Through the Eyes of an Educator: National Parks

by Stacey Ebert / Jan 05, 2016 /

I’ve lived near the water my entire life. Summer days were spent running toes through the sand and jumping through endless waves. At university, I met a girl from Kansas and asked her what she did during the summer - many of our answers were different. I don’t think I appreciated the beauty of landlocked regions until much later in life. In my opinion, the sun rose and set on oceans and beaches - everything else was moot. Travel changed that. Interaction with others changed that. Venturing out, meeting diverse people, having new experiences and forcing that comfort zone open changed all of that. Parks, whether on the ocean or in the middle of landlocked areas, have much to teach if only we’re ready to listen.

Bryce Canyon National Park. From  Through the Eyes of an Educator: National Parks

Bryce Canyon National Park

Many of my students had never left the country. Some had ventured across state lines while still others had only dreamed of such travel. Aside from books, movies, and the Internet, education was their source of information. My job was to find a way to merge the magic and wonder provided by travel with the details of educational knowledge. Finding the right path to engage learners is never an easy one, but along the way, there’s much to learn. Choosing and knowing when to change direction, looking at the big picture, finding interest in the new, knowing when to turn around, having patience, using your resources, seeking out those to ask for help, learning from others, and taking it all in…teaching and hiking have much in common. 

It was years ago outside of US borders that I visited my first national park. Who knew years later how much I would feel compelled to share what I learned with others? To date, park rangers are some of my most favorite people in the travel and tourism industry. Always filled with interesting information, ready with a friendly smile and handy map, rangers greet visitors and help set the course for their journey. In their classrooms, all are treated fairly, class is always in session, their doors are always open, they are mindful of diversity, show respect to the world around them, and hope all of their ‘students’ will have an engaging, meaningful, and eye-opening experience. They’re the teachers of the parks!

Victoria Falls National Park. From  Through the Eyes of an Educator: National Parks

Victoria Falls National Park

In recent years, I’ve been lucky to set foot in some incredible places. Local, county, state, or national – parks even the playing fields, share their beauty with others, provide roadmaps of history, help beginners find their way, welcome old friends, build relationships, and spark creativity. Swaths of land across continents are reserved for nature. Ecotourism, community relations, team building, athletic endeavors, outdoor learning, multi-generational adventures, and moments that replay in minds for years to come – these are only a fraction of the gifts of national parks. Their entranceways are doorways to classrooms, their staff and volunteers, the educators and their lessons and wisdom – infinite. Not only do they host living organisms and native flora and fauna, but their teachings and traditions stand the test of time. Unsuspecting students enter and life-long learners leave. According to new educational rubrics, this would rate highly effective.

Blyde River Canyon. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: National Parks

Blyde River Canyon

Their beauty is deep and their experience lengthy. Like public education, all who enter are welcome. Like a good teacher, lessons happen in these parks when you least expect it and in the most creative ways. Teachable moments are endless, sparking interest that might later become hobbies, careers, and passions. Safe places abound, allowing learners, hikers, and visitors to open up, learn acceptance, lend a hand, treat others with kindness, learn about life, and see what a small place they truly hold in the world. Insignificant issues fall away, leaving room for introspection, growth, development, and new perspectives. Magic happens on the trails as nature reigns supreme. Backgrounds, finances, religions, and career paths – all are equal on the trails. Lessons of the trails take center stage while hikers and climbers become students at the mercy of their teacher. People grow here. Students thrive here. Light bulb moments are ever present and lessons of the trails remain. This is student development, this is education, these are the teachable moments – isn’t this what educators want for their students? Desire to learn, steady growth, interest, the antithesis of apathy, finding kindness, and openness to continued development – these are the makings of a successful education.

Freycinet National Park. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: National Parks

Freycinet National Park

I’ve been lucky to learn some of these lessons first hand. One ranger’s advice for hiking safety seemed simple, yet works as a life lesson. When we asked about the presence of rattlesnakes, she said “Always keep your hands and feet where you can see them.” Sometimes it’s good to deviate from the trail (like in Joshua Tree National Park), while at other times, it’s best to keep on the set path, even if you go at your own pace and on your own time (like in Zion National Park). Even on a foggy day, nature has much to teach and share (like in Tasmania’s Freycinet National Park), and sometimes it pays to face your own fears (like in Mosi oa Tunya National Park) and push your own limits (like in Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve).

Zion National Park. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: National Parks

Zion National Park

Parks bring students and teachers together. Parks provide inspiration for writers, muses for artists, design-ideas for architects, perspective for philosophers, pathways for historians, samples for environmentalists, and serenity for all. They are equalizers, teachers, givers, and so much more. Take a hike, find your path, lead the way, think, dream, play, experience, and channel your inner explorer. All of our students deserve the opportunities parks provide. Give them a chance at success – go and find your own trail.

Etosha National Park. From Through the Eyes of an Educator: National Parks

Etosha National Park

 

Stacey Ebert, our Educational Travels Editor, is a traveler at heart who met her Australian-born husband while on a trip in New Zealand. Stacey was an extracurricular advisor and taught history in a Long Island public high school for over fifteen years, enjoying both the formal and informal educational practices. After a one year 'round the world honeymoon, travel and its many gifts changed her perspective. She has since left the educational world to focus on writing and travel. She is energetic and enthusiastic about long term travel, finding what makes you happy and making the leap. In her spare time she is an event planner, yogi, dark chocolate lover, and spends as much time as possible with her toes in the sand. Check out her website at thegiftoftravel.wordpress.com for more of her travel musings.
 
All photos courtesy and copyright Stacey Ebert

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