Innovative Durham teacher removes obstacles to environmental education

Author: Lisa Tolley

Aaron Sebens, a teacher at Central Park School for Children in Durham, just completed his state Environmental Education Certification, a professional development program provided through the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.

Sebens is the school’s media specialist and technology director and also assists other teachers with environmental education projects. His favorite part about the program was learning outside and being exposed to many environmental science topics, including  landfills, raptors, watersheds and evensolar power.  

For his community partnership project, Sebens’ fourth grade class launched a crowd-funding campaign to add solar electricity to his classroom.

“It went viral and we ended up raising enough money to take our classroom completely off the grid,” Sebens said. “The U.S. Department of Energy made a video about the project  and then-President Barack Obama tweeted about it.”

Sebens said the project taught the awareness and skills that future citizens will need to solve the problems our society will face.

“We are, for the most part, ignorant consumers of electricity,” Sebens said. “Students monitored the electricity we used in the classroom, at their house, and found out they can make do with a lot less. They learned the skills of organizing resources and developing a plan to make a big idea into a reality. This project is ongoing and last year we added a wind turbine to provide more and a different source of clean energy.”

Sebens immersed his students in the process of planning the system, raising the funds, and working with community partners to make the project work.

“Students need to become active participants in their understanding and consumption of electricity if we are going to have the innovators we will need to solve the problems that will arise in the next century,” he said.

When asked if the certification program changed his approach to teaching, Sebens said he now thinks about the relationship between formal and informal educational experiences in different ways and found new ways to remove obstacles to environmental education for students and teachers.

The N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program is administered by the Department of Environmental Quality's Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs. To learn more about the program, visit the office's website at

Fourth-grade teacher Aaron Sebens and some of his students - (from left) Ella Brown, Peter Mullen, Natalie Russell, Cassie Wells, and Ellen Broghausen - pose with the class' solar panels on the roof of the building at Central Park School. The class raised money and did the construction to convert their classroom to solar energy as a school project.

Lisa Tolley is the state’s Environmental Education Program manager. She works in the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.

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