The beginning of 2018 challenged me. Financial difficulties caused me to move back home, suspend my education, and leave my job in Detroit at the Michigan Science Center. I taught as a substitute teacher in my hometown for the winter, but felt called to do something more, something different. I began applying for AmeriCorps positions in early March and on the 26th of that same month, I boarded the train for the nearly 2,000-mile journey to Elko, Nevada.
Not long after my arrival, I was in the classroom presenting on photosynthesis, pollination, and the creatures of Nevada’s ancient Lake Lahontan. Though I had much prior experience teaching, this was one of the first times I was able to come into a school and be the person delivering the “cool science lesson.” I was not only teaching, but growing the curiosity in young minds, and reminding the students that learning is not only important, it’s actually fun.
During the school year and into the summer, my fellow AmeriCorps members and I frequently visited the Elko Explorers at Mountain View Elementary. We enriched this afterschool and childcare program through lessons and activities covering dinosaurs, worms, and everything in between. At first, our arrival was occasionally met with grumbles and a general disinterest in learning outside of school. Quickly, our connections with the children and skill designing activities grew, and so did the students’ appreciation and interest. They embraced the opportunity to eat like insects do, marveled at the length of a blue whale, and huddled together to see how many of them could stand in a Tyrannosaurus Rex footprint.
As summer approached, I was given the somewhat daunting task of planning and directing our first summer camp of the season. I had planned and taught summer camps before, but they had never been the up-in-the-mountains, sleeping-in-tents type. While in the Ruby Mountains, we went on hikes, swam in the creek, and spent time exploring beaver ponds. It was truly refreshing to spend five days outdoors with these wonderful kids, growing friendships and learning outdoor skills. For some, this was their first time hiking and camping, making it an even more impactful experience.
We often complain about kids being glued to screens and only finding entertainment through technology, but during the three weeks of camp I was part of, I don’t recall once hearing a complaint about the absence of electronics. It’s incredible how simply taking young people outdoors and giving them the opportunity to explore the world around them seems to make them forget about the devices they’d normally spend hours on. I don’t believe they’re losing interest in the outdoors, rather, there are insufficient opportunities for youth to embrace their curiosity and discover the natural world.
I am so grateful to have been a part of Nevada Outdoor School’s mission to engage youth and the community in the exploration and appreciation of nature. As an educator, I have gained experience teaching in new, sometimes challenging, environments. As an individual, I have had the fortune to see new places while meeting so many kind and remarkable people. Thank you to everyone who has made this adventure possible.