pick up litter, learning not to litter yourself, learning to recycle, and learning
to make consumer choices. There is a 4-H program on consumer choices, and there are activities
in Project Learning Tree, Project Wild, and in the 4-R's curriculum, which is a solid waste
curriculum put together by the Department of Education here in Florida. All of these programs
teach people how to go about reducing the solid waste problem. In 1994, that is a major issue.
Here in Florida, water and solid waste are probably the two major environmental issues. If we
cannot deal with those and live more responsible lives by not wasting water and by not generating
more solid waste, we are going to be in more trouble. Environmental education, with a lot of
people, is making a difference.
L: Is Project Learning Tree sort of staggered through the grades in terms of that you start off small
and then learn more and more? Or is it sort of choppy programmatically depending on the
teacher? If the teacher of fourth grade happens to do it, does that mean that they will not get
anything in sixth grade? [[fill in rest of mumbling]]
A: In terms of implementation of Project Learning Tree in the formal education system, that means in
terms of teachers using it in classrooms in public or private schools, there is not set plan. There
are activities for Project Learning Tree in the new materials for pre-kindergartners through eighth
graders. We are pilot testing now a series of high school modules for Project Learning Tree that
are built around individual issues, like tropical rain forest, urban forest, wetlands, forest ecology,
and things like that. The implementation of PLT activities is probably dependent on the voluntary
applications of these by teachers who have experienced them.
L: Are those state mandated curriculum for environmental education specific?
A: No, in fact environmental education persay is not mandated in Florida. I believe that recycling
education is mandated in Florida. That is why they developed the 4-R's curriculum. That has
materials for kindergarten through twelfth grade. There again, it is theoretically mandated, but I do
not think anybody ever checks to see whether anybody is doing it.
L: Maybe there is a sign in the cafeteria area that is their education.
A: I suspect in some schools that that is the case. Environmental education, as far as I can see,
happens when you have an educator who really cares. When you have an educator who really
cares, it makes an incredible difference. A lot of times that one educator in the school that really
cares about it gets his/her students excited. It frequently spreads. There is one school in
Mariana, Florida where there is a middle school teacher in the vocational education program who
found out about Project Learning Tree, and got involved and excited. She worked with local forest
products companies, the Stone Container Corporation. They built a partnership at the Meritt
Brown Middle School. The folks from Stone Container came in and did a Project Learning Tree
workshop for all the teachers in the school. The folks from Stone Container helped the teachers
and the students there to plant a school forest on their grounds. The teachers designated a
Project Learning Tree week where they did all of their classes. They did their math with Project
Learning Tree, their social studies with Project Learning Tree, and their language arts with Project
Learning Tree for a whole week. There is video tape of what was done there. It was an
exquisitely exciting and kind of well organized thing. That kind of thing can happen at other
schools. In Florida, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, what goes on in
schools in the responsibility of the local school district. There are sixty-seven different sets of
rules regarding what will be taught. Every school district is pretty independent of what they are
going to focus on, what they are going to require, or whatever. We have been working through
the formal education system. There is what is called a component for Project Learning Tree,
which is an outline of what teachers will learn if they attend a Project Learning Tree workshop in
every school district within the state. Teachers can attend a Project Learning Tree workshop and
get certification printed for attending that, which helps them keep their certification current. There
is also the idea of the comprehensive environmental education plans that were mentioned earlier.
Several school districts have incorporated into their comprehensive plans in-service training in
Project Learning Tree, and other aspects of environmental education lessons. It is pretty much a
teacher driven thing, but fortunately Project Learning Tree is so neat and easy to use. Most of the
teachers that attend the workshop love it so much that they do use quite a bit of it in their classes.
L: Sounds like it is infectious among the students.
A: The wonderful thing about Project Learning Tree is that hands on stuff, and it is fun. Instead of
sitting there being lectured at about biological diversity, you would play games and discover the
reality of biological diversity. Instead of being shown a video on how different things in the forest
interact, you become a part of the forest and tie in with all the other organisms in your class that
have been designated to create a food web. You become a drop of water, a molecule of water
and cycle around your classroom to the station that said mountain, where there is a little message
that says you have rolled down hill on a stream. You are supposed to go to the stream. You go to
the stream, and you pick out a little piece of paper that says that you have been licked up by a
deer. Then you go to the station that says animal. You have been licked up by a deer, and are
exhaled by its breathe. You become part of the water vapor in the air and go up into the clouds. It
is a whole lot more fun when you study the water cycle than to look at a chart and map and label
it. Kids love it, and teachers love it. It is really neat stuff.
L: Sounds like it is a reality [[mumbling]].
A: Well, there is one of those good ole sayings. Show me and I see it. It is one of these things. You
see it, and you know something about it. You hear it, and maybe you know a little bit more about
it. You do it and you live it, and then you really understand it. That is where PLT comes in. The
kids get physically involved in most of the activities and in doing things. There is very little pencil
and paper stuff, and minimal lecture stuff. You may have lectures where you spend five minutes
talking to the kids about something. The materials provide strategies and coaching for the
teachers using these materials on how to ask the kids the question instead of telling the kids the
answer. There is information in the book on cooperative learning and constructivist theory, where
you start with what the kids know and build on that. The materials are really very educationally
L: Sounds like the educators had all of this in mind [[mumbling]].
A: Well, the educators were not only in mind, the educators were involved. The new materials were
developed at five writing workshops around the country. At those five writing workshops, we
struggled to have a balance of foresters and educators there. We worked together hand in hand
to develop these activities, to take the good ones from the old PLT and adapt them to bring them
up to current times, incorporate additional background information, and make them even more
user friendly. There were some activities in the old guide that the survey of over 10,000 people
helped to determine which ones nobody was using. They were dumped. We spent a lot of time,
energy, and imagination creating new activities to do things which were not in the books before, or
were in the books in a small way, but not sufficiently to meet today current needs of
environmental education. It is good stuff.
L: Do you want to say anything about the college level environmental education that you have been
A: Sure. At the University of Florida, there is not now, nor will there probably be within the next few
years, a formal environmental education program. The state of Florida certification folks do not
have certification for people in this arena. I have recognized the number of students that end up
outside my office or in my office talking to me, that there are a lot of young people in this state that
are excited about and motivated to become environmental educators. In the formal school, about
the only way that you can do this is to major in either elementary education or science education
and do what you can with environmental education in that arena. There are a lot of other ways
that you can do environmental education in what we call the nonformal setting. You can become
a girl scout leader, become a boy scout leader, work at a camp, work at a nature center, work for
a museum, work for the Division of Forestry or the Game and Freshwater Fish Commission, the
U.S. Forest Service, or the Water Management District. All of these agencies or organizations
have people to do environmental education. What we have done at the University of Florida is to
take the natural resource conservation major, within the School of Forest Resources and
Conservation, and have students take a strong base of biological aspects of learning how to
identify trees and wildlife species, manage forests. They learn about policy and measurements.
We take onto that, as part of their program, additional courses that deal with environmental
education. There are a few courses open in the College of Education to noneducation majors.
There are courses taught in the Agricultural and Extension Communications Department. I have
from time to time taught courses in environmental education. We also try to provide experiences
for young people where they can actually go and work with kids in schools. We have a
project, where we have who go over to Anastasia State Park and spend time interpreting and
educating the public about the kinds of things that they see over there. Students can register for
independent study credits to do things like that. I think I serve as a mentor for a lot of these young
people in combining their interests and the resources that are currently available at the University
of Florida to enable them to be able to have the kind of fun in their jobs that I have been able to
have in much of my professional career. Environmental education is fun, as well as important.
With the new College of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Florida, there are
plans to develop a formal major in environmental education and communications. We hope that
will happen, but that is definitely a couple of years down the road.
L: We need something now for those who are here.
A: Right. For those who are here now, we needed something so the interdisciplinary patchwork
finally got together with the students. It seems to be helping them and several of them have gone
through this program and are actually employed to do what they wanted to do.
L: A major success at the University--a professor with employed students.
A: Yes. My first masters students who graduated, Merrill Fein, came into the program with a
background in journalism and communications. She took a lot of courses in the School of Forest
Resources and Conservation, and is now employed by the Alachua Solid Waste Folk [[please
identify with correct name]] as their recycling education coordinator. Elizabeth Chick, another
student of mine, is now teaching at Central Florida Community College. She is teaching
environmental science kind of courses, which will [[please fill in]]. You cannot guarantee every
student will get to do what they want, but we certainly can strive to provide them with what they
need to be able to do a good job in environmental education.
L: Thank you Dr. Ary for a very enjoyable interview. This was April 8, 1994.
A: Thank you Mark. I really enjoyed it. It is a wonderful pleasure to share my views and thoughts on
environmental education with somebody that is as interested as yourself.
L: I thank you too.