Sunday, August 18, 2013

Here is a place to live.

The best urban greenspaces in North America...

The greenspace in each of these urban areas is directly important to the lifestyles of its citizens, of course.

But those greenspaces are a positive good for even that citizen who....
.... never walks, runs, or bikes the trails,
.... never picnics under those trees,
.... never lifts binoculars to locate an avian Pavarotti in the branches,
.... never captures the dappled, golden, sunset reflections of trees and deer in the pond,

.... never kneels in the leaf litter to slip a diamond onto an adored finger,

.... never swings a running toddler up from the grass onto his shoulders,
.... never points out a black-eyed Susan, beaver, darter, snapping turtle, or great blue heron to the wide eyes of a ten-year-old.

Those greenspaces call out to tourists, shoppers, jobseekers, business-builders --- each no less lover, parent, child, hobbyist, cyclist, runner, bird-watcher, photographer ---  "Come! Here is a place to live."

And the cold hard impersonal cash of those folk will greatly exceed whatever temporary (and often largely transferred) gains for a local economy that might come from another strip mall.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Dreams Do Come True

I have always believed in getting kids outside. 

At my very first teaching assignment, Bancrioft Elementary in Bancroft WV in 1969 I organized an outdoor club.

 We climbed the hills, hunted arrowheads, and set messages adrift in stoppered bottles on the Kanawha River. (OK, I wouldn't do that now, but it did make a memorable writing experience for my fifth graders!)

Back in Georgia at McHenry School we spread out under the pine trees behind the gym to write poems...

we examined the woods above the upper building with botanist Richard Ware, we planted 30 red maples, we installed (with the Optimists and Coach Kennedy) a "recycled playground" constructed of used tires.

When I joined the gifted program I helped design units that took us outside often - writing at "Kaleidoscope Rock" in Pepperell's Booze Creek, 

or on the playground or in the woods of other schools. We explored Myrtle Hill, Marshall Forest, the dry lake at FJC, and made trips to the Anniston Museum, Atlanta Zoo, Fernbank, the Knoxville World's fair, Savannah, Wormsloe, Ossabaw, Washington DC. We had our annual Sea Day at FJC where we dissected sharks.

When I came back to education after an eleven year hiatus I came to Armuchee Elementary. It was a perfect fit, from my viewpoint. It was filled with folk who agreed with my desire for hands-on learning. Ruth Pinson, Anita Stewart, Marilyn McLean, Cathy McGraw and others were even involved in an organized effort to study and refine and articulate the environmental approach. We raised butterflies; planted milkweed, passion flower, fennel, and American chesnuts; released sturgeon back into our rivers; stomped through our creek looking for macro invertebrates; built rain barrels; recycled our trash; built trails;

inventoried road kill (!); proposed a law (state amphibian); measured, read, wrote, thought, and experimented…   
… all .in the context of the very real and wonderful world around us.

In the process I became an environmental education "evangelist". I am convinced that learning in the great outdoors sticks.

And so my dream for retirement was to be able to spend some time working with children and adults as a naturalist/teacher in a nature center. The first choice, of course would be one of our local treasures -- the Rome ECO Center, a still-dream-only Marshall Forest nature center, or maybe even the spot I've been taking my students to since 1999, Arrowhead Environmental Education Center.

Dreams come true.

At my retirement party in May, some folks I greatly admire, approached me about working part-time at Arrowhead. It was still just a proposal, but if I gave the go-ahead they would pursue getting it approved. It's been two months, and though everyone who needed to approve the grant and contract had done so, the paperwork took a while. The grant is from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and administered through the schools.  

Today, I went by the Floyd County Schools office and signed my contract. It's official. It doesn't pay a lot. It is only two days a week -- but that's about what I want right now. So far I have spent four days (yes I worked four days without a contract) cleaning alligator poo from the gravel of their tank, replacing the mossy bottoms of tanks for turtle, lizard, and toad. Sweeping, washing, cleaning. Feeding crickets to tree frogs and salamanders. And planning with two wonderful co-workers, Vivian Davis and Marilyn McLean, for a year of introducing children to the wonders of the natural world around us.

If you have children in the schools of this area, encourage their teachers to schedule trips to Arrowhead while slots are available. It's a wonderful resource and a great place to learn.

I have my dream retirement job.


Vivian, our newly minted Director, has worked as the fulltime assistant to former Arrowhead coordinator, Kim Kilgore, for two years. The year before that, Kim and I "shared" Vivian as our student teacher in a specially approved University of West Georgia student-teaching experience. Vivian worked in my classroom most of the week, but also observed and taught with Kim. Vivian has a huge heart for the animals and younguns and for environmental education. It is a little strange, but a great privilege, to be "directed" by my former student teacher.

Marilyn has taught at Arrowhead for about eight years. She taught fourth grade with me at Armuchee Elementary during my first seven years there. She is one of the best teachers I have ever worked with. She and Ruth Pinson guided their students through the successful three-year effort to make the Green Tree Frog our state amphibian. I have watched children mesmerized by her easy, quiet, wonder-sharing at Arrowhead. It is a joy to get to work with Marilyn again.

Arrowhead was the dream of no one more that its original and only coordinator, Kim Kilgore. Kim has overseen the growth of Arrowhead from just a dream in the minds of herself and a few DNR legends like the late Ted Touchstone, to the wonderful facility we have today. Kim's influence in local and state environmental eduction circles has been great. I met Kim my very first week at AES in 1999. She will be missed as she goes on to other dreams.

Vivian has some big hiking boots to fill, but she is well-equipped to do it. And our little team is determined to carry on, and even enlarge, Arrowhead's mission.