- Sponsorship -

Park Ranger for a Summer, Teacher of Nature All Year

Experience at Sleeping Bear Dunes will Inform Outdoor Lessons

The kindergartners in Cheryl Hutchings’ class at Stoney Creek Elementary have a few ideas about what park rangers do.

“They clean the water,” Wyatt said.
“They clean the dirt,” added Blake.
And from Aiden: “They help people stay safe.”

Hutchings, clearly delighted by their responses, told them it was a good start. Park rangers “help grown-ups remember the rules,” she pointed out. “They respect the wildlife, tell you spots that are and are not safe to visit and they know about first-aid and fire safety.”

Hutchings’ class will have the entire school year to learn about the profession, and she likely will use every chance she gets to talk about it. Their new teacher spent the summer as an intern at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

“It was the opportunity of a lifetime,” she said.

The “teacher ranger teacher” program, which has been around since 1998, aims to give K-12 teachers a chance to learn about and take part in National Parks Service resources and programs, and to develop one or more lessons to teach in their own classrooms using those resources.

Hutchings was the sole teacher-ranger-teacher this year at Sleeping Bear. Besides creating lesson plans, she participated in the Port Oneida Fair, bringing history to life for park visitors. Her internship earned her graduate school credits with the University of Colorado, Denver.

“Cheryl was a significant player and a great asset to the Sleeping Bear Team,” said ranger Joshua Schultz.

Hutchings displays photos from her internship as a park ranger on a bulletin board in her classroom

Darn It, No Uniform

A big focus of the internship was creating a pilot distance-learning curriculum on bears, watersheds and climate change. During the school year, she and her students will Skype with Schultz, with whom she worked over thesummer.

The lesson, called “Bear Essentials,” will teach students about the importance of the four main needs of bears: food, water, shelter and space.

“Then we’ll take that outside our own classroom, identify the insects, the birds, the animals here, and ask, ‘What can we do to help the wildlife we have to get what they need?'” Hutchings said.

As someone who dressed as a park ranger last Halloween because it’s her dream job, who recently hiked in the Redwood Forest of California with her husband, and who was disappointed she didn’t get to wear an official park ranger uniform, Hutchings said hopes her enthusiasm rubs off on her students — and wants them to know she wasn’t without nerves.

She related the experience to a book she was reading to her class about a young girl who doesn’t think she can draw well. The important thing, she told them, was in the trying.

“I related my uncertainty as an adult to just taking that little first step,” she said. “It’s important for them to hear because a lot of them have anxieties about all the new things they are experiencing right now.”


National Parks Service Teacher Ranger Teacher program

- Sponsorship -
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.


Vaccine trial participant: ‘I really want to get back to normal’

Orchestra teacher and cellist Eric Hudson longs for the days when he can direct student musicians in concerts and tours and play in his own ensemble once again. To help speed that process along, he is participating in a COVID-19 vaccine trial...

Longtime agriscience teacher earns honorary FFA degree

After 24 years of teaching, John Schut believes incorporating fun and service into education is more engaging for students than taking notes in a classroom...

Stress, studies and the pandemic: a steep learning curve

In response to the social and emotional impacts brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Rockford’s Developing Healthy Kids Campaign wants students and families to know they are not alone...

Health Department helps schools tackle challenges of instruction, during winter, in a pandemic

Working with the health department has been crucial in helping area school leaders understand the nature of COVID-19, the types of mitigation strategies that can be most effective and how to plan for the future...


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Related Articles

Comstock Park closes all schools for in-person instruction

Dave Washburn, superintendent of Comstock Park Schools, said the decision to go all-virtual was made due to the number of positive COVID-19 cases among staff and students, as well as the number of staff and students quarantined...

Laughter, lessons & support for virtual students, parents

Key to learning from home: get outside, be safely social and find ways to bond, moms say...

Superheroes, jungle explorers, Cinderella join virtual kindergarten lessons

As an all-virtual kindergarten teacher at Stoney Creek Elementary, Tiffany Imhoff is constantly adapting and tweaking her lessons to keep her students engaged and learning...
- Sponsorship -


Engagement: The Most Important Measure of Student Success

Polls find that students’ engagement in their school work declines as they ascend the grades. Tests that don’t relate to their real-life experiences exacerbate the problem...


Food ‘angels’ support hungry kids through pandemic

They work all across Kent County, guardian angels with peanut butter on their hands and crumbs on their shirtsleeves...
- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You LiveWGVU