An environmental education

March 2, 2020

B.S. in Natural Resources and a Certificate in Environmental Studies from the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies (2004)

As a first-grade teacher and the Green Team leader at Purdy Elementary School in Fort Atkinson, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies alumna Kristin Halverson is working to increase her students’ connection with nature through environmental projects. A National Geographic certified educator, Halverson and her students have been involved in a number of environmental projects and programs including the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Green and Healthy Schools program through which her students recently won the DNR Excellence in Recycling – Overall Program award for 2019. While Halverson’s interest in conservation education began when she was young, she attributes much of her continued interest in the area to her student experience at the Nelson Institute.

“Growing up, my parents took my sister and me to the Boundary Waters on canoe camping trips and on camping trips to the National Parks each summer. We were so fortunate to be able to do this,” Halverson said. “This foundation of environmental issues and conservation was significantly added onto as I spent my four years at UW-Madison, particularly all the time in my IES [Nelson Institute] classes. I had so many influential professors. They left a permanent mark on my soul and inspired me to want to do the same for others.”

Halverson says she was particularly influenced by the hands-on teaching that occurred throughout the Nelson Institute classrooms.

“I will never forget the unique teaching style of Cal DeWitt – the day we spent connecting, exploring, engaging and journaling in the Arboretum as well as visiting his wetland and reliving my youth,” Halverson said. “He made me feel important, like my ideas mattered, and like he cared about me as a person – teaching me the importance of a foundation built on a personal connection with all of my students in order to best reach them. Not only were these professors highly influential in developing my need to educate and my connection to nature, they also gave me the background knowledge in these areas that I so often find myself coming back to in an effort to educate others. I can’t let go of many of the books I purchased for my courses, 16 years later, as they were so influential. The professors and other students in these classes helped me to learn how to think, and not what to think, a legacy I hope I am living up to with my own students.”

In an effort to instill this same knowledge and love of nature in her students, Halverson has made it a point to engage with her students on a number of environment-related projects. With the help of three other teachers, Halverson leads the school’s Green Team- a group of about 20 fourth and fifth-grade students who are environmentally-inclined and involved with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Green and Healthy Schools program. Together, students and teachers work on local projects that will help to “reduce environmental impacts and costs, improve health and wellness, and increase environmental and sustainability literacy.”  

“We have projects that are the same each year, such as ensuring the Brietzke Educational Wetland (across the street from our school) stays clean and helping care for the courtyard gardens,” Halverson said. “In recent years, we have implemented a straw-reduction/elimination campaign, started recycling milk cartons, crayons and markers, created educational videos for students/staff on topics of conservation/recycling and participated in games such as Cool Choices in partnership with Green and Healthy Schools Wisconsin.”

As a result of this work, and additional projects, The Purdy Elementary School Green Team was one of the recipients of the DNR Excellence in Recycling – Overall Program award for 2019.

“Since I lead the Green Team, I nominated us for this award, feeling we had a good chance after all the work we had done in the past five years,” Halverson said. “Personally, I feel great pride in being recognized for all the hours of additional work we put in on these projects. I inherited a healthy program – our school had the fortune of already having geothermal energy, solar panels, water-bottle fillers, and more. My personal vision, however, and all the work it took to see it come true (with many more ideas for the future) was validated by winning this award.”

This year, Halverson and the Green Team are continuing their environmental work, fundraising to eliminate some invasive phragmites from a plot of land in their schoolyard. Next year, they’ll be replanting the area with natives to help the insects, birds, and other animals in the area. Halverson has also brought in naturalists from Aldo Leopold Nature Center as well as the Kohl’s WILD Theater twice a year.

“We have some really dedicated kids this year and it is exciting to see them get into it – to match my level of interest and excitement,” Halverson said.

In addition to her work with the Green Team, Halverson has also obtained her National Geographic Educator Certification, which helps educators to develop skills to help create inter-disciplinary lessons/units that approach real-world problems from a variety of perspectives and “create the next generation of world changers.” As a National Geographic Certified Educator, Halverson also has access to other opportunities within the National Geographic Education arena – including being linked with a National Geographic Explorer in the field for an entire year or applying to be a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow.

Halverson also participates in outside consulting, most recently for one year on a video series with the National Science Teacher’s Association (NSTA). NSTA is working on a multi-year project with Generation Genius, a program started by Dr. Jeffrey Vinokur, aka “The Dancing Scientist,” who studied biochemistry at UW-Madison. She was also a recent recipient of the Go Outside Grant from the Natural Resources Foundation of Wisconsin which allowed her to take both first-grade classes at Purdy Elementary for a full-day of winter exploration at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center.

“Being involved in environmental projects is important to me because we can’t ask people to protect things they don’t love or feel any connection to/have knowledge of,” Halverson said. “By educating the students and staff at Purdy, I hope to help increase the connection to nature. Kids aren’t spending nearly enough time, as a whole, outside – playing, imagining, observing, connecting, exploring, and engaging. I have always felt at home in nature and feel compelled to help encourage the joy that I felt there and a connection to nature that I see sorely lacking in many children, and adults, today. We are at a crucial point in our world – there are so many environmental crises that humans are making worse. By encouraging a connection to and love of nature in today’s youth, I have hope for the future.”

Photo courtesy of Kristin Halverson