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Alex’s Goodbye – Becoming an Environmental Educator

Today’s post comes from Alex Mullen-Ley who has been ILACSD’s Environmental Educator for the past year. Alex grew up in San Diego and graduated with honors from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in Environmental Studies, focusing her education on fresh water management and political ecology. Alex has been an amazing asset to the ILACSD team and we will all miss her as she moves on to continue her environmental education!

If you had told me five years ago that I would end up teaching K-12 students I would have never believed you.  I didn’t think I had the patience or the temperament required to be an educator.  And yet for the past year I have been standing in front of thousands of elementary school students, high school students, and even adults, teaching them about the causes of water pollution and how individuals can take action to protect the environment and care for their communities.

My time as the Environmental Educator at I Love A Clean San Diego has been an incredible learning experience. It is not easy to inspire 30+ young people, each with a unique background and different strengths and weaknesses, to listen and learn. Looking back on the past year I think it’s pretty unbelievable that only myself, the Education Coordinator, Samantha, and the two part time educators (four people!) spoke with over 30,000 students countywide.

One of the greatest challenges of being an environmental educator is redirecting the conversation away from the “gloom and doom” of the environmental problems and focusing instead on a more positive message.  Some students would groan audibly when they discovered that I would be talking about water pollution prevention, “Aww man, this is going to be boring!” But when I learned to focus my lectures on suggesting simple but tangible things that they could do to help solve the problems, the students were suddenly much more engaged and excited.

Over 1000 students & volunteers brought Alex’s design to life!

My favorite event while at ILACSD was Kids’ Ocean Day. I participated in last year’s event as part of the support staff but this year I was responsible for designing the aerial art and giving assemblies to the participating schools. The assembly was one of my favorite presentations because it was all about empowering students to protect the ocean and getting them excited about the beach cleanup and aerial art. The success of this year’s event is a testament to how well the staff works together. I’m not being egotistical when I say that the event was picture perfect.

Though much of my time was spent visiting schools around San Diego County, I did have the opportunity to work closely with the other staff members at ILCASD. I helped out with cleanups and development events, and worked the booth at countless community events. Because ILACSD’s events always run so smoothly, it isn’t obvious how much effort and coordination go into organizing them. The staff members at ILACSD are very good at what they do, whether that is educating the youth, coordinating events, or managing a fast-growing organization.

I have a good reason for leaving my position at ILACSD- I am going to begin graduate school at Scripps Institution of Oceanography where I will pursue my interests in ecosystem-based marine management. But I am grateful for all of the experiences that I have had as the Environmental Educator and I will miss being part of such an inspired, dedicated, and successful nonprofit. I wish only the very best for everyone at ILACSD and I will continue to attend cleanups and volunteer for other events. Thank you, thank you, thank you!