"I'm passionate about the woods and I want to pass that appreciation on to our children."
You're just as likely to find Jane Thornes teaching under open skies as in her walled classroom in St. Maries, Idaho.
"You have to get outside to learn about outside," says the environmental educator who has been teaching elementary
school students for more than 20 years.
Thornes and her husband Jim live and work on their 270-acre family forest, Pettis Peak Tree Farms, Thornes leads forest
tours and classes, which have become favorite activities for her third and fourth graders as well as with Scout troops and
diverse groups from surrounding communities.
Here, audiences experience first-hand the many activities involved in sustaining a working forest. "They've been
pretty popular over the years," says Thornes. "We show visitors the process of pre-commercial thinning, the piling
and burning of slash, even how to set chokers and we appreciate the opportunity to give people a better
understanding of the work that goes into a well-managed forestland.
There are lots of roads you can take to become an environmental educator, but a good grounding in life
sciences such as biology, chemistry and ecology certainly help.
"My first degrees were in sociology and biology and then I went back to school to get my elementary education
degree," she explains. "But the most important thing is to read, explore, get outside and not be afraid to follow
Thornes knows that real life experiences are the best lessons. After noticing dead and dying
Subalpine Fir trees along a highway, she worked with the U.S. Forest Service to identify the
balsam wooly adelgid as the likely cause. It was also the perfect opportunity to involve her
students in a valuable research project.
"The kids learned that this tiny, aphid-like insect spreads to Grand Fir trees, a valuable
timber species in our area," explains Thornes. She challenged and inspired her
students to collect scientific data from site study plots, information that the
U.S. Forest Service can use as it addresses the problem.
Thornes has been a facilitator for Project Learning Tree (the gold standard in
environmental education programs in schools across the country) since
1999, instructing forestland owners, other teachers from Idaho, and
Girl Scout leaders from the United States, Canada, and the
"I've been lucky to have lived in the woods for 34 years and I've always
enjoyed the outdoors. It doesn't get much better than being outside,
in a beautiful setting and helping others to learn and teach about
our natural resources."
Year after year, Thornes receives recognition and awards for her
work. In 2006, Project Learning Tree named her one of five
finest environmental educators in the nation. In 2007
she was recognized as Idaho's elementary environmental
educator of the year by The Idaho Environmental
Thornes, however, prefers to talk about her students' work.
"It's very exciting and satisfying to receive recognition for
the teaching work," she explains, "but my most exciting
moments are when I see the light go on as a young
person discovers a passion for nature and know I
helped turn the switch."
Recently, one of her former 4th grade students,
now heading off to college, told Thornes that
her classes, field trips and activities led her
to choose biology as her major. "I can't tell
you how excited I was," she enthuses.
That's worth more than all the awards
in the world!"
Want to know more?
º What is Environmental Education? (PLT):
º North American Association for Environmental Education:
º Idaho Environmental Education Association:
º Every Student Learns Outside (PLT):
º Project Learning Tree:
º Idaho Project Learning Tree:
º Project Wet:
º Project Wild:
º Idaho Forest Owners Association:
Click for larger image:
Idaho Forest Products Commission
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