Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Shaking the Dust Off, while the wind blows around.

This past week I had the immense privilege of taking an inspiring group of 6th graders to a place I had never been to before. Listed somewhere in the perks of the unbelievable sights, the student’s questions that made me ponder as much as them, and the experiential … experience, is the fact that I got paid to do this.
(Photo by Conservation Lands Foundation)

Yep, it’s my job to drive young'uns around this incredible state, feed them wild things, encourage them to crawl through rocks,  and challenge themselves to do things they never even thought about doing. Some people surely believe that I spend my days singing cum-by-ah and kicking soccer balls at kids to whom I’m just another adult at their disposal- but I’m happy to say I have never been in a position like that. Working at  current position has enabled me to provide the most insightful, intentional and hands-on education I have ever been able to offer. Sure I have to scorn a few trouble-makers, clean up some toilets and vacuum vans…but the real “dirty” work is the most fun: digging through shallow riverbeds to find what’s lurking beneath rocks, churning adobe bricks with your own hands or feet, or using a “bludgeoning tool” to break off all the lower Ponderosa pine branches as part of sustainable fire ecology.
This past week was particularly enjoyable because it marked my first trip with a school group with this company, my first time to Tent Rocks, and my first time with this particular group of students, who will be joining us for a longer trip later in the spring. At this point I have led groups of students to explore the outdoors in New York, North Carolina, Texas and California, but none of the programs I’ve worked with have emphasized the exploration of Nature quite like this one. Of course we stress safety, and always keep a watchful eye, but when a student can pick up a lizard and give it a name, or scrape a sandstone cliff to feel it erode, you can actually see the moment of understanding and appreciation in their eyes.
What really stood out to me about this visit to Tent Rocks was how much I was able to learn. Another thing that is invaluable about this line of work is that I can constantly grow and learn- as a student and as a teacher. As we ventured into the narrowing canyon, the students’ enthusiasm grew, despite ticking past their usual lunch time. They started to make their own theories about why Ponderosa pines were increasing in density along our walk, and asked each other really good questions about how the sediment layered like it did. Although this may have been a particularly bright group of 6th graders, it was clear that their sense of curiosity was driving them to round each corner, and that a sense of exploration was pushing them to climb toward the top. A rewarding view only further encouraged the fulfillment of time spent in nature, whether learning or just appreciating.
Although this was my first week working with students since December, and this was my first school group in New Mexico, I remembered how natural, and exciting it is to work with young minds, and agile bodies. The  trip to Tent Rocks last week was a nice reminder of how to flow into the logistics of leading a group of students through permit-required places, but more excitingly, it released the momentum of the possibilities for us teaching students this spring. Right now I am in the planning stage of several other trips, all overnight, from 2nd grade to 7th grade. I am so excited to design some unique experiences for the youth in this state, and even more excited to get out there in the dust with them, and learn some things.

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