be part of my future career.
I was hired as an education specialist at the Anita B. Gorman Discovery Center in January 2010. I now have the privilege of teaching hundreds of students from the Kansas City metropolitan area about nature and wildlife management.
One of my favorite events as an MDC education specialist was helping to lead a three-day July float trip for 24 boys with the Urban Ranger Corps. The Urban Ranger Corps is a program that provides summer jobs to high school-aged boys in Kansas City. Through these jobs the boys also learn life skills such as punctuality and teamwork.
Canoeing and camping involved skills and surroundings that were foreign to many of the Rangers. Some were anxious about living outdoors for three days. As the flotilla pushed off of the banks of the Current River, no one knew what awaited the group as it traveled down the river. At first, it seemed as if the canoes were able to find every log and gravel bar. For some of the boys, this only confirmed the worries they had prior to the trip. But with enthusiasm and knowledge, Discovery Center staffers guided them past their fears. The boys all became adept at maneuvering their canoes.
One of the most profound moments during the trip occurred the first night beside the campfire on the gravel bar. The boys discussed the differences between their environments in the city and on the river. Although not all of the boys were enamored by the outdoors, the majority said that they appreciated the serenity found in nature. Stories about birds and reptiles seen that day were retold as friends enjoyed the simple joy of sharing a campfire. They talked about the day’s fishing and their first catch of goggle-eye and smallmouth bass.
But there are outdoor lessons we can teach within the city, too.
In March, noted author and ornithologist John C. Robinson made a presentation at the Discovery Center and also led a birding hike for youth at the Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area in Blue Springs. Robinson’s book Birding for Everyone focuses on how mentors can foster an appreciation for birds in children of color. Light the spark and fan the flame to help urban children learn about the natural world, he said, even if it’s as simple as understanding birds that come to a backyard feeder.
We offer the same outreach daily at the Discovery Center by teaching children that there are many paths to nature and they’re open to all.
When as a child I saw a lone whitetail deer at the Dunes Seashore, I had no idea that it would lead me to teach others about wildlife, forests, fishes and prairies. I am glad that it did, and I watch the faces of the young people we serve, searching for that “aha!” expression that tells me nature has touched their hearts, and that they want more. I look forward to helping them find it.