Stories from the Field

Teacher Spotlight: Mary Patterson

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Longfellow Middle School students overlooking Yosemite Valley

Longfellow Middle School history teacher Mary Patterson’s journey with NatureBridge started all the way back when she was in the seventh grade! Mary visited us as a student in 1977 when NatureBridge was known as the Yosemite Institute. Nearly 20 years later, Mary completed the cycle when she returned as a teacher, bringing her first group of eighth graders to our Yosemite campus. In fact, Mary hasn’t missed a year since 2006 (excluding the past three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic), with her upcoming visit in the spring of 2023 marking her 15th visit!

One of the many benefits of bringing students to our national park classrooms is the opportunity to be energized by our surroundings and explore new ideas. When asked why Mary is such a believer in NatureBridge programs, she responds that “a typical day of school has a known, familiar routine for most students. NatureBridge programs are packed with new experiences that utilize all of our senses and bring us a fresh idea of ourselves as part of the natural world.”

Longfellow Middle School students in Yosemite

It’s not just the new environment that motivates Mary to continue to bring her students to NatureBridge. It’s the confidence they develop from finishing difficult hikes. It’s developing a sense of connection with peers as they learn to work towards a common goal. It’s the sense of wonder they get from being immersed in the majesty of nature. “I feel very proud to help so many young people visit such an amazingly beautiful part of the world that they might not experience otherwise,” Mary says.

Longfellow Middle School students journaling in Yosemite Valley
Longfellow Middle School students journaling in Yosemite Valley

The learning and development don’t end there. After students return home, Mary notices that students are independent, they trust each other, their teachers and chaperones, and they are ready to embark on their high-school years. Mary recalls, “Students routinely come back and report that their time in NatureBridge was the best field trip of their entire school career. They also often tell me that they go back to Yosemite and lead their parents and siblings on hikes!” 

We are proud to be a part of the journey for Mary and look forward to the many students who follow Mary’s lead. 

Photos courtesy of Mary Patterson

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