When Dot Kay retired after 30 years teaching in McDuffie County public schools, she didn’t abandon her love for teaching, science or the outdoors. She combined them.
As environmental education coordinator at McDuffie Environmental Education Center in Dearing, Kay teams with her husband, Steve, also a retired teacher, to help students and fellow teachers better understand natural sciences and Georgia’s wildlife and other natural resources. For her work, the Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia recently named Dot the PreK-16 Formal Educator of the Year.
The alliance presented the award during a March 28 conference at Rock Eagle 4-H Center. Formed in 1992, the organization supports environmental educators throughout Georgia, pursuing its vision of achieving a statewide culture of environmental literacy and stewardship.
The honor for Kay is fitting, according to Ed Bettross, who supervises the Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ McDuffie Public Fishing Area and Fish Hatchery and staffing at the education center. The center is housed at McDuffie and supported in part by DNR’s Nongame Conservation Section.
“Dot has a great passion for educating today's youth about the world they live in and it shows in her commitment to the McDuffie Environmental Education Center,” Bettross said. “We are excited about the direction the MEEC is taking under Dot's efforts.”
The education center near Augusta is one of seven the DNR Wildlife Resources Division operates statewide with other agencies, school systems and organizations. The goal is to cultivate awareness and understanding of wildlife resources, promoting wise stewardship and ethical nature-based recreation.
The McDuffie center is a collaboration between the DNR, the McDuffie Board of Education, the Watson-Brown Foundation and the Central Savannah River Area Regional Educational Service Agency.
Michelle Zupan of the Watson-Brown Foundation nominated Kay for the award, saying Kay took her and others “under her wing” to help guide her to reliable sources for creating education programs. “Mrs. Kay is a unique and rare educator who genuinely loves what she does,” Zupan wrote.
Beyond the “day-to-day demonstration of excellence,” Jennifer McCoy of the Environmental Education Alliance said Kay’s mentoring stood out. “Her willingness to share her experiences and help others develop their practice as professional environmental educators is a tremendous contribution to our field.”
For Kay, the mix of field trips and groups – varying from students to teachers – is grounded in lessons tied to state education standards and supported by the ample outdoor learning opportunities at the 570-acre site, from nature trails to beaver dams to fish in hatchery raceways.
“It’s the best part of teaching,” she said. “It’s teaching like it should be, where you’re not limited to what’s between the two covers on a book and the four walls of a classroom.”
Kay, who has worked at the McDuffie center since 2005, also credits her husband. “I come up with the wild ideas and Steve is the one who helps make them work. It’s a team effort.”
Bettross said the couple puts “an extraordinary effort into developing programs that are high quality.” One result is more schools are using the center. On-site visitor totals top about 5,000 each year.
- DNR Wildlife Resources Division regional education centers, www.georgiawildlife.com/education/regional-education-centers
- McDuffie Environmental Education Center, www.georgiawildlife.com/node/696 and www.themeec.org
- Environmental Education Alliance of Georgia, www.eealliance.org