Border-Wide EE Conference in Ciudad Juárez a Great Success!
Environmental Educators work together to share resources, ideas, strategies, and tools in the first binational, bilingual NAAEE conference in Mexico
By Kristin Mock, Border Programs Assistant, EE Exchange
“Together we are stronger than we are separately.” conference program welcome letter, Brian Day, NAAEE Executive Director
With the mission of providing a safe and supportive place for the discussion of environmental programs and partnerships throughout the US-MX border regions, the first binational, bilingual NAAEE Border-Wide EE Conference took place in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, June 25-27, 2008. In conjunction with the Border 2012 Program, the Conference turned out to be an unforgettable opportunity to meet, share, and become familiar with the projects, work, and expertise of other educators in the region while also being a perfect place to design and begin implementing projects for the future. It was a positive, supportive, and enjoyable experience for the nearly 100 people from all across the U.S. and Mexico border states and beyond who participated and presented.
The Conference was made possible thanks to our generous sponsors and partnerships with the following organizations: the North American Association for Environmental Education, EPA Region 6, and the Environmental Education Exchange. It was also supported by EPA Region 9, the Border Environmental Cooperation Commission (BECC), the Municipal Government of Ciudad Juárez, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and Center for Education and Training for Sustainable Development (CECADESU). In addition, we are also very grateful for the generous donation from GRUMA Corporation and Mission Foods.
The event was hosted by Hotel Lucerna in Ciudad Juárez, a charming 5-star hotel on Triunfo de la República with excellent service, friendly employees, and an incredibly welcoming and helpful staff. The workshops and sessions were all held in the conference rooms—Milenio, Chemizal, Centuria, Juárez, and Cúpula—all of which were adjacent to the pool area. The rooms were well-equipped with wireless internet and a projector and laptop for each presenter.
The first day—Wednesday, June 25th—kicked off with a day of registration and half-day workshops. At the registration table, participants signed in and received a program printed on recycled paper, a totebag made of recycled plastic bottles, and a handmade nametag made from cardboard cut-outs and string. (Maintaining a “green” atmosphere was important to us, and we also placed recycle bins throughout the hotel as well). Participants were directed to the various conference rooms, where, at 2:00 p.m., they could attend the half-day workshop of their choosing. Led by such important figures as NAAEE Board Members Deb Thrall and Pepe Marcos-Iga, Executive Director Brian Day and Co-Chair of the Diversity Committee Gus Medina, the NAAEE presented a seminar entitled Creating an NAAEE Affiliate in Mexico: Exploratory Session, which discussed the benefits and opportunities associated with being an NAAEE Affiliate and the continuing search for the first affiliate in Mexico. The conversation evolved into seven general categories: looking at the EE community from a historical perspective to establish a baseline of activity and accomplishment from which to measure success; how to keep the communication momentum going after the conference in a large country where many practitioners feel isolated in small communities; trying to eliminate cultural as well as binational barriers; how to sustain funding beyond the seed money for the conference; identifying different needs of the practitioners; and defining what existing curriculum is available to everyone. “Having the presence of key leaders from CECADESU, EPA and NAAEE, side by side with EE practitioners from the border region, allowed for a truly open and horizontal discussion where all voices were heard, true cross-border exchange occurred, and next steps for action were defined,” said NAAEE Board Member Marcos-Iga.
Also presented during Wednesday’s half-day workshops were Research on Social Perceptions and Representations about Local Development and the Environment (methodological skills for conducting studies about the environment) and Involving K-12 Students in Monitoring of Riparian Habitats for Natural Resource Agencies (protocols used for helping students gather data for the University of New Mexico). At 6:30, everyone relocated to the pool area, where we enjoyed a Welcoming Cocktail with a cash bar, free soda and juice, and a palette of regional Chihuahuan hors d’ouevres. This was a great first opportunity to meet with old friends and make new ones as we prepared for two full days of interesting and enlightening sessions.
Thursday morning started off at 8:30 with an exciting Opening Plenary Session, in which Salvador Morelos Ochoa, head of CECADESU (Center for Education and Training for Sustainable Development), presented Building Together the Environmental Education Strategies for the Northern Mexico Border States. The session was a great start to a long day of over 24 concurrent sessions, hands-on presentations, and small group panels. Since our presenters had submitted a variety of compelling presentations, participants could choose their itinerary based on their personal interests and goals. Lunch resumed in the Cúpula room at 1:00 p.m. and picked up where the morning’s Plenary left off with an interactive panel and series of short presentations by a panel of experts. Participants, while dining on salad, chicken molé, beef tamales, and cooked vegetables, could offer their own points of view on the strategies presented in the morning. The session evolved into an engaging dialogue of feedback, ideas, and recommendations about the CECADESU initiative.
Concurrent sessions continued at 2:30 p.m. and lasted until 5:00 p.m. By this time, we were ready for the Poster Session and Share Fair, which also took place in the Cúpula room. Beverages were served alongside carrot and celery sticks with chile powder. Participants perused a roomful of posters, tables, exhibit booths, and exchanged short synopses with each other about local projects, research, and programs being carried out in the border regions. Then, at 7:00, everyone met in the reception for the bus trip to the Ex-Aduana Museum in downtown Juárez, where we planned the Evening Reception.
The Evening Reception was an amazing experience. The event, hosted by the Municipality of Ciudad Juárez, was a chance for the city of Juárez to welcome participants from all across the border regions in the US and Mexico. A representative from the local municipal government gave a friendly speech welcoming everyone with open arms and enthusiastically thanked us for our environmental work in the border regions. There was a delicious assortment of warm snacks and an open bar, where people could order beverages of their choice. Though the event was scheduled to end at 9:00, by 10:00, the live band was still playing and everyone was still dancing and mingling with each other. It was an exhausting yet exceptionally fulfilling day.
Friday—the last day of the conference—consisted of both full and half-day workshops. The workshops, which ranged from Profitable Environmental Management (strategies of optimization of resources) to Project Learning Tree (how to incorporate activities in the PreK-8 classroom) to Ensuring Sustainable Community Partnerships through Cultural Competency (strategies for forming sustainable partnerships) to Guidelines for Excellence in Environmental Education (how to develop cohesive EE programs), commenced at 9:00 a.m. and continued until 6:30, when everyone connected back in the Juárez room for ending comments. There was a short lunch of beef and chicken tacos in the foyer during the break. At the Closing Session, Pepe Marcos-Iga, who is also the Border Programs Coordinator for the EE Exchange in Tucson, Arizona, gave some very inspiring remarks about the future of EE in the border regions and passed around sign-up sheets for future forums and discussions, which will take place online. The three major initiatives which will continue being discussed—all of which involve collaboration between NAAEE, CECADESU, and EPA—are:
1. The formalization of the Border-Wide EE Coalition as an NAAEE Affiliate
2. The adaptation of the Guidelines for Excellence into a set specifically tailored to Mexican EE, and
3. The interest of EPA Region 6 to implement elements of the strategy presented by CECADESU on both sides of the border.
The Conference concluded on a motivating and exciting note.
Comments we received about the conference were supportive, positive, and optimistic. For example, Thrall noted that “the conference was conducted in both English and Spanish with simultaneous translation, and the individuals doing the translation also spoke of how much they learned about their country’s EE during the conference.” For most, it was inspiring to learn about the inquisitive and interesting work happening all across the border regions in addition to meeting and having the chance to work with educators in many different disciplines. The event offered a substantial list of benefits to those who attended, some of which include:
1. Refreshing collaborative relations between Environmental Educators in the US-MX border regions
2. Highlighting projects, work, research, and expertise in various areas all across the border
3. Being a safe space to discuss future potential affiliation with the NAAEE in Mexico
4. Providing educators with a platform for future projects and ongoing collaborations
We are so grateful to everyone who participated and presented and also to the City of Juárez for their welcoming and hospitable community. We're looking forward to next time!
For questions or comments about the conference or other projects, please send us an email at email@example.com.
Also, please view more pictures from the conference here.
Contributors to this story included Pepe Marcos-Iga (firstname.lastname@example.org), Border Programs Coordinator for EE Exchange in Tucson, Arizona, and Deb Thrall, executive director of the Albert I. Pierce Foundation.