The author Franklin Pierce Jones once said, “You can learn many things from children. How much patience you have for instance.” Franklin must have worked with a child like Stevie. Since meeting Stevie in her classroom the week before her field trip, I knew that she would prove difficult to reach. Stevie had a big attitude for a small child. During a classroom visit I asked Stevie, “Which part of our field trip are you the most excited for?”, to which she replied, “None of it, I don’t like to go outside.”
As an AmeriCorps member currently serving as the Environmental Education Coordinator for the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, my main duties include getting kids outside and interested in salmon and watershed ecology. With Stevie, I knew I had my work cut out for me. When her field trip came, I greeted Stevie with an excited hello and was met with a nervous look. She was clearly out of her comfort zone. The first part of our Students for Salmon Field Trip consists of three different hands-on, scientific learning stations where students make their own conclusions about the health of the stream for salmon. As the stations went on, Stevie seemed to be opening up more to the experience. She was quick to show me the macroinvertebrate that she had found and given the name “Doug”, and told me that since Doug the mayfly was a group one macroinvertebrate (the most sensitive kind) then our water must be clean and clear for salmon.
During the native plants station, Stevie stood before her group and proudly presented the facts that she had learned about the Western Red Cedar. “These trees can grow to be 150 feet tall, which gives lots of shade to our stream and the salmon.” The look of nervousness on her face had completely vanished and was replaced by an ear-to-ear smile.
After the stations, I led the students in a restoration activity in order to improve the health of the stream that we studied. That day we were using clippers and shovels to remove invasive Himalayan blackberry bushes from the banks of the creek. During this activity, Stevie came up to me, dirt-covered and with an armful of blackberry canes, and said “This is the most fun I’ve ever had on a field trip! I can’t wait to come back here with my mom to show her the work that we did here!”
Moments like this have not been uncommon during my service term as an AmeriCorps member. This spring, my program has gotten 1,377 students outside to local stream sites, inspiring them to get involved in science and local watershed issues. Through our restoration activities and the hard work of nine-year-olds like Stevie, we have removed 3,090lbs of invasive vegetation and have planted 197 native trees and shrubs along stream banks. My service has left me feeling just as inspired as any of my students. The experience of seeing the impacts that my service has had on these students, streams, and community as a whole is one that has completely energized my pursuit of a career in environmentalism. I look forward to utilizing the skills and confidence gained through my AmeriCorps term in future endeavors.