Changes in WMEAC’s Education Program

Written by Madalyn Buursma

Education is one of the most important aspects of everything we do here at WMEAC, and we’ve got a lot of exciting things coming up in our education programs.

Recently, we’ve hired a new Director of Environmental Education, Thea Van Goor. With a background in environmental education and ten years of experience working as both a fifth-grade science teacher and a STEAM lab teacher for grades K-7 in Savannah, Georgia, she brings with her a lot of experience.

Before her years of teaching elementary school, she worked as a Senior Biologist and Educator at Coral World Ocean Park on the island of St. Thomas, where she would teach tourists about marine life in the Caribbean. Thea maintained exhibits and cared for a variety of animals including sharks, sea turtles, stingrays, eels, and her favorite, sea horses. Prior to that, she worked as an environmental educator in Georgia, California, and Hawaii. Her unique experiences, along with her years in the classroom, will make her an excellent addition to our team.

As she’s only been with us for a few months, she’s still exploring new things she’d like to bring to the education program. “I’m really excited to see how my classroom experience can help expand and enrich the programs that we already have,” she said. She’s still in the learning phase of the job but is looking forward to seeing how she can enhance the programs.

“I would definitely like to see more younger students involved,” she said, “and get them excited about how they can be stewards in their community.”

Along with hiring Thea, Kyle Hart has transitioned from contract support staff to our new Environmental Education Coordinator. He will be assisting our environmental education programs such as Teach for the Watershed, stormwater education, and raising awareness about zero waste living. Starting out as an environmental education intern in 2016, Kyle has been involved with WMEAC for several years and is looking forward to have this opportunity to improve West Michigan’s appreciation for natural resources.

Kyle graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2018 with a B.S. in Natural Resources Management and Geology. He always has had an appreciation for the natural sciences and enjoys teaching others about the environment. “My favorite subject in school was always science and I definitely asked my teachers a lot of questions,” he said. “I’m grateful to be in a position to fulfill the curiosity of today’s students and encourage them to be future scientists.” In his spare time Kyle enjoys spending time in Grand Rapids’ many parks, biking, and hammocking.

In addition to our new hires, WMEAC is creating a lending library of educational materials for teachers and other groups that may be interested in borrowing equipment such as the Enviroscape watershed model, waders, and more. We are also in the process of developing more classroom programs to reach beyond our current focus on sixth grade with our Teach for the Watershed program. So stay tuned for those!

One of the most important aspects of what we do is education. With the hiring of Thea and Kyle and the start of new initiatives, we are excited to continue our work in educating the community on important environmental issues.

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