A recent educational grant provided by the Alcoa Community Foundation through the Friends of the Smokies is supporting a 6-week paid work experience for teachers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park this summer. A pilot program was developed by the Park’s Resource Education Division that emulates the National Park Service’s (NPS) Teacher to Ranger to Teacher program, serving to enhance learning and students’ appreciation for parks.
Each Tuesday through Friday through July 31, Sevier County science teachers Casey Berg from Wearwood Elementary, Jennifer Miller from Gatlinburg-Pittman High School, and Sharon Balch from Jones Cove Elementary are donning a Park Ranger uniform and working along side Park employees in the field and in the office. They are obtaining a wide range of knowledge and developing new skills through on-the-job experiences dealing with resource management activities and visitor/children’s programs.
The teacher-rangers are performing a variety of duties including conducting Junior Ranger programs for kids ages 5-12 with Resource Educators; learning scientific methods by surveying aquatic species and stream habitats and collecting air quality monitoring data with Natural Resource Specialists; and helping Cultural Resource Managers catalogue recently found archeological artifacts. They are also assisting in enhancing the K-8 grade Parks as Classrooms (PAC) program curriculum for elementary and middle schools and developing new curriculum to expand the PAC program into high school. During this assignment, Park employees benefit from the teachers’ expertise to learn better ways to reach students.
Participating teacher-rangers bring the parks into the school system. “They will draw from their lessons learned and be better equipped to develop ‘curricula enhancers’ for use in the classroom,” said Chief of Resource Education Cathleen Cook. “In turn other educators in the school districts will benefit by sharing these new teaching tools and students will share in the enthusiasm of a teacher who has had the opportunity to be a National Park Ranger,” Cook continued.
Another feature of this mutually beneficial relationship is that during National Park Week, a Presidential proclaimed recognition of National Parks held annually in April, teacher-rangers will wear their NPS uniforms to school to help celebrate national parks and focus on assignments related to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, nature’s outdoor classroom.