Stories from the Field

NatureBridge and CalTeach Celebrate Four Years of Collaboration

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For the fourth year, NatureBridge has had the opportunity to partner with the CalTeach, a program of the University of California Merced. The program invites students interested in outdoor education and teaching to apply for a six-day, full-time externship in Yosemite National Park at our NatureBridge campus. By co-leading a group of K-12 students with a NatureBridge Educator, CalTeach participants gain research and teaching experience in the outdoor setting.

I am not sure how the partnership originated, however, because of my Masters in Outdoor Teacher Education from Northern Illinois University where I worked with preservice teachers in the field of outdoor education, as soon as I learned of the program, I wanted in! So I asked my boss, Education Director Reed Schneider, if I could help in any way. He accepted my offer and I have now had the privilege of facilitating the partnership in Yosemite for the third year. Each year we work toward improving the experience for both the CalTeach externs and the NatureBridge educators. Thank you, Reed!

A Unique Opportunity

Each year, students from UC Merced and UC Berkeley apply to the program and, if accepted, get to spend their spring break in Yosemite National Park. It’s not a free ride, however. They are expected to observe the first day, then start to assist in teaching and facilitating in a scaffolded manner, based on their comfort and prior experience. Some meet the minimum expectations, others exceed them, as is expected with a diversity of backgrounds and experiences.

This is also a unique opportunity for NatureBridge educators to share their passion for teaching in the wild outdoors, as well as their educational philosophy, goals and knowledge, with these potential teachers from CalTeach. Additionally, for the past two years, I have been able to offer one educator the opportunity to be my co-lead on this, a collaborative opportunity like no other. Last year it was Patrick Hagarty and this year it was Sonia Veiga. Both educators offered great ideas to improve the program with their unique perspectives and background experiences. I am so lucky! As are the educators and externs.

2019 Program Highlights

For the past two years we have been doing a “school visit” to UC Merced, prior to the spring break trip, to help prepare the students for their upcoming adventure. This year two of the UC Berkeley students joined us via video, a new thing, for which we were not prepared—but that means next year is an opportunity for growth and improvement!

Also, as in the past, we had externs who returned for a second year. This year that was Preston from UC Merced. Other former returnees include Jessica, now working for UC Merced’s CalTeach program and Alex, who helped coordinate last year’s trip while Hijab went to our SoCal campus.

Preston (middle) with his mentor last year, Matt Thomas (left) and his 2019 mentor, Connie Roberts (right).

An Interview with Former NatureBridge Student Nada

A new and exciting event this year was that a former NatureBridge student applied and was accepted! Not only is she an alumni of a NatureBridge adventure in Yosemite, she was a student of mine and Patrick’s when we collaboratively taught Temple City High School! Wowza! I was so excited I interviewed her. 

Mara: Without thinking about the answer, say the first thing that pops into your mind. What is the thing you remember first about your NatureBridge experience?

Nada: New friendships.

Mara: What do you notice differently now as a CalTeach extern vs. being a NatureBridge student?

Nada: How much planning goes into everything and how adaptable educators are. It felt like it was the plan, but I realize that that was not the case now. I don’t think the students or the teachers realize how the educators are constantly changing plans.

Mara: How do you think this experience is going to impact your future? 

Nada: Ever since last year, being outside has become important to me, as well as preserving the environment. I am not sure I will go into education, but I want others to have this incredible experience. 

My co-lead Sonia and I paired Nada with Sylvia Doyle, who happened to be my collaborative teaching partner this year when Temple City High School came to Yosemite (last year it was Patrick and I co-teaching). Nada and Sylvia had a marvelous time and Nada even shared a leadership activity with the students that Patrick had led last year during the TCHS environmental science programs in Yosemite.

I am excited for next year’s CalTeach experience because this is a great partnership and each year we improve the program, with more feedback, fresh ideas, guidance and training for all participants.

Learn more about the CalTeach Spring Externship with NatureBridge.

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