A Year of National Park Exploration

May 26, 2023 1:29 pm

A School Year Filled with National Park Experience—with More to Come

When Agora Curriculum Coordinator Lauren Shaffer was selected to attend STEAM in the Park last summer, she knew she’d be bringing her experience back to Agora, but she didn’t expect to be able to share so many wonderful experiences with Agora students so quickly. Throughout the 2022-23 school year, students from across all grade levels have been given the opportunity to interact with our national and state park systems and learn more about many important topics.

To make matters even more exciting, Lauren has been invited back for the 2023 STEAM in the Park camp week at Acadia National Park in Maine in late July. From the press release announcing the news: “We know that outdoor experiences help students increase their understanding of natural and human communities, which leads to a sense of place. Our goal is to integrate outdoor learning via the National Parks with Real World Problems, utilizing tools such as the UN Global Goals.” Lauren hopes to continue bringing the “outdoors in” through virtual experiences with our national and Pennsylvania state parks. She also hopes to work with family coaches to organize and coordinate many outdoor learning and STEM opportunities for our students next year. Lauren will be learning about watersheds, habitats, conservation and sustainability, ecosystems, and invasive species.

Considering the number of meaningful experiences that Lauren and Agora were able to create for students after just one summer with the program, we can’t wait to see what 2023-24 brings, and we thank Lauren for her time and dedication. Here is a look at some of the educational and career exploration opportunities that took place during the 2022-23 school year.

Acadia National Park with Ranger Mike

In February, Ranger Mike came to Agora virtually to visit elementary students in grades K-5 for an ADO! He talked with them about what makes Acadia special, where it’s located, and about all the types of plants and animals that you may see there. He had the students spread their arms wide like an eagle spreading its wings, use their hand binoculars to birdwatch, sway like the tall grasses in the birch forests and learn about the natives who inhabited the land from the Wabanaki Confederacy.

Yellowstone National Park with Ranger Shannon

Ranger Shannon also came to Agora virtually at our February ADO to visit middle and high school students in grades 6-12. She talked with them about the geographic and geological features of Yellowstone, such as calderas, hot springs, geysers and mud pots. Students were also interested in hearing about the Yellowstone supervolcano (Yellowstone caldera)! Ranger Shannon discussed how the many animals in Yellowstone have had to adapt to the ever-changing conditions of the land. She also reviewed her life as a ranger and tied it to career connections for our high school students.

Exploring Space and NASA Day

In April, students in the Advanced Learners Program (ALP) in grades 3-5 experienced Exploring Space and NASA Day, and two special guests really expanded the students’ horizons. Crissy Canerday works in Houston with the International Space Station (ISS) team for NASA. She shared what it’s like to work in the flight control room and communicate with the astronauts on the ISS. She also shared her experiences, educational background and what got her interested in space exploration.

Brian Cizek works as a civilian meteorologist and launch weather officer for the 45th Weather Squadron at Cape Canaveral, Florida. He helps to provide launch weather support for organizations like the Department of Defense, NASA and SpaceX. A former TV meteorologist, Brian talked with the students about the importance of his job and about what they need to do to go into a career like that. These kinds of career discussions show that the future is wide open for all our students—and that even the sky is no limit.

NOAA Day with HS Earth Science

In March, some of our high school students enjoyed listening to a guest speaker from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Meteorologist Mr. Brice spoke with Ms. Schweizer’s earth science class about weather, climate and climate change. The students shared notes of thanks: “One thing I learned from the presentation was about how wildfires have become so dangerous” and “It was really interesting to learn about certain aspects of the water cycle and climate change, and how it affects us overall!” Next school year, Agora’s middle school earth science classes can look forward to a visit from a Grand Canyon National Park ranger, who will discuss geography and geology.

Career Exploration with Presque Isle State Park

High school earth science students were also lucky enough to meet two park rangers from Presque Isle State Park in Erie. They learned what park rangers do daily, from keeping plants and animals safe in the park to making sure visitors have a fun and safe visit to educating students and adults about wildlife, hunting, fishing, hiking and the many other opportunities in our parks. They also discussed summer internships and youth programs that high school students could get involved in if they were interested in working in a state park, along with the educational paths that students need to take to go down this road in the future. As one student summed it up perfectly, “It was fun learning about all the different jobs and responsibilities of working at a state park.”

After a little something for students of all ages in 2022-23, Lauren and Agora are set to take this exploration even further during the next school year.