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Top local teachers grab state awards

January 12, 2011
By CLAIRE ABENT Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - Two local teachers have been honored by the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education for their work with children in those areas. Chuck Delpier, an earth science teacher at Negaunee Middle School, received the Julian Smith Award, the highest honor given by the organization each year. The award is named for a Michigan State University faculty member who pioneered outdoor education in Michigan in the 1950s and '60s.

Delpier, who has been teaching for 28 years, began his semester-long Environmental Adventures class in 1995. He teaches the class twice a year and sometimes twice a semester.

"I feel honored. I feel like I'm standing on the shoulders of giants," Delpier said. "I'm just really honored to be part of this organization. Although it is small in number, it is big in impact on kids, families and the environment itself," he said.

Article Photos

From left, Rachel Ring, Kaylee O’Connor and Noel Grant talk with teacher Chuck Delpier while they wait for their food to cook. The students were practicing for an upcoming overnight trip to Hogback Mountain. (Journal photo by Claire Abent)

One of the things Delpier does with his students is take them on a 24-hour overnight trip to Hogback Mountain. The students cook outside, sleep outside, make a fire and hike up to the top of the mountain. They also learn valuable lessons about keeping warm and safe outdoors.

"It's a process of learning ahead of time and practicing step by step what they're going to do in the 24 hour day," he said. "It's about keeping the kids safe yet challenging them. I'm feeling lucky that I get the opportunity to do this with the kids. You get the kids to form a reality about this themselves."

He notes that not every child has a lot of exposure to the environment and this type of overnight gets them that type of experience, whether they end up enjoying it or not.

"I'm hoping some of them get connected with the outdoors at some point," he said.

Delpier has also led several backpacking trips to Isle Royale National Park, is a Project WILD workshop facilitator and frequently presents at MooseWood Nature Center in Marquette.

Karen Bacula, a biology, anatomy and environmental science teacher at Marquette Senior High School, received a MAEOE Recognition Award, given to two individuals a year to recognize significant contributions to the fields of environmental and outdoor education in a specialized area, such as journalism, photography, curriculum development or the arts. She has been teaching for more than 15 years.

"I'm humbled," she said. "I'm honored and thrilled by the recognition. It was a wonderful thing to have because it involves people throughout the state."

She teaches environmental biology, as well as advises the environmental club at MSHS. She co-directed a seventh grade outdoor science camp at Bothwell Middle School and also worked on programming and camps at MooseWood Nature Center.

Four other teachers and two organizations in the U.P. also received recognition from the MAEOE. Mike Benda, assistant principal, science teacher and team leader for the Jeffers High School outdoor and environmental education project at Lake Perrault and the Brown Nature Sanctuary; Janet Larson, a fourth grade teacher with Stanton Township Public Schools and active outdoor educator; Melissa Schneiderhan, fifth grade teacher and team leader for C-L-K Elementary School's garden learning experience; and Helen Stenvig, fifth grade teacher at C.J. Sullivan Elementary School in L'Anse and team leader for a K-5 School Forest Project there, where all were recognized for their years of effort to engage students in hands-on environmental and outdoor learning.

Claire Abent can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her e-mail address is



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