A Blue Mountains City Council officer has won both the NSW Environmental Educator of the Year award, as well as a NSW Government Education Award for outstanding contribution to environmental education.
Jenny Hill, one of council's environmental education and engagement officers, was recognised by the peak professional body for environmental educators - the NSW Australian Association for Environmental Education (AAEE) - at an awards ceremony on October 4.
Ms Hill is a member of Council's Healthy Waterways team who run Connecting with Nature; a hands-on environmental learning program, developed by council and run in partnership with local schools and early years learning centres. She was nominated by fellow team members Emma Kennedy and Alice Blackwood.
Ms Hill said the win was a great surprise, having only discovered she had been nominated two days prior to winning the award. In her acceptance speech she acknowledged that this work was only made possible through fantastic team work. She thanked, "...the strong connections we have made and continue to grow within our Connect with Nature team, across council, with community and of course our schools, pre-schools, teachers, parents and most importantly the children and young people who teach us just as much, or even more, than we teach them."
Connecting with Nature offers young people the opportunity to explore their local water catchment, learn why it's special and take action to protect it through the Connecting Kids, Creeks and Catchments program.
In the last five years, Connect with Nature educators have worked with council teams, the Stronger Families Alliance, the Blue Mountains Youth Council, community groups, more than 25 schools, more than 3500 students and an increasing number of pre-schools across the Mountains connecting children, young people and adults to Place.
Connect with Nature is popular with both teachers and students. One teacher noted: "The Connecting Kids to Creeks program was absolute gold for me as a teacher, as well as my class and the whole school."
A student who attended a session with Ms. Hill said, "The only thing I wanted to make it a better day was more time. More time walking, more time in the cave, more time looking at the water, more time with bugs... ... Could we camp there?"
Feedback from parents and carers has been similarly glowing, with one sharing: "My son is going to take us on a walk down the Charles Darwin Walk. I can't believe that we have not done it yet as a family. We have lived here for years. He won't stop talking about how wonderful it is. And now he wants to work for the council doing walks and talks about water creatures and weeds!"
Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill said: "On behalf of all councillors I congratulate Jenny on her awards and her commitment to excellence in environmental education. I thank all the Healthy Waterways Team for an exceptional program that provides children with meaningful engagement with our unique waterways. Connecting with Nature fosters a love of the Blue Mountains environment within its future custodians, and that helps secure its future."
AAEE aims to achieve a more sustainable future and positive environmental outcomes through education, engagement and capacity building.