2nd Grade Teacher Learns About Wildlife Conservation and Giving Back at SCI Foundation’s American Wilderness Leadership School.
By Katie Baker
As I landed in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I had no idea what to expect. I knew no one who had been to AWLS and I knew no one who was participating in my session. I was greeted by John and Laura Valley who I would later find out were my NASP instructors for the week. My fears lessened as we met up with three other teachers who were also attending alone. The hour-long drive from the airport to AWLS was filled with postcard-worthy landscape. When we arrived, we unloaded our luggage and entered the dining hall for a quick introduction and our first dinner. I was shocked to see that there were 37 other teachers participating in the session. Over the next 8 days I would learn, grow, and create lifelong friendships with this amazing group of educators.
A flagpole is displayed on the grounds of AWLS with a plaque that reads, “This flagpole stands in memory of Joe Lawler, avid sportsman, true conservationist, and energetic supporter of The American Wilderness Leadership School. Joe’s vision for a school that can educate the public about the true role of sport hunting as a necessary tool in wildlife management is being realized through AWLS. You be the judge of the role of hunting…but take the time to learn the facts before you judge. Joe would want it that way”. This idea resonates within every activity, lecture, and field trip.
I opted to take my Blue Bag to South Africa empty and with the help of my Professional Hunter, Roche Du Preez and his wife Ansu at Roche Safaris, I filled my bag with various school supplies, hygiene products, and soccer balls. We were given the opportunity to deliver the bag to Thanda Primary School in Hectorspruit while on our hunting safari this July. The school has over 721 students with only 8 classrooms. One classroom holds 94 students with only one teacher. We were fortunate enough to speak with two of the wonderful teachers who work at the school. It was amazing to hear how dedicated and passionate these women are to these children and their education. They thanked us endlessly for our gifts and showed us around the school, including the vegetable garden that the students learn to plant and maintain starting in kindergarten.
It is hard to believe that my journey at AWLS only began early this summer. I have learned so much and have met some of the most knowledgeable and passionate people through this experience. I cannot thank the Safari Club International Foundation enough for all of their help and dedication. I hope that my passion for conservation education and my story can help impact others in the way that the AWLS staff did for me.