Society & Culture

Area teachers take part in Garden Earth Naturalist training at the State Botanical Garden

Garden earth training bot garden-h
Tracy Chiu (left)

Athens, Ga. – Twenty-two kindergarten through fifth-grade teachers from across Georgia attended a five-day professional development workshop at the State Botanical Garden at the University of Georgia June 2-6. These teams of two to three teachers from public schools in Oconee, Jackson, Forsyth, Cobb and Fulton counties were chosen from a competitive pool of applicants to attend the Garden Earth Naturalist program.

During the workshop, participants learned about their school sites as ecosystems and how to encourage children to learn from nature by taking instruction outside. There were classroom lectures and hands-on exercises in the State Botanical Garden.

“Garden Earth has been a wonderful experience,” said Bill Nelson, a second-grade teacher at Colham Ferry Elementary School in Oconee County. “I have been exposed to so many activities that I know my students will love doing. The hands-on investigations will help my students evolve into lifelong learners and stewards of the Earth.”

The Garden Earth Naturalist program is taught by Anne Shenk, director of education at the State Botanical Garden; Carol Hoffman, an education specialist in the UGA Odum School of Ecology; and Deborah Tippins, a science professor in the UGA College of Education.

The teachers participating in the workshop will continue their work later in the year, completing online training to earn five professional learning unit credits. They will have access to lessons through a manual and the GEN website ( and will share lessons and handouts they develop with each other online. Although schools do not have to create gardens to benefit from these resources, many will develop projects such as butterfly gardens, ecosystems for pollinators, after-school clubs or a family science night. The GEN lessons meet the state science curriculum.

“The Garden Earth Naturalist program inspires teachers to foster a love of nature in children, while also encouraging and promoting stewardship of the Earth,” said Kathy Venable of Gum Springs Elementary School in Jackson County. “I can’t wait to put the lessons to practice at my school.”

The GEN program is a collaboration of three UGA units: the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, the Odum School of Ecology and the College of Education department of math and science education. It is federally funded by the Teacher Quality Program for the Improvement of Math and Science Education.

State Botanical Garden of Georgia
A unit of the University of Georgia Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach, the State Botanical Garden of Georgia provides the general public as well as UGA faculty, staff and students opportunities for recreation, events, research and learning through its natural areas, display gardens and building spaces. The State Botanical Garden is located at 2450 South Milledge Ave., Athens, one mile south of the Athens Perimeter. For more information, see