The MAEOE Robert Finton Outdoor Educator of the Year Award recognizes an individual who demonstrates leadership and innovation in environmental and outdoor education. Bob Finton personified enthusiasm, innovation and excellence in the field of environmental education. This award honors his memory by rewarding the efforts of those who strive for these qualities.
Bob attended Towson State University, where he majored in Biology. After graduating he began working in the Education Department of the Maryland Science Center. Bob was known for his dynamic stage presence as he performed in shows across the state.
While he was still at the Maryland Science Center, Bob began working with the Anita C. Leight Estuary Center, providing activities to supplement their summer camp program. Through this connection, he learned about the position with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for an Education Coordinator in the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Maryland, a position he held for several years. It was during his time with the DNR that Bob joined MAEOE and took an active role in planning the annual conference.
Bob was recognized posthumously as a “NOAA Environmental Hero” in 2006. In the press release, NOAA said “He made a tremendous contribution in elevating the visibility of the reserve system within NOAA and in establishing the Maryland NERR as a premier research and education venue. Finton combined his love for children, the outdoors and science with an incredible ability to entertain and engage people.”
The MAEOE Robert Finton Outdoor Educator of the Year Award will be an annual award and will be presented to the winner each year at the MAEOE Conference.
Recognition should be given to an individual who is a non-formal practitioner of outdoor education and works “in the trenches” as Bob did.
The nominee can be a representative, either paid or unpaid, of a Maryland outdoor education center, non-profit organization, service organization, resource agency, education-related business, or other organization whose mission is environmental education. (Classroom teachers are not eligible for this award.)
The nominee should demonstrate innovation and excellence in environmental education programming. Examples could include:
- Development of a program that reaches new audiences or underserved populations
- Work in a program that promotes or increases conservation practices
- Programming that develops and supports a positive stewardship ethic
- The nominee may not be a sitting member of the MAEOE Board of Trustees
- A highly successful ground-breaking environmental education effort
- Innovation in developing new interpretive or instructional methods
Previous Finton Winners
2022: Liz Wist
2021: Greg Kearns
2020: Kerry Wixted
2019: Antonia Bookbinder
Antonia Bookbinder, the 2019 Finton Award winner, is a true force of nature, making a difference in the Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation and in the communities it serves. As Sustainability Instructor with the Special Programs Division, she has worked with the Prince George’s County Department of the Environment and the Chesapeake Bay Trust to expand the Department’s public outreach about the impact of stormwater runoff on local watersheds, to engage volunteers in tree plantings to restore riparian buffers (more than 1,000 trees planted in 2017 and 2018!), and to strengthen the Department’s stewardship of green infrastructure projects.
Her efforts have led to park planners, landscape architects, landscapers, park maintenance supervisors, park rangers, and conservation outreach staff working together to coordinate management of stormwater management areas to maximize the ecological functions and educational potential of these areas and to engage park patrons and surrounding communities in stewardship of green infrastructure.
She supports the MAEOE Green School program through the Department’s out of school time programming for youth and teens. She created a series of curriculum-based activities for youth who attend afterschool childcare programs at local community centers, including a popular program helping children to recognize and manage feelings of fear and disgust (“so now that we’ve talked about feelings and tried some breathing exercises, let me introduce you to my hissing cockroaches!”). She has even worked with the Department’s childcare programs for County, Department, and public school employees: both facilities earned Green School certification in 2016.
She received Special Programs’ Green Center award in her Bag Monster costume, made of plastic bags sewn onto a lab coat to highlight the consumption of single-use plastic bags, and more recently, she’s donned an inflatable poop emoji costume to discuss pet waste. She believe strongly that everyone can become an advocate for behavior change and seeks to involve most people she meets in sustainability outreach.
2018: Curtis Bennett
Congratulations to the 2018 Robert Finton Award winner Curtis Bennett, Director of Conservation, Community Engagement at the National Aquarium.
At first glance, Curtis Bennett appears to be a quiet, unassuming kind of guy, but it doesn’t take long to discover and get infected by the dedicated passion he has for encouraging others to get involved in caring and learning about the natural world around us. As the Director of Conservation Community Engagement at the National Aquarium, Curtis spends a lot of time in the underserved communities of Brooklyn and Curtis Bay in South Baltimore. At Benjamin Franklin High School, Curtis has helped them plan, plant and maintain bay grasses in their courtyard to be used for shoreline restoration projects at sites such as nearby Masonville Cove. “Curtis has been one of the most valuable resources that Ben Franklin has in the science department”, said science teacher, Hillary Clayton. He aided the school in developing a partnership with U. S. Fish and Wildlife Services to obtain a grant to plan and construct a rain garden on the campus. He visits the school often and is on a first name basis with most of the students in the environmental science classes.
Curtis is also a very familiar face in the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay communities. At community festivals, he provides opportunities for fun, creative, hands-on experiences that also teaches environmental stewardship. Through the Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership at Masonville Cove, Curtis represents the National Aquarium, coordinating activities with the Maryland Port Administration, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Living Classroom Foundation. His commitment and joy in engaging the community was evident in every encounter with community members.
2017: Elaine Raesley
Congratulations to Elaine Raesly on receiving the 2017 Robert A. Finton Outdoor Educator of the Year Award. Elaine is the Education Director at the Evergreen Heritage Center where she has been establishing and leading environmental education programs since 2010 for youth and adults on the historic farm in rural Mt. Savage. Through her unwavering determination, her enthusiasm for outdoor education, and her personal commitment to high quality experiential education, Elaine has changed this secluded farm into a vibrant place for learning. She was integral in the planning of Evergreen’s 20+ outdoor learning stations, and development of station lesson plans and activities for different age groups and grade levels In the field, she is as hands-on as the curriculum she develops and teaches, from inoculating logs with mushroom spawns to designing a Nature Play Space for Head Start and Pre-K explorers, from planting rain gardens to promoting rainwater collection within the community.
“I first knew Elaine through her leadership of Evergreen’s summer camp programs. Every afternoon, my daughter would leave camp excited about what she was learning, whether it was looking at spiders under microscopes, counting bugs from a pond water sample, or understanding how a compost barrel works. What Elaine taught her about nature and her carbon footprint has had a huge impact: my child has expressed an interest in the sciences as a possible career path. That’s the difference a passionate teacher can make.” – Kristin Kehrwald
2016: Tania Gale
Congratulations to Tania Gale, Naturalist for Calvert County Division of Natural Resources! Tania has been a Naturalist with the Calvert County Division of Natural Resources since 2000. Her main responsibilities focus on teaching environmental education programs for schools and families, as well as leading summer camps. Tania and her team teach students about the ecology of Calvert County and the Chesapeake Bay through hands-on, student-centered activities. Tania’s professionalism has gained the respect of teachers throughout the county, while her enthusiasm and excitement for the subject matter engages the students into the learning process.
Each year, Tania designs and leads over 20 programs for families—engaging parents and children to explore the forests, fields and waters and learn about the important natural and cultural history of the region. The diversity of subjects she teaches highlights both her knowledge, creativity and ability to tailor programs for participants that range in age of 18 month olds to adult.
Her enthusiasm and viewpoint that getting kids outdoors is paramount, has spurred the development of a natural play space at Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, and plans for additional natural playgrounds are being pursued at the other nature parks throughout Calvert County. You may have attended one of Tania’s great MAEOE presentations over the years, sharing her fun and enthusiasm for learning about and in the natural world. Be sure to congratulate Tania!
2015: John Tapscott
The Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE) announces the 2015 Robert Finton Outdoor Educator of the Year, John Tapscott. Tapscott is the eighth recipient of this award which recognizes individuals who demonstrates leadership and innovation in environmental and outdoor education. Robert Finton, who passed away in 2005, personified enthusiasm, innovation, and excellence in the field of environmental education. This yearly award honors Finton’s memory by rewarding the efforts of those who strive for these qualities.
John had been working as an Environmental Consultant but needed a change in his life. It was apparent from the get go that John was perfect for the world of outdoor environmental education. He is extremely knowledgeable about the Chesapeake and the environment as a whole. You cannot spend time with him without learning something. His genuine lifelong love of learning and enthusiasm for sharing what he learns even translates into how he lives day to day. He models environmentally responsible behavior by his green lifestyle: riding his bike to work daily, and maintaining a community garden plot. It seems like each decision he makes takes the environment into consideration.
After some time as a deckhand and mate at Living Classrooms, John decided to take his own education a step further and become a Captain. For many years he was in command of first the Buy Boat Mildred Belle then the Skipjack Sigsbee. He also took some time away from these programs to work for Outward Bound’s Pulling Boats on the Bay. Currently he’s working for Chesapeake Bay Foundation as the Captain of their Harbor Education Program vessel Snow Goose. He and his program manager have found ways to refresh a program that had remained unchanged for a number of years. He also managed to bring the Baltimore City Teacher Education summer program back to life after many years of inattention.
He excels when it comes to explaining how the health of the harbor is a reflection of the historical changes and challenges it has faced since the 1600’s. Students are engaged and interested in the stories he tells about the battles fought along the Patapsco and how that history relates to the health of the river. John understands the city of Baltimore and as a result the inner city youth that he teaches about the Chesapeake Bay, the Patapsco, and their urban back yards, respect him and ask him thoughtful questions. He keeps them engaged so that they want to learn and explore more! As a captain and educator, John safely and skillfully helps all that step aboard the Snow Goose join in the investigation of their river’s and its inhabitant’s health. He is dedicated and patient with everyone – students, teachers and co- workers. He truly wants people to embrace they power they have to influence the health of the environment they live in. The Bay is truly lucky to have this educator on its team!
2014: Kelly Cox
Congratulations to Kelley Cox, winner of the 2014 MAEOE Outdoor Educator of the Year Award!! For nearly 30 years, Kelly has been committed to teaching about the Bay, regardless of her formal job description. Whether preparing exhibits for Maryland Department of the Environment about water quality monitoring for Chesapeake Appreciation Days or showing a family visiting Phillips Wharf Environmental Center (PWEC) the mouth on a horseshoe crab, Kelley finds opportunities to share her passion for the Chesapeake Bay. She wants people to share her love of the Chesapeake Bay, and her zeal is infectious. Kelley continually says that the way to save the Bay is not to put it in little bottles and measure it to death, but to talk to people and show them the Bay from an intimate perspective. After retiring from State service she and her husband started an ecotourism business, which she built into a small non-profit environmental center after Hurricane Isabel. Phillips Wharf Environmental Center is dedicated to teaching all citizens of the Bay watershed about the life, ecology, and heritage of the Chesapeake. PWEC’s motto is “Inform, Inspire, and Involve”, and that is what Kelley’s vision accomplishes every day.
Kelley believes that her waterman heritage is as important as the science and environmentalism she teaches. Many of PWEC’s programs and activities tie in closely with the role of watermen in our society. Kelley doesn’t romanticize watermen, but presents them as people who work hard and contribute to the economy, and who have unique skills and tools for doing their jobs.
Kelley Cox is a unique and inspiring outdoor educator. As Rona Kobell described her in a recent Bay Journal article, she is a true “daughter of the Chesapeake”, and a passionate advocate of the Bay who’s influence reaches far beyond Tilghman Island to light fires in everyone who encounters her.
2013: Steve Heacock
Congratulations to Steve Heacock, winner of the 2013 MAEOE Outdoor Educator of the Year Award. Steve began his career creating experiences for students to get outdoor and appreciate the world around them. He has worked at the school for 36 years as teacher and administrator directly influencing more than 110,000 students. Following in-depth research Steve implemented the "Environmental Issue Investigation" model of instruction, changing not only the pedagogy of the Outdoor School but impacting environmental education for all Carroll County students. In addition, Steve has spent many hours laboring over grants which bring significant resources into Carroll County benefitting students educationally and the environment. As a direct result of this, there is now an environmental issue investigation unit that culminates in positive environmental action taught at each grade level K-6 and secondary. Steven not only focuses on what is good for students but developed The Wild School Grounds Workshop in-service where teachers learn how to use the environment to teach skills such as math and reading. As stated by his team: Steve see's education not just as a vocation but a passion as he leads teachers and student from knowledge to taking action for the environment.
2012: Martha Shaum
Congratulations to Martha Shaum, winner of the 2012 MAEOE Outdoor Educator of the Year Award! Martha's outstanding achievements in working with student of all ages, creativity on a tight budget, and commitment to excellence in education are appreciated by us all.
According to her supervisor, Cindy Etgen:
"Students of every age are fascinated by what she is saying, through animation and fun moves she can get even 1st graders to understand what a macroinvertebrate is and why they are so important. You have never seen anything like 25 1st graders moving forward three steps and doing a "butt bump" to imitate macroinvertebrates. She is animated, knowledgeable, and keeps audiences of every age captivated."
2011: Rebecca Beecroft
The esteemed honor goes to Becky Beecroft - Claud E. Kitchens Outdoor School at Fairview. MAEOE is pleased to honor Becky who is progressive in her thinking, positive toward problems that arise, and continually develops new instructional programs that promote environmental literacy in and throughout Washington County. Becky consistently reminds adults and students that she is working her dream job. Her enthusiasm is contagious and can be seen reflected in the eyes of her students while she is teaching new content knowledge and skills. Often students leaving the program at the end of a week share comments such as "You know Mrs. B, I sure would like to graduate from Boonsboro High School and com back here to teach at Fairview." Congratulations!
2010: Bart Merrick
This year, the esteemed honor goes to Bart Merrick, Education Coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Rever at Maryland DNR. His 15 years in education has found him to be a team player for Living Classrooms Foundation, CBF, and now the Reserve System. Bart personifies Bob's spirit, with his ability to capture students' attention and excite them about the natural world. His patience, sense of humor and professionalism has made him and outstanding recipient for this award!
2009: Ruth Eisenhour
The winner of the 2009 Finton Outdoor Educator of the Year Award is Ruth Eisenhour of the Harford Glen Environmental Education Center in Bel Air, Maryland. During her 15-year (and counting) tenure, the scope and breadth of outreach and education has grown exponentially while staff levels have remained a constant 4. It is Ruth’s amazing motivational and organizational skills that keep the staff sane and the programs running.
Educating every single 5th grader in the county in day and residential programming, along with conducting field studies for middle and high school students, organizing community events, and assisting schools through the Maryland Green School certification process with a staff of 4 and only 24 hours in a day takes planning. With a gypsy-like ability to see into the future, Ruth sets the “big picture” in June, then dissects it into a flawless schedule upon which staff and teachers can rely. However, as the saying goes, “the best laid plans…” With Ruth at the helm, there is no force de majeure get out of class free card at Harford Glen.
In her free time, Ruth became a Certified Master Gardener and then set about to redesign, plant, and maintain the gardens at Harford Glen. With her new green thumb, Ruth partnered with Master Gardeners to promote the “Grow It, Eat It!” program to Harford County schools. Through this program, students produce food that is served at the residential program. Ruth also organized the Checkerspot Butterfly Project which is working to bolster populations of this endangered insect.
Nominator Amanda Koss admitted that it was her experience at Harford Glenn as a fifth grader with Ms. Eisenhour that influenced her to go into the field of environmental education. Now as a peer, Amanda is still learning from Ruth. Everyday she goes into work, Ruth’s words ring in her ear, “This is our one shot with these kids. We have 4 short days to change or mold their views about how to take care of the planet. We can’t afford to work at below 100%.”
2008: Andrew McCown
The winner of the 2008 Finton Outdoor Educator of the Year Award is Andrew McCown of Echo Hill Outdoor School in Worton, Maryland. Andrew joined the staff of Echo Hill in 1977 and was named Associate Director in 1981. In 1979, he started the Echo Hill Outdoor School Explore Program which began as a series of overnight canoe trips on the Chester and Sassafras Rivers and soon expanded into five-day trips using the school’s buy boat or skipjack.
In addition to being the Associate Director, Andy teaches an average of six Bay Studies classes each week. He also teaches Mystery Tour classes, Farm Ecology and a class called Search, Find and Investigate. During the summer, he spends an average of eight weeks leading children and adults as part of the Explore Program. In his “spare” time, he serves on the Board of Directors of the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, was a founding member of the Chester River Association, and performs with a group called “Chesapeake Scenes”.
Pat Herold Nielson described the impact of Andy’s teaching this way, “My children spent a week with Andy at outdoor school, and came home with more river lore than I had absorbed in a decade. Captain Andy had read them poems, sung them songs, shown them how a marsh works, taught them how to catch and cook crabs, gotten them up at dawn, marveled with them at the stars, and convinced them that the river is the place where a person can learn everything important about life. In our watershed, thousands of kids have learned these lessons from Andy.”
Or as another person put it, “Watching Andrew McCown teach about the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed is like watching Meryl Streep act or Placido Domingo sing: it is witnessing something very close to perfection.”
2007: Molly Hoy
Molly Hoy obtained her degree from Salisbury State University. She has taught in Carroll County PUblic Schools for 37 years as a 6th grade Science Teacher. She has been at Carroll County Outdoor School for 11 years and is currently involved in outreach in the county. Her outreach involves environmental issues on school grounds and working with curriculum.