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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, USA

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina, USA
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Registered: January 2014
City/Town/Province: Durham
Posts: 1
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For the past four summers I have worked for the Student Conservation Association (SCA), a national nonprofit that aims to “build the next generation of conservation leaders.” Through a number of different programs, the SCA places students in outdoor settings across the nation. One program in particular is the National Conservation Crews, which is specifically geared towards high school students. I have participated with the Conservation Crews since my sophomore year of high school. For a month each summer, I lived and worked in three different National Parks: Denali (in Alaska), Isle Royale (in Michigan), and the Great Sand Dunes (in Colorado).

My involvement with the SCA was such a definitive part of my maturity that this past summer I applied to be an apprentice crew leader for the National Conservation Crews. I was accepted and placed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with two other crew leaders and seven, young, enthusiastic high-school students from across the country. The experience I had forced me to think critically of how we learn and how we teach.

Before the SCA, many participants have never swung tools and hiked extended distances with a heavy pack strapped to their backs. And, at first, these challenges can be uncomfortable. The pace is quick, the learning is hands-on, and it can be a very time-reflective experience (quite different from the screen-obsessed society we live in). Yet, as a leader of the crew I guided these students in their discoveries. I taught the students techniques of trail construction, instructed them on how to bake their own bread, and delegated responsibility to the students in keeping a clean camp. As a leader, I gave the students skills that I had once acquired, and then called upon them to teach each other.

Because of this environment that SCA crews foster, for many, the initial discomfort to the newness fades fast – the experience becomes easy and incredibly fun. For others, the discomfort and uncertainties that a month in a wilderness program might hold – having wet socks and sleeping in tents with strangers for instance – is tough to get past.

This past summer, I dealt with students like this first hand. Out of seven students, five had participated in an SCA program before, while the remaining two had engaged in a bare minimum of manual labor work. This generated quite a large divide amongst the group. Those who had experience approached the initial discomfort with the confidence and understanding that they will grow from the experience, leaving the beginners ankle deep in mud. With the ability to gage this divide, the inexperienced students were left with little confidence. In turn, they needed repeated guidance during task completion, as well as constant motivation and encouragement.

This varied need from the students was unexpectedly demanding. It required a specific tailoring of involvement and instruction on my part as leader. I, therefore, strived to create a balanced environment that was challenging enough for the independent, self-starters, yet still accessible to those less experienced. I hoped to provide motivation and support for those who needed it, while still allowing those who were searching, to find motivation in themselves. And overall, I was intent on impacting these students’ lives without asserting an unneeded, directive authority over their own personal experience.

Challenging as it was, I found solutions to these complex tasks. I found that by pairing students with differing levels of experience dispersed the tension that developed from the large gap of experience. This same strategy enabled students to teach each other the techniques they had learned, inevitably fostering a growth in self-confidence. And, this gain in self-confidence encouraged not only students’ empowerment, but also their feeling of belonging to the group, and (maybe) more importantly their commitment to the task at hand.

Naturally, the SCA attracts students that are hopeful of a challenge outside of their comfort zone. At one point, I was one of those shaky, unsure students. Now however, I am confident and committed to the task at hand, and empowered to teach others.
Date: January 1, 2014 Views: 5723 File size: 20.7kb, 3432.3kb : 3504 x 2336
Hours Volunteered: 1120
Volunteers: 10
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 20 & 15 to 30
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Registered: February 2014
City/Town/Province: biloxi
Posts: 2
February 6, 2014 2:14pm

You sound like a worthy leader for those inexperienced volunteers, so great job Clair. I would love to learn from you and the team. All I want to do is help the Earth. Tell me how I can be apart of this. I want to volunteer. I am extremely interested. Thank you for your services. Smile

Jes Levy