This post was written by Ryan Delaney, ESLT’s 2017-2018 Education Coordinator & AmeriCorps Member. Learn more about Ryan and the Sierra Nevada Alliance’s Sierra Nevada AmeriCorps Partnership program
I’m constantly surprised by how nature can change us. As an educator in the local “Taking Root” outdoor education program, I experienced this magic firsthand not long ago.
I had asked my group of third graders to go and find a ‚Äòspecial spot’ where they could sit still for ten minutes. Then, to make quiet observations for ten more minutes. Knowing how squeamish kids this age can be, I prepared for the worst.
However, something unexpected happened. As those minutes passed, I didn’t hear so much as a whisper. In fact, when I called my group back, many students didn’t want to leave. There was a sense of calm that seemed to have washed over everyone. I couldn’t believe it.
Later on, I found myself thinking about that moment. Maybe there’s a lesson in this for all of us. Maybe we adults need to find our own special spots. Somewhere in nature where we can take ten minutes, sit quietly, and simply be present.
Rainer Rilke, the Bohemian-Austrian poet, once wrote that, “If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence we could rise up rooted, like trees‚Ä¶ The future of education is in the outdoors.“
For Hillary Behr, who served as ESLT’s Education Coordinator & AmeriCorps Member back in 2011, these words hold a special importance. Hillary agreed that our schools and students could use more of nature’s teachings. She felt that the simple solution was to help students get outside.
After completing her AmeriCorps term with ESLT, Hillary moved on to work with the Bishop Paiute Tribe. There, she jumped at the opportunity to create a new youth outdoor education program for Bishop elementary students.
Finding the right location was simple. Just a short walk from Bishop Elementary is a natural refuge owned by the Paiute Tribe called the Conservation Open Space Area (COSA). With the Tribe’s support, Hillary was given permission to use this natural space for her program.
When designing her curriculum, Hillary focused on observation, curiosity, and place-based learning. Her goal was for students to spend an hour each month immersed in the natural world. With Rilke’s words in her mind, she decided on a name for the new program: “Taking Root.”
Today, Taking Root is growing strong. Although Hillary has recently moved on, the program continues to thrive under the guidance of a new team of passionate educators, and I am proud to be a member of this group.Although I’m new to Taking Root, I have already witnessed many wonderful moments that only nature can bring us.Before the school year comes to an end, I hope to share many more moments like these with my students – and perhaps with you, too.
P.S. – Wondering what ESLT’s 2010/2011 Education Coordinator & AmeriCorps member, Hillary Behr is up to these days? She recently moved back to her home state of New Hampshire, where she continues to pursue her passion for outdoor education. Now working for a NH organization called Coyote Club Wildlife Education, she is happy to be spending her time introducing kids to nature and helping them develop lasting bonds with the great outdoors.