Meet the 2017 Conservation Educator of Year: Jody Ullmann

Meet the 2017 Conservation Educator of Year: Jody Ullmann

By Mary Reid Barrow
Nov 11, 2017

Jody Ullmann 2

Conservation educator Jody Ullman is happy to be second-guessed by Mother Nature.

If Ullmann takes a group of children out to the Lynnhaven River’s edge to learn about, say, marsh grasses, and the kids get totally absorbed with ospreys flying overhead, Ullmann goes with the flow.

Her teaching turns to ospreys.

 “Sometimes Mother Nature has a much better lesson plan than I do,” Ullmann said.

Ullmann’s passion for putting children in touch with the environment is the reason the Garden Club of Virginia presented Ullmann its Conservation Educator Award 2017 at the club’s annual Conservation Forum in Charlottesville recently.

The Princess Anne Garden Club in Virginia Beach nominated Ullmann. Wendy Vaughn and Susan Ippolito wrote the nomination.

“Jody’s love of the environment and her desire to share it is clear to everyone who knows her,” said Ippolito, who has volunteered with Ullmann.

A Virginia Beach resident, Ullmann is Lynnhaven River Now’s education director. As the organization’s Pearl School Program coordinator, Ullman has signed up close to 80 of the Virginia Beach public schools as Pearl Schools. A Pearl School is recognized for its conservation activities, like recycling programs and improving school grounds with rain barrels, vegetable and flower gardens, rain gardens and more.

Ullmann also provides educational experiences for students of all ages that range from growing wetlands plants in the classroom to the annual Trashion Show in which fashion, marketing and environmental science classes create clothes designed from trash like paper and plastic.

“One of the things that so impresses me about Jody is that she can work with all age groups” said Karen Forget, director of Lynnhaven River Now. “She is as effective with preschoolers as she is with middle schoolers or adults.”

But as Ullmann told the garden club when she accepted the award, she is the only educator at Lynnhaven River Now, which is located in the Brock Center at Pleasure House Point.

“Since I am the education department,” she said, “it is not feasible for me to go in the schools, or to do traditional informal education programs.”

Instead, Ullmann has developed programs like the BUCKET program, which stands for Bundled Curriculum Kits for Environmental Teaching, to reach more students. The program, complete with red buckets of tools and materials, is designed for teachers, trained by Ullmann, to use with their students at Pleasure House Point.

For example, the Diamondback Terrapin Bucket Program is meant to teach students how to determine if Pleasure House Point is a good nesting spot for the salt marsh turtles.

Diamondback terrapins also have been one of the themes for Ullmann’s special program for preschoolers, called Science Preschool Activity Time or SPAT. Spat is also the term for baby oysters.

“Watching her interacting with the preschoolers is just delightful, whether she is dressed up as a terrapin, dancing and singing like a fish or reading a book about marshes,” Ippolito said.

 Barbara Imrich, who also volunteers with Ullmann, said that with Ullmann’s “enthusiasm and extensive knowledge, one thing leads to another.”

Any little thing a group comes across, like baby diamondback terrapin tracks or antlion traps in the sand, even bits of shell, is a teachable moment, Imrich noted.

“Everything is interconnected and whatever happens, she just picks up on it,” Imrich said. “She just takes off with it.”

At the garden clubs conservation forum, Ullmann offered tips on letting Mother Nature take the lead for the parents, grandparents and educators:

n The process is more important than the product.

n You are never too old to play in the dirt.

n When planting a garden, you are really not growing flowers and vegetables, you are growing curious young minds.

n Connecting children to the natural world makes lifelong stewards of the earth.

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