We absolutely love having school groups come out and visit us for field trips, but Riveredge’s mission has always been bigger than just our nature center and land. Riveredge is constantly looking to pioneer methods of redefining a community’s relationship to a nature center and their natural environment, and our new Naturalist In Residence program is a prime example of this innovation and expansion in our mission.
The Naturalist in Residence program is an exciting project being piloted this year in partnership with the West Bend School District. At a time when today’s kids spend less and less time outdoors (becoming known as “Nature Deficit Disorder”) and more and more research continues to confirm the serious consequences this lack of exposure has, this cutting-edge program will place a fully-funded environmental educator directly into schools for five years. The Naturalist in Residence will partner with school staff to inspire, inform, and reduce barriers to their use of the outdoors as a teaching tool.
Making the program responsive to the needs of the schools we partner with is a key component of the project. In that regards, Megan Johnson has been a perfect fit for the West Bend School District’s “Scientist in Residence”, a Naturalist in Residence position focusing their attention on expanding science teaching through outdoor learning and classroom space. Megan has previously taught environmental education at a number of leading institutions and as the Director of Nature Center at a camp in Northern Wisconsin was responsible for designing the curriculum for over 25 lessons. She has passion for the scientific research and discovery she’ll be teaching as well; Megan has contributed to research on bat populations in Eastern Iowa, management of invasive species, and even traveled to Paraguay to study amphibians, birds, fish, and vegetation.
Already, in her first two months as the Scientist in Residence, Megan has taught over 500 sixth graders a lesson on prairies, held a special insect field day for second graders, and had all K-6 teachers in the District on a hike in their district’s outdoor classroom to generate and brainstorm ideas for the teachers’ utilization of the space.
According to Megan, “The reaction from students and teachers has been amazing. There are many teachers who are enthusiastic to get their kids outside and out of the classroom. The kids are engaged and excited to do something out of the norm. For some of them having the chance to explore freely outside is not regular and it offers a unique experience.”
We can’t wait to keep you updated on Megan’s progress and to see what differences can be made working in a true partnership with our local schools. In the meantime, check out the Naturalist in Residence page for more information on the program, and we would love to hear from you if you interested in learning more about the project or have interest in contributing to help us keep expanding and growing its reach.