By Natalie Weeks
Teaching, especially in 2020-2021 proves to be a very difficult profession, but one I would not trade for the world! Educators all over the world have had to bend, and sometimes break, to meet the needs of our students in these trying times. However, with my experience at the American Wilderness Leadership School, I was more than ready to let my students be outside and learn. Holding classes outside has allowed my students to not only have a break from being masked, but for them to truly appreciate existing in the outdoors.
In my short eight-year teaching career, six of the years have been at Random Lake High School in Random Lake, Wisconsin. In my current position I teach biology at level and at the college level in addition to other biology electives. I have also had the opportunity to write curriculum for and teach a class titled American Wilderness Science (AWS) based off the AWLS curriculum.
In 2017 I had the amazing opportunity to attend the American Wilderness Leadership School in Jackson, Wyoming. This professional development will continue to be the best thing that has happened for my teaching career and for my life. When I returned home from AWLS I compiled all of the resources given to us, along with some of my own, to make a class that I now teach to my high school students. As a part of this class, my students can get their hunter safety certification, go on a class camping trip, and learn about the North American Model of Wildlife Management. In addition to this class, I started our annual Random Lake Conservation Fair.
The Random Lake Conservation Fair began to get our community involved in local environmental initiatives as well as promote outdoor activities for children of all ages. Our first two years of the event in the spring of 2018 and 2019 we held the event in our high school gymnasium. For the event we had guest speakers from local nature preserves with birds of prey, local conservation groups touting their efforts, and even a guest speaker discussing bats of Wisconsin and the impacts of White Nose Syndrome on the populations.
In addition, we had so many wonderful community sponsors as well as conservation organizations donated money and/or prizes to raffle off at each event. Those sponsors include Wisconsin Safari Club International, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Pheasants Forever, and Ducks Unlimited. With their help, we were able to raise over $1,000 each year to help us make improvements to our outdoor classroom space.
This year’s event was one full of uncertainty. Our 2020 event was cancelled two weeks before due to COVID-19 precautions taken by our state and school. With the 2021 school year being as uncertain as the end of 2020, I decided to hold the event outdoors. This change was a blessing, but also a risk as anyone in the upper Midwest in April can attest to. We crossed finger, toes, eyes, and just about everything else to ask mother nature to be kind to us; just like the seasoned hunter does before opening morning. The additional uncertainty of how many people would be comfortable attending a public event also worried me greatly. All of my worries washed away when the 60% chance of rain dwindled to 15% overnight and over 300 people arrived in droves for the event.
This year many organizations were very ready to get their message of wildlife conservation and outdoor family fun to the masses. We had booths from our local Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Touch of the Wild trailer, a local muskie fishing club, live chainsaw carving, products from an elk farm and so much more. An ambassador from Buck Gardner calls also happens to live in my area and brought “make your own duck call kits” for children to build to their delight, and their parents’ annoyance. Students and another AWLS alumnus who teaches at Random Lake High School also taught NASP all day to anyone 4th grade and older. Scavenger hunts through our school forest trail and planting wildflower seeds rounded out our student lead activities.
Even through COVID-19 our event has grown through word of mouth from one organization to the other. The impact of the Conservation Fair as well s teaching my American Wilderness Science Class (AWS) has been profound. Through the fair we have exposed people in our community to many hunting-based conservation organizations and shown them all of the wonderful things they help to accomplish. In AWS, I will be certifying seven new hunters in a few short days. These are students whose families do not hunt, but through helping at the event each year and taking my class, have grown an appreciation for the sport and lifestyle and want to explore it further.
I am very thankful for Safari Club International and Safari Club International Foundation and all that they have inspired me to do. Because of my original involvement at AWLS as a participant I have been able to expose over 900 people in our small community to local hunting organizations as well as teach hunter safety to over 30 students in the past three years. I am very excited to continue to grow the program I have started and expand conservation education into younger grade levels in our K-12 school.