Missouri Environmental Education News: July 2022

Welcome to the lastest edition of MEEA's Newsletter
Lesli Moylan Photo

Table of Contents

  • Feature Article
  • Lesson Resources
  • Featured Events, Grants, & Workshops
  • DEI: Continuing Ed
  • Member Story
  • Missouri Nature Phenomena This Month

Dear MEEA Members,

Welcome back to the MEEA Monthly Newsletter! I’m so grateful that Jamin Bray has joined our team.  Jamin hit the ground running and is already helping with so many things — including getting the newsletter back up and running. Thank you, Jamin!!

Over the July 4th weekend, I was lucky enough to spend time with my son, a niece, and two nephews exploring Ozark creeks and rivers, watching hummingbirds dive bomb one another, and giggling at minnows nibbling our toes. I spent time with a nephew who’s pretty fearful of any “bug”, answering questions about ticks, musing about butterflies being “bugs”, and using the Merlin bird app to identify birds we could hear but not see. I saw my son go an entire day sans phone without missing it at all, a reason for celebration if there ever was one. All of this made me reflect on the important environmental education role we have in our families, and how vital it is to help kids in our individual spheres connect with nature in a joyful way. After all, it’s the joyful connection to nature that will lead to informed action rather than overwhelmed apathy.  Whether you’re a parent, an auntie, uncle, or grandparent, you are an environmental educator and you have a profound impact. Whether it’s exploring an Ozark creek or turning over a rock in the backyard to hunt for pillbugs, we can help foster a sense of wonder and respect for nature with the kids in our lives. Kudos for all that you do, from the classroom to the backyard BBQ, to connect kids to the wonder and joys of this beautiful lifeboat we call Earth.

Until next month,
Lesli Moylan, Executive Director

Feature Article


Jamin Bray, MEEA Assistant Director

Photos by: Jamin Bray

Pencil Sketch by Janet Price (Interpretive Rendition of the poem, The Tree)

Take the Road Less Traveled

by Jamin Bray

All of us have traveled to various places in our lives. Most of the time it was probably in cars on multiple roads and highways.  Other times we’ve ridden the rails, flown in planes, peddled our bikes or walked to get to some destination, sometimes quickly and sometimes very slowly.

I’m now reflecting metaphorically on roads I’ve traveled.  I’ve summoned my inner Robert Frost (it’s a thing with me that you’ll get used to; something I do often…make references to Emily Dickenson, Joni Mitchell, Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan and other great poets).  The Road Not Taken-–that poem’s perspective has been my life’s journey (see link for full poem below).  And now the winding, sometimes broken, but always heart-felt and purposeful road has led me to MEEA.  I am honored and still a little stunned that I arrived at this place as your Assistant Director!  I’m still spinning from how it all fell into place once I stopped striving for positions that didn’t really fit me anymore (teaching, park management, field scientist).  The perfect way to use those skills and experiences to fulfill a higher purpose seemingly fell out of the blue.

Moving forward, I will dedicate my energy and passion to you and this amazing organization.  Here’s what I believe my contribution will look like based on what our Executive Director and Board of Directors have shared with me so far:

  • Lighten Lesli’s administrative load so she can tackle the bigger-picture goals of keeping MEEA as a sustainable, impactful and growing organization.
  • Use my background in science, outreach, education, and resource interpretation to affect more collaboration across our state, region, and country.
  • Reach out to rural communities to help them realize the value and possibilities inherent in environmental education and Missouri Green Schools.

Ultimately I’m here to serve you.  Interestingly, the road that I’m now on doesn’t seem as bumpy and curvy as those sometimes difficult but always important “roads less traveled” that led me here.  I’m now venturing on a direct route (with a great view and lots of fun stops along the way!) toward a life-time goal: to be a catalyst in caring for the environment so that our children have a place to flourish.  Wow, what a wonderful destination!

Speaking of poetry, it is a form of literature that can be a wonderful addition to an EE program.  Poetry can give it a creative, cross-curricular element that helps with literacy and stirs the imagination.

According to the Green Teacher website, “Poetry distills the essence of things, invites us to inspect the details of our lives and helps us see what we might not otherwise see. Combine environmental poetry with children’s sense of wonder and natural delight in language and you have a powerful and joyful way to nurture ecological values in young people.”

When I taught middle school English (yeah, I did that, too!), we always did a unit on poetry.  I would have the students reflect on what makes poetry different from other literature, and why it can connect a theme sometimes better than any other form of communication.  I think it’s because poems, including song lyrics, say meaningful things in a creative and sometimes rhythmic and emotional way that we probably wouldn’t be able to express directly.  For example, I would use a teenager-appropriate analogy such as: If you had a crush on someone, you probably wouldn’t walk up to them and say, ”Baby, you a song, you make me wanna roll my windows down, and cruise!”  Silly but true..poetry is an artistic way of connecting to and/or expressing feelings.  I can imagine so many uses for that technique when it comes to helping children empathize with nature.

When my Mom passed away I wrote a poem called “The Tree” as a way of expressing my grief while also helping my young children understand the death of their grandmother.  It was a metaphor inspired by an old tree that had fallen down in the field on the west side of our house, following a long life and toward the part of the cycle in which it gives its nutrients back to the soil.  I used an environmental concept to help explain this difficult, but natural, part of life:

Here’s the story of a Tree, it meant so much to me

Just a walnut in the field, dead and fading

But I saw so much more…

A perch for birds out our back door

The promise of those sunsets yet to come.

We are born we grow up

We grow old and we fall down

It’s okay, that’s the way the world goes ‘round

I want my kids to know

It’s all about the journey

We grow up, we fall down, like the tree.

I recommend incorporating poetry into your programs in some way.  Read one aloud to introduce your theme at the beginning, or in your conclusion to tie everything together.  Or perhaps, guide the participants to write their own poems (maybe a simple haiku) at the end of your program; give them a prompt (ex. Why do I feel more comfortable around snakes now that I’ve met one?).  This is a fantastic tool to not only focus their empathy for nature, but also to effectively evaluate the impact of your presentation!  And, by the way, teachers will totally love you for going cross-curricular!   

Jamin Bray

Resources for using poetry



Featured Event: July 14th
Nature Playscape Day for Educators in Forest Park (St. Louis)


Featured Grant: EPA Clean Schools Bus Rebate Program Now Open!


Featured Workshop: Earth Force Environmental Action Civics Online Course

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

The same mindset that leads to environmental degradation is the same mindset that leads to oppression of groups of people. It’s a mindset of otherness – defined as separation coupled with domination. If we don’t unlearn “otherness” and cultivate empathy and connection, we will be unsuccessful in our endeavor to realize the vision of sustainability. We won’t be able to develop systems that support ecological integrity, economic prosperity, and social equity.  This newsletter section is one small way in which MEEA is committed to unraveling otherness throughout the organization, by providing a space for us to collectively learn (and unlearn) each month. 

Back in February, the Missouri Green Schoools team facilitated a professional development workshop for the MGS Partner Network. This workshop, facilitated by the Education Equity Center of St. Louis, laid out some of the troubled history related to our education system in Missouri and how this history continues to impact Missouri students today. The information provided is so rich, so important, and it is valuable to all of us environmental educators! I invite you to take a look and learn some Missouri education history that is potentially new to you.  There are many facets you’ll likely want to examine further, and you’ll find resources to continue your exploration in the presentation. 

Above: An introductory slide from the Ed Equity Center’s presentation, providing shared definitions of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Anti-Racism

Member Story

For the Birds… and Bugs- MEEA’s and KACEE’s Awesome Auction Item

by Christine Torlina, MEEA Member and Teacher at Forsyth School in St. Louis, MO

As you may remember, last fall, MEEA and KACEE co-hosted an awesome online auction in conjunction  with their conference. I don’t like to shop much, but when my hard-earned money goes for a good  cause, I love it!  So… I was the lucky winner of an experience focused around the Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area. I wanted to see some new birds and planned the trip for late April when the shorebird migration would be taking place. Well, after driving for a day from St. Louis, my husband and I set up our tent in a small nearby campground. It was a quiet, restful night. In the morning, we got up early and headed for Fort Hays State University’s Kansas Wetlands Education Center. Our auction package  included a van tour with the director that blew our bird watching brains away! We saw so many amazing new birds, including avocets, stilts, plovers, sandpipers, and more. One of my favorite birds was the Wilson’s Phalarope because they swim around in little circles to catch their prey. I could go on about the peregrine falcon, eared grebe, whited-faced ibis, and other fantastic feathered friends, but you get the picture.  

After this guided extravaganza, we spent some time at the Education Center. The displays were  wonderful and as we neared the back, we happened upon someone setting up for a Mother’s Day nature project coming up soon. I noticed a magnificent model of a dragonfly sparkling on the table. After I inquired about it, the instructor kindly explained how to make it. I learned that the wings were made out of samaras or maple seeds and the bodies were made of sticks. Everything was decorated with sparkly paint and the colorful jewel eyes were glued in place. I took photographs and made some mental notes so I could try this cool project with my science students. More on this lesson plan later. 

Inspired as we were, it was time for some more bird watching on our own.  Once again, we were thrilled  to see all the interesting birds, most of them migrants.  After a while, a blustery wind began to unfold.  And then it got so intense, I was almost lifted off one of the tall viewing towers.  As we made our exit in  the car, plants were blowing in a horizontal fashion across the road, kind of like prairie tumble weeds.  Upon arriving at our campsite, we were startled to discover that our tent was trashed!  We quickly took  shelter in the newly constructed outhouse and waited for the dust storm to pass. After a while, we found a room in a nearby town and went to bed safe and sound. As part of the auction package, we were to stay in the historic Wolf Hotel in Ellinwood, Kansas, but before we did, we decided to take the tour that focused on the early life of the pioneers along the Santa Fe Trail. There were tunnels underground with stores, barber shops, speakeasies, and the like. After the tornado-like winds I had been through earlier, I could totally see why people living on the plains spent some time underground just like badgers and prairie dogs. 

Well, when I returned to Missouri, I was excited to make dragonflies with my first-grade group. We  collected maple seeds and read Next Time You See a Maple Seed by Emily Morgan. Then, we collected  sticks. After we read The Web at Dragonfly Pond by Brian “Fox” Ellis and discussed some information  about dragonflies and how they fit into the food chain, we painted our nature materials with sparkling  brown, blue, and green paints. We glued colorful gem eyes on next. Then, the wings and body were hot glued to a small piece of cardboard and then to a strong magnet. Our dragonflies were beautiful. The  children were so happy to take their creations home in “up-cycled” plastic containers left over from lunch. 

What an awesome auction item, a real learning experience, a win-win, that also benefited my students!  Thanks, MEEA and KACEE for looking out for life-long learners. Now, onward with the good green work! 

Nature Phenomena This Month

Photo courtesy of Missouri Department of Conservation. Learn more at https://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide