DEP EMPLOYEE NAMED NEW JERSEY ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR
Environmental education. A new concept? Not for Tanya Oznowich, an environmental
education specialist at the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
She wants it everywhere. In the schools, in the community, at nature centers,
in homes, in business and on the lips of every citizen in the state.
"For me, it's not really a new concept, just a new and different way of
learning. It's a lot more, for instance, than just showing textbook pictures of
aquatic insects to students in the classroom. It's about making nets and
taking students and adults outdoors to a stream to catch these tiny creatures.
I remember many times when I had to remind excited parents and student aides to
share their nets with the students. Hands-on learning was not practiced when I
and these other adults were growing up," said Oznowich.
Oznowich has spent more than 20 years in the field of environmental education,
working on ways to effectively deliver environmental lessons to educators,
students, parents, families and the public.
State Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Shinn appointed her as his
designee to the 29-member New Jersey Commission on Environmental Education
in 1995. She spent two years working with committees at the Department of
Education (DOE) to help develop environmental standards for Governor Whitman's
new academic standards for grades (K-12) especially in the social studies,
sciences and art. She successfully obtained a critique from 40 science
professionals at DEP to assure that key science content standards were
comprehensive and accurate. Currently, she is working with dozens of
environmental education professionals to select potential environmental lessons
to be taught in support of these standards.
More importantly, though, she helped the state achieve a significant first
for New Jersey's school systems. Teachers will be required to teach
environmental content and skills in the classroom and encourage environmental
To assist educators in learning how to integrate environmental education into
the classroom, Oznowich recently obtained a $30,150 grant from the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a series of eight pilot workshops. The
workshops will enable department staff to redesign and enhance
New Jersey by DEP-Project Learning Tree, Project WILD, Aquatic WILD, and the
Wetlands Institute's Project WET.
"We will be using some real life situations from the environment and
activities from these well-known books for teachers. We might ask teachers to
work on projects involving measuring the slope of a hillside, drawing a map of
the community, reducing school lunch waste, restoring flora and fauna to a local
waste lot, researching an industrial process, or collecting and examining leaves
and acquatic insects. These are all examples of how to make environmental
education meaningful and fun," says Oznowich.
The grant will cover the pilot workshops and training programs. Each workshop
will offer an activity guide with 50 to 90 activities which teachers may use
as hands-on activities or incorporate into a course on the environment.
Although the grant is for one year, DEP's newly improved environmental workshops
will continue to benefit more than 800 teachers yearly. Those who complete a
training course will be able to instruct other teachers.
Oznowich points out that bringing environmental teaching to an already busy
classroom and to an already burdened teacher, is not always well received. She
says lack of time, resources, training and knowledge often preclude teachers from
even thinking that it can be worthwhile.
"Sound environmental education is a balanced, engaging, and interactive way
of teaching,"she says. It's real-life learning. It can be as exciting as
having the kids go outside and draw a map of the community or having them come
inside and view a map of their community on a high-tech computer. What better way
is there to nurture young citizens?"
A 10-year veteran at DEP, Oznowich was recently selected Environmental Educator of
the Year by the New Jersey Education Association. She will be a panelist on an
interactive television show discussing the integration of environmental education
with the state's new academic standards. The program will be made into a video
and available to schools throughout New Jersey.
"Studying our environment is simply examining a piece of reality. It
takes place at a complex crossroad, where science and nature interface with history,
culture, economics, politics, planning and development, industry, conservation and
ethics," she says. "It's important that people of all ages understand
these relationships and learn to manage, solve problems and make the best decisions
possible, knowing that their actions or behaviors usually effect the environment in
Oznowich is one of the founding members of the Alliance for New Jersey Environmental
Education (ANJEE) where she has served as an advisor and officer for 13 years, and
is a member of the North American Association for Environmental Education. She is
currently an advisor to the New Jersey Geography Alliance and is the educational
consultant to Partners for Environmental Quality.
She presently represents Commissioner Shinn on the New Jersey Commission for
National and Community Service, hosted by DOE. The purpose of the commission is
to oversee AmeriCorps and other national service programs in New Jersey. A primary
focus is environmental action in the community and the recruitment of volunteers.
Additionally, she is working on developing environmental education program models for
volunteer, community service and service learning organizations to demonstrate ways
that environmental study, protection and enhancement activities can benefit the
environment while also improving a student's self-esteem, community awareness and
Oznowich has received numerous awards in the field of environmental education
including the President's Award for Science Education from the New Jersey Science
Supervisors Association in 1994 and the Environmental Education award from the NJ
Audubon Society in 1993. She is the former president and former board member of
the Youth Environmental Society.
"To me, the environment is like the multi-purpose room in my old elementary
school. It's used as a cafeteria, band room, gymnasium and theater, all rolled
into one. The same place with many uses. Bringing students outdoors or bringing
the outdoors in often makes students more excited to learn. What a magical way to
teach math, science and the environment."