Stories from the Field

Educator Spotlight: Dana Delos Santos

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Dana Delos Santos

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Dana Delos Santos developed a connection to nature through urban green spaces—her favorite outdoor place is the Bishop’s Garden at the Washington National Cathedral. After completing the Educator Development Program (EDP) in Yosemite National Park this summer, Dana Delos Santos moved back east to be an educator at our Prince William Forest campus where she enjoys connecting city youth to the outdoors. We recently caught up with Dana to hear how her experience with EDP is shaping her role as an educator in the D.C. area.

My upbringing in a city greatly affected my connection to nature. I never stepped foot on a trail until college. But growing up in DC, I had access to some green spaces where I found solace. Now, nature is where I feel at rest but also a place that sparks excitement and empowerment.

Although this may sound cheesy, NatureBridge’s Educator Development Program was life-changing. I had never been to Yosemite National Park and I felt as though I was learning just as a student attending a NatureBridge program would. That experience caused me to be more mindful of what students may be feeling and thinking as I lead them on new journeys through nature.

NatureBridge at Prince William primarily serves public and charter schools from D.C. These schools come on full scholarship and most of our students have never hiked or camped before. Being from the city, I understand their discomfort with being in an entirely new environment. But once we get them by the creek, testing pH levels and looking for macroinvertebrates, a wave of excitement takes over. They often leave saying they wish they could stay longer.

Environmental education is so many things combined. Some days are science focused, while others are more focused on inner reflection. It all depends on the needs of your students, their school and, a lot of times, the weather. Just the other day the rain was really coming down, we got about an inch in just two hours, and we quickly had to get off trail and shift our activities indoors. You can never precisely stick to a plan and that’s part of the fun.

As a NatureBridge educator, I hope to create experiences for youth that inspire them to care for the outdoors and encourage them to feel more confident in themselves, whether it be in science or their own self esteem. Creek crossings, day hikes and wildlife encounters are big first moments for 10 year olds and I hope that at the end of the day they feel more empowered. 

Dana studied Environmental Science & Policy with a focus in Environmental Economics and previously worked for the National Park Service as a Natural Resource Management intern at Rock Creek Park in D.C., for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Refuge Service at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, as a horticulture intern at the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation—which sits on 57 acres of landscaped grounds in the heart of D.C.—and as an environmental education intern for the Student Conservation Association's D.C. Urban Tree House. Beyond NatureBridge, she hopes to study Environmental Law and move toward a career in Environmental Justice.

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