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Pizza, Newt, Hare, Banana - By Lydia Gorrell

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage | Feb 02, 2016

Here is a story: nine third graders, three chaperones, and one excited-but-flustered twenty-two year old walk into a rec building to put on snowshoes. The latter, the instructor, huddles the eight-year-olds into a circle. “Tell me your name, and then tell me something that starts with the same letter of your name,” Pizza. Newt. Hare. Banana. Jumping Bean. These are their monikers for the remainder of the day, as they are strapped into their winter apparatuses and guided on a wobbly winter hike.

This is a typical day for me, the nervous one, the instructor who is still on some days surprised that she’s here, surrounded by quiet and forest and animals. This is, however, an abnormal day for the little ones. It’s a field trip or an overnight class excursion, the theoretical “favorite memory” that they will list when the school year is over. In part, this is what environmental education is about, at least for me: I love the fact that there are programs available that capitalize on alternative learning strategies and show them that science isn’t just a very particular set of facts in a very particular class. Perhaps this is selfish on my part, as this is why I liked outdoor experiences when I was in school. But given the wealth of pre-task reading we had during training week, I think I have support.

The other side of it, though, is the idea that if we can prove to these third graders that there’s something to this, the wandering, in however wobbly a manner, and the forest, snow or sun-filled, and the animals, whatever wintery adaptations they have developed (that the kids hopefully remember from the class I taught them), then maybe we won’t have to teach them quite so explicitly that they get to be a part of it too. They can be a part of it, rather, if they decide to help keep it going. Pizza, with all his suppressed enthusiasm, can find peace here. Banana can find belonging. Hare and Jumping Bean can find new springs for their enthusiasm. And who knows what Newt will do. He covered a thorough scale of expressions while he was here, and against all odds, he paid attention. He could probably replace me if he wanted.