Agriculture teacher Jodi Riedel named N.C. Environmental Educator of the Year

Jodi Riedel, a College of Agriculture and Life Sciences alumna and Wakefield High School agriculture and horticulture teacher, has received North Carolina’s highest honor for environmental education, the Environmental Educator of the Year Award bestowed by the N.C. Wildlife Federation.

Riedel will be honored at the 47th annual Governor’s Conservation Achievement Awards banquet at a hotel near the Raleigh-Durham International Airport in September.

Riedel began her teaching career eight years ago at Wakefield in Wake County, after earning a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Michigan State University and her master’s in agricultural and extension education from N.C. State.
As part of her thesis project under Drs. Jim Flowers, Gary Moore and Elizabeth Wilson, Riedel found urban agricultural literacy to be lacking, and she has focused her teaching career at least in part on trying to raise students’ understanding of and appreciation for agriculture.

Riedel gained such appreciation while growing up in Hastings, Mich., a blue-collar town where she lived on an exotic animal farm that her family operated as a hobby. She says her mother was her role model for teaching, presenting her with tangible lessons about the natural environment that surrounded her.

At Wakefield, Riedel — who calls herself a “tree hugger” — incorporates hands-on learning that takes advantage of the school’s setting on a former dairy farm surrounded by wooded and wetland areas.  She manages a 1,800-square-foot greenhouse, multiple gardens — including an organic vegetable garden — and a 150-member FFA club.

Riedel incorporates into her classes a forestry curriculum she wrote when she took part in N.C. State University’s Kenan Fellows Program. She has used the curriculum — cited as one of the reasons she won the Environmental Educator award — with 700 of her students. She’s also trained dozens of other teachers throughout the state to incorporate the curriculum in their science, agriculture and horticulture classes.

Riedel designed the guide to help her students explore the value of North Carolina’s forestry industry, learn skills used in the industry and find out about forest ecology, tree identification, forestry careers and sustainable forestry practices.

The curriculum informs students of the role that trees play in their lives by serving as the source for newspapers, books, magazines, tissues, paper towels, housing materials, furniture, desks, fences, boxes, and other wood products. It also points out that trees provide ingredients for such products as cosmetics and acne medications.

The lessons also cover the environmental benefits of having a forestry industry. Riedel notes that one acre of trees consumes the amount of carbon dioxide equal to what is produced by driving a car for 26,000 miles and produces enough oxygen for 18 people to breathe for one year.

Through the lessons, Riedel says that students start to sort out fact from fiction when it comes to the criticism they’ve heard about clear-cutting and other forestry practices.

“Students are not apathetic. This generation of kids is doing more for the environment than my generation did — or your generation,” she said. “And the more informed they are, the more passionate they are — and the more able they are to make informed choices.”

Riedel wrote the five-lesson guide while she was a Kenan Fellow from 2006 to 2008. The prestigious Kenan program promotes teacher leadership, addresses teacher retention and advances K-12 science, technology and mathematics education. The fellows are competitively selected public school teachers from diverse disciplines.

As part of the fellowship, Riedel studied in Chile and Asheville. Her mentor for the project was Dr. Susan Moore, extension assistant professor and director of the Forestry and Environmental Outreach Program in N.C. State’s College of Natural Resources. She also got help from the Weyerhaeuser Co.; Renee Strnad, coordinator of N.C. Cooperative Extension’s Project Learning Tree; and the N.C. Forestry Association’s Director of Education Jennifer Grantham.

Riedel credits N.C. State University for helping her and her students succeed. Several of her students have gone on to study in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and its Agricultural Institute, and she’s grown new teaching alliances with student teachers she’s mentored through N.C. State’s Agricultural and Extension Education program. Those teachers share, she says, her passion for innovative education and for agriculture.

“I love agriculture,” she says, “and I’m passionate about making people aware of its importance in our everyday lives.”

— Dee Shore

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