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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.”

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National Parks Service Teacher Ranger Teacher program

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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.

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