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Natasha Parsons, an eighth grade science teacher at Garrard Middle School and a 2007 and 2012 EKU alumna, won the M.K. Dickerson Outstanding Educator Award for Excellence in Environmental Education from the Kentucky Association of Environmental Education (KAEE) during its 45th annual convention in September. 

“My reaction to the award was complete shock,” Parsons said. “I found out that I had a few supportive teachers and community members who nominated me, among them Jessica Atallah, our GMS social studies teacher, and Eric Comley, Garrard County 4-H agent.”

The M.K. Dickerson Outstanding Educator Award recognizes those who exemplify dedication, commitment and influence in the field of environmental education, said Ashley Hoffman, executive director of KAEE. The award is named for a beloved environmental educator and past KAEE president who passed away in 2015. The award has been given to educators since 2001 and renamed after Dickerson in 2016.

“This past year has been challenging with virtual learning switching to in-person learning,” Parsons said. “When students came back to school I wanted to make sure that it was a year they would never forget. Because students couldn’t take field trips out into the community, I asked the community to come to them.” 

The community delivered. With the help of a variety of organizations, Parsons facilitated discussions and hands-on lessons related to invasive species, sought out resources to provide a program from the Kentucky Reptile Zoo, and worked with the local 4-H Youth Development Agent to provide aquatic-based programming on stream health and aquatic macroinvertebrate collection. Local farmers brought livestock to the school, allowing students to see, smell, and touch the animals. She also revived the school’s greenhouse that had not been used in more than a decade. 

“My goal was to get students outside learning and doing as much as possible,” Parsons said. “Teaching has to change. Content should be valuable, usable, applicable. That is what I want to give students.”

“Ms. Parsons has a way of making environmental education fun for every student whether they have grown up on a farm or if they’ve never lived in a home with a yard,” said Jessica Atallah, 6th grade teacher at Garrard Middle School. “Her students speak so highly of her and will even come in voluntarily to work in the school’s greenhouse. She is the hidden gem of Garrard Middle School.”

Parsons’ creativity has been noticed.

“Last week one of my students said, ‘I love this class.’ When I asked why, he said, ‘Because we are learning things we can actually use in the real world.’” 

Parsons, who earned a Bachelor’s degree in agricultural education and a Master’s degree in Middle School Teaching with an emphasis in environmental education, has taught at GMS for three years. 

KAEE is one of the country’s oldest associations supporting environmental education.

“It is an honor to have this opportunity to share the exceptional achievements of our award winners and the work they are doing to educate and provide a better future for all Kentuckians,” Hoffman said.