By: Cindy Garcia
I credit my month to April Alix from the Providence Parks Urban Wildlife Refuge Partnership and Janis Nepshinsky from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. Both of them had me travel between Kettle Pond Visitors Center and Rogers Williams Park. That way I could familiarize myself with the area and build relationships with different types of interns and employees, stakeholders, and communities of Charlestown and Providence.
Before I continue discussing my experiences, I do want to highlight how I find my position as an environmental educator a bit ironic. I recently graduated with a bachelors in environmental studies and have minimal outdoor experience. You may wonder “how is that possible?”, well it is. Most of my four years was invested in scholarly enhancing my interdisciplinary approach to the natural environment. Therefore, I had minimal time applying that knowledge into practice as you would expect someone with an environmental degree.
Having a lack of field experience meant there were quite a few, sometimes embarrassing, challenges. Some examples include but are not limited to cringing at organisms that are slimy or fuzzy, referring to equipment by its technical name as opposed to “that thingy”, and modifying my clothing to suit the outdoors. As much as I felt discouraged for being an amateur in most tasks, April and Janis were there to recommend me different activities that helped conquer my fears and improve my professional skills.
In the midst of addressing my intrinsic complications, our main focus of the summer is to use environmental education as a way to foster stewardship among urban children. A rule of thumb with informal teaching is that you can’t be too technical or monotone to younger audiences. They are quick to tune you out if that were the case. Fortunately, with some experience as a former museum guide and shadowing April, I was comfortable to occasionally take lead.
A notable experience was when I briefly taught a group of Providence third graders about why trail rules are important for the biodiversity of Kettle Pond. Why aren’t dogs allowed on this trail but can walk on that? What animal might fear dogs? Why do certain trees lose their leaves? Use your arms to mimic branches reaching for sunlight. Use your ears to listen to the sounds around you. In essence, I used open questions and made sensory commands to have them think more critically rather than to spoon feed them information. My methods were successful. I had some children smile, others excited to raise their hand, or some discussed their own experiences.
After that moment, I realized how a little bit (sometimes a lot bit) of engagement goes a long way in creating a profound experience. Whether you are challenging their knowledge or creativity, there are surprises that arise from it. Someone may use a technical term that you avoided to mention like decomposition or photosynthesis. Someone may know a fun fact about a species such as their conservation status.
I also became determined to find more diverse ways to have children to relate or have a new perspective on the environment, especially to those who dislike something about it. This summer long goal will challenge me both as an individual and a professional. I have to become comfortable with being uncomfortable with different aspects of nature while simultaneously educating children about them. Let’s see how much I can achieve with this goal.