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A School Year of Firsts

Written by Katie Wipfli
    Saturday, 28 June 2014
A School Year of Firsts

“Miss Katie, I love nature!” “Nature is the best!” I absolutely love hearing these exclamations as students dance on Washington Park’s Band Shell, climb fallen trees or dip nets into the lagoon. As my first year of teaching students in our school program comes to an end, I begin to reflect on everything I have learned during this year.

I will admit I was a little hesitant to be an outdoor educator in winter. All of my experiences, until this point, have been working during the spring and summer. I have always loved winter, but never fully embraced winter activities like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. When those first snowflakes started to fall, I remember getting a little knot in my stomach. It turns out winter, minus the days of extreme polar vortex, were some of my favorite teaching days this year. Not only did I learn how to cross-country ski and snowshoe, also I was able to help students learn the same skills.

One snowshoe trip that will stay with me is when the lagoon at Washington Park was completely frozen. As we walked on the lagoon, the group of 7th graders started working together to build some snowmen. In no time there were eleven seventh graders, who were fully equipped in snowshoes, running around the lagoon. They were rolling snowballs, collecting natural items to make eyes and noses, as well as donating their own winter gear to give their snowman special finishing touches. The snowmen were pretty adorable, if I do say so myself, not only because they had giant cattails for noses, but because the 20 minutes spent building those snowmen also built a connection to nature.

I love that we are able to do things here that students may not be able to experience in the classroom. For example, maple sugaring! Groups that are scheduled to come during the maple sugaring season, in March, are able to taste sap directly from the tree! Nothing brings a smile to my face faster than watching kindergartners with their tongues stretched as far as it can go to try and catch a drop of sap falling off of the spiel.

My first school year here is quickly coming to an end. Although there have been some difficult times, there have been even more times that give me a permanent smile. I have learned so much this year from other educators, and especially the students who remind me every day why I love being able to share nature with them.


For the 2013-2014 year, the Neighborhood Environmental Education Project (NEEP) is supported by*:

Caterpillar Foundation
CH2M Hill
Colectivo Coffee
Delta Dental of Wisconsin
Harley-Davidson Foundation, Inc.
Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation, Inc.
JPMorgan Chase Bank
KEEN, Inc.
New Belgium Brewing Company
Opus Foundation
Potawatomi Bingo Casino - Miracle on Canal Street
Rockwell Automation
Runzheimer International
Wave of Hope
Weiss Family Foundation

*Last updated 7/18/14

Katie Wipfli

Katie Wipfli

Katie Wipfli is an Environmental Educator at our Washington Park and Riverside Park Branches. She has spent time working at nature centers around Wisconsin and Minnesota before finding her way to the Urban Ecology Center. She loves to share her enthusiasm and excitement for nature with the students visiting the center. In her free time she practices yoga.

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