Stories from the Field

Alumni Spotlight: Anna Kennedy

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Growing up in western Sonoma County, CA, Anna Kennedy spent much of her childhood exploring the outdoors. But it wasn’t until her sixth grade class visited NatureBridge’s Golden Gate campus and her group embarked on their challenge hike in the Marin Headlands that Anna “had this moment of realizing I enjoy hiking!” That experience, coupled with a memorable night walk on the beach, set Anna on a path of discovery, study, and fieldwork that ultimately brought her back to NatureBridge Golden Gate in Fall 2023—as a seventh grade teacher with students of her own.

Anna (who serves as both a science teacher and Director of Operations for her school) accompanied students from Julia Morgan School for Girls in Oakland, CA. 2023 was the first year Julia Morgan students attended any NatureBridge program, and it was also the first year that Anna returned to a NatureBridge campus in a teacher role. Although Anna had not been back to NatureBridge since she was a sixth grader, the familiarity of the experience came rushing back to her when she stepped on campus. Memories of her wonderful environmental educator, the “fabulous food,” her group’s solo night walk on the beach, handling the marine animals in the touch tanks, operating the microscopes, nature journaling, and other recollections rose to her mind, and Anna was excited to see her own students participating in many of the activities she vividly remembers.

[NatureBridge] is a tried and true fabulous program…a hands-off, worry-free program for teachers.
Anna Kennedy, former NatureBridge student and current teacher
The Julia Morgan seventh graders experienced several of the moments Anna recalls—and made some memories of their own. While walking along Rodeo Beach, the class was thrilled to observe a pod of dolphins swimming in the surf nearby. They observed lichen growing on trees, connected their classroom learning about the endangered salt water harvest mouse to their in-person explorations of its habitat, and examined specimens of local animals in the Skins and Skulls Lab on campus. Anna notes that the “fan favorite” for this group of students was their hands-on exploration of the marine animals in the touch tanks in the Intertidal Lab. They also loved learning how to play gaga ball at NatureBridge, and upon returning to school, the students worked with another one of their teachers to build a gaga ball pit on their campus so they can continue to play the game at school. 

“Everyone at NatureBridge does such a great job of asking what our goals are and how they can make connections” to what the students are already learning and doing in school, Anna says, which led to her feeling like the NatureBridge experience truly supported and enhanced the students’ learning. “It’s really an interdisciplinary program, with connections and creativity.”

When asked what she thinks makes a NatureBridge trip so unique and memorable, Anna emphasized “the freedoms involved” for the students. Interacting with their peers—away from their familiar surroundings—and engaging with new adults and new experiences offers students a learning opportunity in which “the playing field is sort of leveled” without any preconceptions. “The amount of moving involved in everything they do” is such a change from a typical day at school, Anna notes. Plus, the outdoor learning experience is freeing for many students who may struggle with concerns about getting a wrong answer or apprehension about academic assessment. “The focus [is] on discovery and curiosity and observation.”

It’s really special to be with your friends and classmates away from the typical setting for a few days… I saw a lot of students try new things and overcome fears.
Anna Kennedy, former NatureBridge student and current teacher

Anna encourages other teachers and schools who are interested in bringing a class to NatureBridge to consider the long-lasting impacts such a trip offers. Since returning to the classroom, Anna has noticed that her science class students demonstrate “the ability to make more detailed observations.” She’s also seen them become more comfortable in nature and in “knowing how to listen and learn a little better.” Anna credits this to the skill and patience of the NatureBridge educators, who “met the students where they were at” during their program and encouraged them to try new things while also offering modified versions of participation to fit students’ varied needs. “It was so much fun,” Anna concludes, “and there was so much great, hands-on learning.”

Photos courtesy of Anna Kennedy

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