Meet Allie, Summer Education Assistant

Thanks to your support, Pepperwood has been able to create two paid Summer Education Assistants to support our Budding Biologists summer camp and TeenNat internship. In addition to enhancing the Pepperwood experience for younger program participants, these Assistants gain valuable, resume-boosting experience in environmental education.

My Pepperwood Experience

By Allie Ahern, Summer Education Assistant

Hi Pepperwood community! My name is Allie Ahern, and I’m thrilled to be back at Pepperwood this summer as an Education Assistant. I first became involved at Pepperwood in 2014 as a TeenNat intern, and I’m excited to pass on my passion for science and the outdoors to the teens who will be joining us this summer.

I am currently pursuing a degree in Environmental Engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I can definitively say that being a TeenNat intern sparked my interest in an environmentally-based career. While I already spent lots of time enjoying runs in Annadel State Park as part of my high school’s cross country team, TeenNat taught me to appreciate nature in a new, more close-up way. I was ever-more tempted to stop on my runs, my eye caught by an interesting flower or a brightly colored bird or insect. I’d regret not having my phone with me; what a lost opportunity for an iNat observation! [Editor’s note: iNaturalist.org is the online global biodiversity database where TeenNat interns upload photos of the plant and animal species they encounter at Pepperwood.]

Spending time outside admiring nature’s beauty is one of my favorite activities, and one that TeenNat made more enriching. I often joke that my choice in studies is a selfish one: I just want to be able to look at a pretty scenery for as long as I possibly can, so why not get paid to help preserve it? In all seriousness, though, conservation and climate change are some of the issues most pressing to my generation and those after me. I’d like to think that by painting faces and making fairy houses at Budding Biologists summer camp, I was making a positive impact on the future of our planet by inspiring more kiddos to be interested in nature.

Allie paints a camper’s face during Budding Biologists summer camp

While our hopes are for the kids at summer camp to become Budding Biologists, some of their favorite activities aren’t all that biology-related. The first week’s chosen obsession was paper airplanes! Each day produced around 30 or so paper airplanes, flown off the second story of the Dwight Center. They may have been learning about aerodynamics, but Henry, the other Education Assistant, and I gritted our teeth at the number of trees being sacrificed at the expense of this lesson. This was a good teaching moment for me, as my goals for Summer Camp had included grabbing and maintaining attention, as well as improving my disciplinary skills. I learned that it isn’t that hard to get kids to stop doing what you don’t want them to do, as long as you give them a fun alternative: paper airplane competitions simply turned into less wasteful games of Camouflage (where a Hawk tries to find its Prey hiding in the courtyard).

At some points during the week I began to feel a bit useless as an educator, as I know more about confusing physics and calculus than cool natural history facts. What could I offer the kids as we went out on our daily hikes? However, one of the campers helped me realize that I was doing one of the most important things to help them learn: making them feel safe and comfortable. On the first day they came in teary-eyed and unbearably shy, not even wanting to play games with their fellow campers. After offering to let them color by themselves on the first morning and walking over with them to the first game, they didn’t want me to leave their side. They even wanted to hold my hand as we hiked. While they asked me lots of questions that I couldn’t answer, I encouraged them to raise their hand and ask Jesse or Nicole. By the end of the week they were playing and talking with all of the other campers, and eager to learn. While I may not have been able to answer their questions, at least I had offered them a welcoming environment and the attention that they needed to learn.

Now, having finished up the first week of TeenNat, I already feel more comfortable and useful as an assistant. I’ve engaged in some great, sophisticated conversations, from identifying butterfly species to why I chose my major and my university, a far cry from talking to the camp kids about why you shouldn’t cheat during the game Frogger. I’m excited to help the TeenNatters learn about science careers and become better observers and analysts. The last four weeks of TeenNat will fly by!

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