A Q&A with Our Education Team
With the pandemic bringing new and ever evolving challenges for the safety of students and staff, the world of education has been a field that’s rapidly evolving and adapting. Fulfilling the educational mission here at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (LEWI) hasn’t been easy, but our amazing partners in the education department at LEWI have risen to the challenge again and again.
We want to give our partners a chance to share some of their experiences during the past two years and how they will continue to help educate students, as well as highlight some of their achievements. To this end, the education team, Education Specialist Cathy Peterson, and Education Technicians Izzy Sanchez and Zachary Stocks, were able to share some insight through a virtual interview.
Question: What is the education mission here at LEWI?
As shared by Cathy Peterson, the goal and mission of the park education team are the following:
Goal: To develop stewards of the Lewis and Clark National Historical Park sites, and of the full spectrum of heritage in the Columbia Pacific Region.
Mission Statement: Through its education program, LEWI will become an educational resource and outdoor classroom for educators and students of the immediate area and beyond. This will lead to greater understanding and protection of natural and cultural resources both inside and outside national parks.
Question: What have been some of the ways you’ve been able to connect with students who cannot physically visit the Park?
Zachary Stocks: When the pandemic prevented in-person learning at school and at the park, we reimagined our Life at the Fort field trip as a virtual-first program. We’re proud to have been able to pivot towards online visitation and still provide quality educational offerings for students. In many ways, it challenged us to be more aware of our interpretive techniques. We found the video conferencing platforms required us to be clearer and louder in our delivery, to provide additional lighting, and to describe where we are and what we’re doing for those unable to see us. In this way, our field trips became more accessible to all students than ever before.
Izzy Sanchez: When we shut down in the Spring of 2020, it was a surreal moment of, “wow, this is really happening,” Once our Education Technician at the time left and I moved in to pick up duties, our team really dug into Distance Learning. We evaluated what we had and communicated with teachers how we could navigate connecting with schools that were operating at home. We jumped in doing a Life at the Fort program, which includes a fort tour, costumed ranger program, and a flintlock demonstration. Doing all this and talking to an iPad in a professional setting was odd. It felt good to be able to give students a break and bring light education moments during their long virtual school days. We caught a rhythm and continued promoting this experience to local and out of state educators. We have received an immense amount of positive feedback. We can connect with small or large groups. Of course, the challenges of being compliant and still delivering great information are hurdles we face. We have a great team which can get through the tech and communication issues. I couldn’t be happier with the team’s effort in connecting with students!
Q: Approximately how many students have you been able to connect with virtually since the start of the pandemic?
IS: During the 2020-2021 school year our education team delivered 21 virtual programs and connected with 947 students, and 20 teachers and adults.
Q: Now that some restrictions have lightened, how many in-person field trips are expected for the upcoming winter and spring season?
ZS: In person field trips have already resumed! We have welcomed three schools for onsite field trips since October. We are optimistic that we will see an uptick in small group field trips here at Fort Clatsop this spring. Local schools will probably be the first to return to their annual visits to the park, along with homeschool and private school groups from around the region.
Q: What do some of the different field trips look like?
Izzy Sanchez: Field trips do not look too much different from what we did pre pandemic. What’s changed is the number of students we allow to visit, keeping numbers under 30 total. Visitors from schools are to be masked, and there will be a ranger with the three rotations in our Life at the Fort program. Our stations run at 30-minute rotations, with a plant ID activity, fort tour/program, and exhibit seek and find. It wraps up with a flintlock demonstration and the schools can leave, eat, or shop in the bookstore after. Our Class of Discovery is on pause for now. We imagine that local educators will be first to know when that restarts.
Q: Will there be anything out of the norm for those in-person field trips, or any other difficulties you’ve had to work around?
ZS: We are continuing to monitor the emergence of new COVID-19 variants, and all in person field trips still require face masks and social distancing. For now, we are only providing guided field trip experiences to groups of less than 30 persons. Those who come though will receive largely the same Life at the Fort field trip they know and love, with a fort tour, lesson-based activities, and a flintlock weapon demonstration.
Q: Tying in with the education mission, what are your thoughts on why the
work you do is important?
IS: What I feel is important is bringing
people to parks or now, parks to people.
Our parks are a safe place to learn, explore,
and reflect. We are stewards who have the
responsibility to interpret or develop materials to give the best experience people can have. After brutally being inside during the pandemic, the connection people need with the outdoors is a big healing component.
Q: Do you have any interactions you’d like to share that have reminded you of why education, and the work you do, is important?
ZS: Virtual programming allowed us to reach several groups this year from far beyond our area –Virginia, Arkansas, Texas, and Idaho to name a few. We had a wonderful program with an elementary school in Hawaii that was taking their students on a “road trip” across the United States with visits to many National Park sites along the way. The students were so eager to learn and asked wonderful questions about our Indigenous neighbors and our unique climate and wildlife. It was a wonderful reminder that the work we do can open new worlds to people, even if we only see them for an hour.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
IS: I would like to thank everyone who supported our efforts to stay connected with students and educators. It has been a fun step toward hybrid learning. I hope we can continue to grow, as far as our reach. It would be amazing to work with a school overseas!
There you have it! The education team at LEWI works hard to be able to assist teachers and work with students. It is always an honor to be able to work beside them and offer aid with their educational mission. We thank them, and we thank you for supporting us here at the Lewis & Clark National Park Association, too. Along with other projects, many of the proceeds from our bookstore sales go to helping the education team with their ventures and your support of us directly goes into helping improve and expand the education program at LEWI.
As always you can help support LCNPA and the work done at LEWI by shopping in our bookstore, open seven days a week from 9-5, or online at FortClatsopBookstore.com, where you can find categories of items such as books, tools, and collectibles popular with school groups and educators too.