Each year, the Columbia Audubon Society offers two scholarships for teachers to attend the Hog Island Audubon Camp off the coast of Maine. This past summer’s recipients, Emily Reynolds and Andrew Crawford, took part in the program “Sharing Nature: An Educator’s Week”; their accounts of the experience are below, illustrated with Emily’s photos.
Applications are being accepted through December 2, 2019 for summer 2020 camp scholarships. Eligibility requirements include being an educator in the six-county region (Audrain, Boone, Cooper, Howard, Monroe, and Randolph) served by the Columbia Audubon Society. Application instructions are available in pdf and docx formats.
by Emily Reynolds, 1st grade teacher at Rock Bridge Elementary
My interest in connecting students to nature started by hanging a bird feeder on my classroom window nearly 7 years ago! In addition to bird feeders, I started to use the Rock Bridge Elementary Outdoor Classroom and Gardens to help my students to learn about plants, animals, and inquiry throughout the school year. I have worked to help maintain the Outdoor Classroom and Garden spaces and connect teachers to community resources since then, but at times it felt like I was only one of a few teachers who cared about this work. (Fortunately, with the support of our science coordinators, this is changing in Columbia!) When I was at Hog Island, I realized that I wasn’t alone in my passion for connecting students and nature, but that there were teachers—both traditional and program educators—who also saw the importance of this and shared in my excitement. The conversations and connections that I made with other educators during the week truly impacted me as a teacher. While we shared meals and learning experiences on the island, we also shared ideas, resources, and stories. I know that I could email or Facebook message any of the educators that I met and they would willingly share ideas/resources and that I would do the same for them.
Another way Hog Island impacted my teaching came on the first full day on the island. One of the experiences was exploring a tide pool, which was all new to me as someone who has never lived on a coast. We participated in a whole group activity to help us understand the relationship between the sun, moon, and tides. Then one of the teachers brought to our attention the anxiety that students may experience when they are asked to participate in learning experiences in a natural environment. After she shared her experience with a student, we practiced a grounding activity of noticing things with each of our senses. I wrote it down in my notebook (as I did many things during the week) to remember with my own students. What I didn’t realize was how quickly I would need that activity for my own anxiety. Walking to the tide pool, I was in awe of how beautiful and different the forest around me seemed from Missouri. When we got to the tide pool, I set down my backpack and stepped onto the rocks to soak it all in. I quickly realized that there were other teachers waist deep in the water and others walking over the rocks to try to explore farther out. But as I walked around, I quickly realized how slippery the seaweed was on the rocks and how I didn’t really know what to do. I felt like I wasn’t getting the “whole” experience because I was just barely on the rocks and I felt afraid that I was going to slip and fall if I went any further. So, I found a bare spot on the rocks and just sat down. I took deep breaths and observed others exploring. I used my senses to ground myself from my worries. Then the realization of my students’ feelings about being outdoors hit me—their worries about bugs, thorns, itchy grass, and more. After a few moments, I gathered courage to continue walking on the slippery rocks and I was able to get to a tide pool with the instructor for the session and a teacher who had lived in Maine her whole life. I learned so much from exploring and talking with them, but I can’t take the knowledge about tide-pool organisms into my classroom each day. What I can take with me is the need to understand my students’ feelings when we explore and learn outdoors, so that I can support them in facing their fears/anxieties.
A final impact from this experience on my teaching was my observations of our Hog Island instructors and how they set up the learning experiences for us throughout the week. The instructors each came from different backgrounds and had different passions that they brought to the camp. I was inspired by how each instructor presented their lessons and experiences in a way that allowed us (educators) to be students during the week. During each session, I was looking through two lenses—through my teacher lens, but also through the lens of a student. This means that while I was hiking on Hog Island or exploring a pond on the mainland, I was able to explore and ask questions like a student would, while also taking notes about how our instructors asked questions to help us find the answers on our own or about what materials/supplies they provided for the experiences. Ted Gilman was one of my favorite instructors for several reasons, one being that he always had a “lending library” of books/nature guides with him wherever we went—the forest, the bog, the beach, the tide pool, or on the ocean. I connected with this because I also love books and helping my students explore books/nature guides to support our outdoor explorations.
This was my first week-long trip by myself since before I got married 10 years ago and also my first trip to the East Coast, so the trip was very special to me. Before arriving at Hog Island, I didn’t know anything about the history of the island or about Mabel Todd or Millicent Todd Bingham. I was touched that Mabel and Millicent started the island as a place for teachers to interact with and learn about nature. The activities that Millicent wrote about in her article from the 1930s were ones that I was participating in at Hog Island this summer, which showed that the initial vision of Hog Island is still alive today.
I didn’t even touch on all the ways that this trip impacted me as a teacher or person—believe it or not, I could write more! I have hundreds of photos, a journal full of notes, and a heart filled with memories of this wonderful trip. I experienced so many “firsts” on this trip that it will be something that I always treasure. I sincerely appreciate the gift that the Columbia Audubon Society provided me with this scholarship because without the support, it wouldn’t have been easy for me to participate. You not only gave me the gift of learning more about nature, but also the experience of learning more about myself as a student and teacher. I am also very grateful for the instructors, volunteers, and staff at Hog Island because they made the week so special for all of us that attended. Thank you!
by Andrew Crawford, Media Specialist at Battle Elementary
As you take the ferry ride across the bay towards Hog Island you can already feel that it is a special place. The historic Queen Mary building in all her beauty is the first sight on the island. It’s like nothing I have seen before, an island trapped in time and a place where the outside world disappears for a week. My week at Hog Island was one of the best weeks of my life. I met some absolutely incredible teachers, volunteer coordinators, and scientists that have become good friends. I learned more about birds, outdoor ed, and educational equity in my five days than I have in five years of teaching. The Audubon Society and the Hog Island staff did an amazing job of creating a safe and open environment for people to ask authentic questions and learn from the instructors and each other.
A big focus of our week on Hog Island was application to the classroom and reaching all students no matter their demographic. Coming from a Title 1 building, this seemed to be tailor-made for me. Every moment, every prompt, was followed by “how would you do this with your class?” With 20 people teaching different subjects and different kids in traditional and non-traditional settings, invaluable insights and ideas abounded from many different perspectives.
I think the most valuable conversations we had were during our evening programs. Heather Richard spoke to us about programs that were built for children who did not thrive in a typical classroom setting; post-secondary education was more than likely not their future. For example, these programs taught such children about oyster farming and hydroponics as well as starting a young entrepreneur’s club. Another speaker, Derrick Z. Jackson, spoke to us about his amazing career, Project Puffin, and why it is important for children of color to care about being outside and exploring nature and being curious. This was my biggest takeaway and what I will bring back to my teaching. Being my school’s media specialist, I teach children K-5, and it is part of my job to bring enthusiasm and love to our school’s reading and science programs. I’m hoping that I, with the help of our classroom teachers, will be able to start young with our students, getting them outside and asking questions, while showing them that you’re allowed to love nature, birds, and bugs as much as anyone no matter what you look like. If I can capture even a fraction of the enthusiasm I felt with my fellow educators during my week in Maine, I’ll be able to help many students learn to love nature.
As I write this and reflect on my time on Hog Island, I remember how happy I was all week. Everyone there during my visit helped create an amazing, almost perfect community. I was able to have open and honest conversations about race, culture, and education without feeling like I would be judged. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone, and saw birds new to me as a Missourian, including razorbills and puffins. Now I have an interest in mycology, birding, and plant ID that I never thought I’d have. I ate the best food, played the most fun games, and heard some kick-butt karaoke. It was a truly amazing experience. I am a better teacher having gone, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity that was given to me by the Columbia Audubon Society. I wish I could go back to Hog Island every year, and I wish that every educator was able to have the experience I was able to have. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Correction: A previous version of this post gave the wrong last name for Andrew Crawford.