Michael Brasunas

Final Internship Report

For my Environmental Studies internship I chose to be a volunteer for a Whitman student organization called EEK (Environmental Education for Kids). As roughly stated in my log, EEK is a group of students who have gotten together to plan and execute lessons for local elementary kids that promote environmental awareness and education. Once a week for one hour a group of Whitman students will go into a classroom of 3rd or 4th graders and engage in a discussion or event with the kids to help them understand issues that pertain to our community or the earth as a whole. These goals for EEK are based around the idea that giving kids a chance to understand what is happening in nature can lead them to be more capable and connected learners in the future and will allow them to make more educational decisions.

For the first couple of weeks of my internship (which began on September 12th) there appeared to be very little organization at the upper levels of the group. Finally, on September 28th about twenty members of EEK went to the Johnston Wilderness campus for an evening retreat of seminars and exercises. This was beneficial mostly in that it brought a lot of cohesiveness to the group and allowed us to fire questions back and forth at each other so that we all came to a general understanding of the goals and practices of elementary environmental education. Another necessary aspect that I feel a lot of us gained at the retreat was confidence. By gaining ideas from each other I think all of us now feel a lot more prepared to step into a classroom and be comfortable with our repertoire of activities that we could initiate and behavior management options that we can implement. In one roll-play example, we broke into pairs and had one of us act as though he/she were a child who did not want to participate in a particular activity. The other person was to experiment with different procedures in order to try to get them to take an active role in the class activity. Although rather unrealistic, I found this activity (and several others that were quite similar) helpful in that it got me thinking about how I was going to handle certain situations. Because of my experience as an assistant teacher at an elementary school in Costa Rica I was able to place my mind back in those scenarios and get myself into the thought-provoking manner that creates those “teachable moments.”

My frustrations, however, continued to grow after the retreat. This was mostly due to the fact that the people responsible for organizing had not made many steps towards actually getting us into the classroom. After several weeks of negotiations and discussions we finally learned that the first group would be going into a classroom to begin a four-week program on Wednesday, October 24 in Mr. Crouter’s 4th grade class at Edison Elementary School. Although I felt confident about going into the classroom sooner than that, many intricacies had to be figured out before it was possible. For example, some of the schools we will be attending have a rather conservative political viewpoint. For these classes we will have to tone down some of the opinions that our lesson plans may promote. Our goal is not to shock or offend anyone, just to provide a bit of edifications. We want people to walk around with more understanding of what they are actually doing. ‘Where does that paper come from?’ ‘How did all those big trees grow there?’ ‘How do animals become extinct?’ ‘What can we do?’ We hope to answer these—and many more—questions that kids may have had but didn’t know it.

At the time of the midterm report I was feeling a bit concerned about my internship for the sole reason that—although much planning had gone into the lessons—I was yet to have carried out any of my ideas and I wasn’t sure that there would be adequate time. I truly love working with kids and I was anxious to step into the classroom and see all their mouths spouting random information when I ask a simple question such as “Where does oil come from?”

Finally, on October 22, I met with my group of six EEKers (there names were Jesse, Zoe, Kristy, Erica, and Anna. All possessed different, wonderful qualities and I knew we would work together. I had no idea how fun and exciting it actually would turn out to be. For the next month we regularly met on Monday nights, then again to hash out any specifics on Tuesday afternoons, and finally on Wednesdays at 1:15 to drive over to Edison. On that Monday night we got together in the Environmental Studies room in Maxey to discuss some of our goals. We came up with a few good ones (make an impact on each kid, have good discussion and participation, have fun, make saving the environment a priority in their minds) but decided that it would be much easier once we learned more about the class dynamics and the individuals that we were dealing with. We also decided that we would discuss our goals with Mr. Crouter and would like to hear any ideas or goals that he may have.

The first class on the 24th was a success. Although we were all a little bit nervous, we ease into our role rather easily. We had the kids sit in a circle on the floor with us and we all introduced ourselves and talked about the environment and our plans for the next four weeks. We had the kids do some artistic renditions of their ideal place in nature and we all shared and discussed what we had learned. All the kids were really enthusiastic and playful, it made that first day such a pleasant experience and set up a good working relationship for the next couple weeks.

The next week we brought in a recycling bin and explained to the kids the importance of recycling and we promised to collect the waste paper that they put into the bin every week. We had decided that the next three weeks we would focus on resources one week, environmental issues relating to the ocean (apparently, the class was studying a boat race that was going across the Indian Ocean and Mr. Crouter asked us to involve this into one class), and a field trip to Whitman the last week. For the resources day we talked about where things come from and what kind of resources go into them (we used the examples of breakfast foods, clothing, or things found in a classroom desk). The kids truly enjoyed this day as they were given a chance to let their minds explore. We had them all draw a web of resources tracing the different steps and processes that go into the manufacturing of materials that we use everyday. At this point I was feeling positive (I never really stopped feeling positive) about this experience and this chance to work with such wonderful kids. The six of us were always talking about how great the class was. It made the work so much more enjoyable.

I’m not going to talk too much in depth about the last two weeks in this report, mostly because it’s covered in my log. But I will say that these two classes went extremely well too. For the day on Oceans we decided to talk about oil spills. The kids had a bit of trouble understanding the principles of this issue so we decided to just go outside after about 30-40 minutes and play. I still feel that they achieve a good basic understanding of this concept but weren’t really able to comprehend all the particulars.

The last class was a great finalizing chapter. We brought the kids to campus and they just soaked in it. Everywhere we went people smiled and fed off their energy. I just loved taking them all over campus and giving them a chance to see something new and have a good time learning in that environment. Each of the six of us was in charge of a group while we were in Narnia. We split up and tried to find as many species as possible. My group got so excited and ran all over the glen area picking bugs up and looking at different leaves. I truly enjoyed watching this process. Lastly, we went to the Science building and they had a ball looking at all the rocks and diagrams. Then we walked them back and said goodbye.

In conclusion, I would say that this internship was a great experience and I would definitely do it again. I worked with a great group of ‘educators’ and truly feel like I made an impact on these kids lives. I can think of few greater ways to feel good about myself than through teaching kids and watching them learn.