From January through May 2016, I have been an AmeriCorps Member with Teton Science Schools, serving my term with Teton County Parks and Recreation.
I came to my internship the January after I graduated from Colorado College. I had experience and interest in experiential education, curriculum design, and non-profit work, and I was excited about the chance to tie these topics together. I also knew I wanted to immerse myself in the community and connect to this place as much as possible during my too-short stint in Coyote Canyon.
The overall goal of the internship was to increase scientific literacy in the community. I went about this through Parks and Recreation by helping to develop new programs at Jackson Hole Middle School, Colter School, and Latino Outdoors. Read on for more specific information about each project.
II. CAPACITY BUILDING
A. JACKSON HOLE MIDDLE SCHOOL CLUBS
One of my primary responsibilities since arriving at Parks and Recreation has been to help craft enriching after school programs for Middle School students. Some examples of these weekly clubs include:
- Avalanche Awareness Club: We teamed up with American Avalanche Institute to offer this unique opportunity combining safety, science, and recreation. Students learned the science behind avalanches and how they can be safe when skiing in the backcountry through a combination of field days and classroom days. This was a relevant way to discuss topics of risk management, decision making, snow science, and physics with the middle schoolers.
- Climbing Club: In the winter, we brought students to the Exum Ice Park through a partnership with Exum Mountain Guides. Now that it's spring, we're continuing the partnership at the Snow King bouldering park each week to develop rock climbing techniques and skills, and we're planning a final outdoor climbing trip to Curtis Canyon later in the season.
- Rockets and Race Cars Club: Run in partnership with Teton Literacy Center, this club gives students the chance to learn engineering skills in a fun, engaging atmosphere.
- Top Chef Club: Also run in partnership with TLC, this club allows students to tour different local restaurants, learn new recipes, and hear from professionals in the food industry. The "scientific literacy" part is the measuring, math, and recipe-writing behind cooking and baking.
- Importance of Collaboration:
Putting together these Middle School Clubs required building partnerships with a diverse array of organizations including Exum Guides, American Avalanche Association, Jackson Hole Fly Fishing School, Teton Literacy Center, the Ultimate Towner race crew, and various local restaurants. It was new for me to take a more passive, supervisory role in teaching but a pivotal role in bringing everyone together and preparing for the clubs. I've expanded my skills at networking on behalf of a non-profit and have been impressed with how so many disparate parts of the community can be involved in the important task of providing quality programs for middle school students.
- Importance of Comprehensive Marketing Efforts:
Offering voluntary and supplementary academic programs for pre-teens and teenagers can be difficult because many students would rather not "have to" do anything after classes. Thus, a crucial part of my job was creating opportunities engaging enough to inspire middle schoolers to attend the programs rather than just hang out after school. I didn't have experience with marketing before this internship, but I now realize the importance of having informative, aesthetic posters and flyers to communicate opportunities. You can view the flyer I created for the February to March programs here and the one for April to May programs here. We prioritized translating the flyers into Spanish and making sure both copies were available to students and families. We also visited the school at lunchtime and conference night to speak in person with youth and their parents about the clubs. From these interactions, I also learned that building a rapport with individuals and the school district makes a big difference in attempting to increase club attendance.
B. COLTER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CLUBS
Colter Elementary School for 3rd to 5th graders runs after-school clubs in partnership with Parks and Recreation every weekday. I shadowed and helped out at some of these clubs during my first few weeks as an AmeriCorps to learn how they worked, then helped my AmeriCorps coworker Simone run Lend-A-Hand Club for February and March. Currently, since April, we have been running Teton Adventure Club weekly.
- The idea behind Lend-A-Hand Club is to get students out into the community to learn how to volunteer and give back. Assisting in running this program gave me even more experience reaching out and forming partnerships with non-profits. We worked with a wide variety of organizations including the Jackson Hole Fire Department, the Animal Adoption Center, and Jackson Hole Food Rescue.
- Simone and I started Teton Adventure Club from the ground up. You can view the program goals and curriculum here.
C. LATINO OUTDOORS
According to the 2010 census, 27% of the population in Jackson is Latino. In this generally wealthy, outdoor-oriented ski town, it can be difficult for many Latino families to join the mass of recreationists in and around Grand Teton National Park and enjoy the benefits of immersion in nature. Enter Latino Outdoors, a national organization whose mission is to "connect Latino families and youth with nature, engage and inspire Latino leadership, and empower communities to explore and share their stories in defining the Latino Outdoor identity". You can learn more about this awesome non-profit on their website. When the Latino Outdoors regional coordinator for this area, Alfonso Orozco, reached out for help with programming, myself and three other AmeriCorps jumped at the opportunity. We planned, advertised, and led two big events in partnership with the Science School: a day hike and an evening outing.
the day hike
5 Latino families braved a very windy April day to hike around the National Park from Bradley Taggart lake. Together, we identified conifers, learned about fire ecology, and got the lay of the land for future explorations. See photos above by Alfonso Orozco.
THE EVENING OUTING
7 Latino families met at Miller Park and headed out to the Murie Museum and the Kelly Campus of TSS for an exploratory evening in May. While parents learned rules and regulations of the National Park with Ranger Millie, my fellow AmeriCorps and I had the delightful task of engaging the children- ages 4 to 14- in some observational drawing exercises (top photo). Then, we went back outside to learn about what to do when you encounter wildlife! (As seen in the bottom photo, where I'm a moose).
At the end of the evening outing, we handed out a packet of laminated cards we made with all sorts of information about conifers, wildlife, and staying safe in the park- a tangible product for event attendees to continue learning from. It was an honor to get to work with these cool families and individuals and I look forward to running into them on the trails this summer!
III. PEDAGOGY & TRANSFERENCE
You can view my teaching philosophy here. This internship has helped me form and tweak my philosophy, but more than that, I have been investigating the background work behind running educational programs. As I mentioned previously, collaboration within the Jackson community has been huge. I have realized that when multiple organizations get involved, students have a diverse variety of opportunities to grow. I have also realized that the communication among these organizations needs to be open and clear for programs to be as successful as possible. For example, when Teton Literacy Center and Parks and Recreation stated their overlapping goals, new chances for student leadership and development were born.
I'm currently moving into my Subaru to stay in the Tetons and guide climbing and rafting trips for the summer. After that, I'm not quite sure. I know I want to continue my path of combining art, writing, and science in the world of education. Especially after watching kids grow roots here through facilitated explorations and knowledge-seeking, I am interested in the study of how sense of place effects learning and self efficacy. Whatever my "next step" turns out to be, I'll take the lessons I've learned in this wonderful place with me.