A Decade and a Half of Stories
By Rink Somerday
When I think of the thousands of students I have taught over the past 14 years, it is hard to remember all the faces and all the names. Some stick out for the insight they possessed on a field trip or the connection they made to what we were learning about in a classroom program. Some faces I remember for how they lit up while learning about the fragrance of the creosote bush or when they saw a walking stick and exclaimed, “I’ve heard about these but have never seen one!” Then, there are just the ones I see in passing at one of the events at our Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park and remember their smile, simply being outside and enjoying nature.
My first summer at Asombro, we had about ninety people out for a desert night hike and were looking for scorpions and the like. I hear, “Excuse me, Miss?” and look up to see a young cowboy, complete with hat and rodeo belt buckle squatted down near a rock outcropping. I walk over and he points to something with a look of aversion on his face and says, “What is that?” It was a vinegaroon. I chuckle and scoop up the little arachnid. As I start to explain why vinegaroons are harmless and beneficial the cowboy, still with his look of aversion said, “Ma’am, I ride bulls but I would never pick that up!” While I doubt if this young man would ever physically pick up a vinegaroon, he did gain insight into why they are necessary to our environment.
A few years later, we were participating in a Science Night at a local elementary school. We had our collection of skins and skulls and were teaching students and parents about adaptations of animals we have in our desert. We had our popular rattlesnake skin and were asking students what kind of home snakes lived in and if snakes dug their own holes. After a variety of answers, we explained that no, they do not dig their own holes and that they steal burrows from other animals such as pocket mice, kangaroo rats, and wood rats.
After students oooh’d and moved on, an elderly grandmother came up to the table and very quietly told us, “I have lived here all my life and I never knew that. I guess you learn something new all the time.”
However, my favorite story is about a young man and his science fair project. I was judging projects at Sierra Middle School a few years back and approached a young man with a project about which fertilizer was best for plants. He explained his project to me, his hypothesis, the procedures of the experiment, and his results. I asked if his hypothesis was supported by his data. He told me no, his experiment failed terribly with most of the plants dying from over fertilizing. He went on to say what he would change if he did the experiment again because he learned from me in 3rd grade that “it is ok if our hypothesis was incorrect as long as we still learned something.” It turns out he was part of our Experience Science Program in elementary school where we visited each third grade classroom once a month. That young man is now in high school and I like to think that those critical thinking skills have carried him through.
I am fortunate to be in the classroom, on the “front lines” of education with a variety of students from public to private schools, kindergarten to high school, teachers to the general public. I have seen the light bulb go on as connections are made and students experience the excitement of learning something new. I also know that we could not do what we do with your help. Your time, your monetary donations, your support is what puts the power of learning into their hands. And when we say, “We can’t do it without you,” we mean that from the heart. These stories are your stories.
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