by Tom McKean
Being involved at the Montana Natural History Center has given me the unique opportunity to interact with a variety of people from across Montana. From preschool teachers to university professors, and from field scientists to young aspiring naturalists, there are two common and binding characteristics that I have observed: a strong sense of place and love of learning.
Last weekend wrapped up the final session of the 2014-2015 A Forest for Every Classroom (FFEC) program. This program is a collaboration between a host of government agencies, education non-profits, universities, and environmental organizations that provides place-based education training for educators. FFEC’s mission states that it is “a dynamic professional development program for educators focused on place-based approaches to education. Teachers who participate in FFEC gain experience, form relationships and increase their own knowledge so that they are able to foster student understanding of and appreciation for their natural and human communities.”
I am fortunate enough to have gotten to attend two of these sessions as MNHC’s FFEC intern. Over days we spent in the pristine larch groves and snowy track-riddled forests of the Swan and Blackfoot Valleys, I canoed across fog-hooded lakes before sunrise, listened to stories about horsepacking through wilderness and toured active timber harvest sites. Our group also had the opportunity to experience the tribal material culture that is as much a living part of that landscape as the mink we tracked in and out of a frozen creek.
During my time with these teachers, I began to see something that goes unnoticed by many in America today. I saw a deep connection integrally tied to landscape and hardworking people who were trying to find the best ways to communicate that to young people of all ages. I saw kindergarten teachers learning how to integrate place-based education into play time and high school teachers learning how to integrate more out-of-classroom learning into their curriculum. I saw teachers from small rural schools interacting and networking with each other, sharing ideas and building friendships.
I think these educators, with their diverse backgrounds and personalities, embodied most what I truly appreciate about people: true empathy. Their commitment to providing young Montanans with quality leaning opportunities is wholly noble and undoubtedly supported by A Forest for Every Classroom.