Starting Fresh

Written by Laurel Cutright
    Thursday, 01 November 2012

It is my first autumn as an educator with the Neighborhood Environmental Education Program at Washington Park, and I’m thrilled to be able to start a full year with my students. One of my first trips this school year was with a four-year-old kindergarten class from the MPS charter school Hawley Environmental.


I realized that this trip would most likely be their first ever field trip and I honestly felt a little intimidated. However, as we buckled into the big white bus decorated with colorful animal designs, one of the students said, “Wow, this bus is cool!”

“If they are impressed by the bus,” I thought, “this is going to be a GREAT trip!”

Once at Washington Park, my co-teacher and I spent a few minutes inside, entertaining the class with a puppet show. Then we headed out into the gorgeous September afternoon to find all the colors of nature’s palette. We made a poster of leaves and flowers with different colors and used paper frames to observe the colors of leaves up close. The class needed absolutely no encouragement to find leaves beneath our maple trees. They ran shrieking into the park, scooping up leaves to examine or toss in the air. Within minutes they were rolling in the leaves and grass, giggling with delight.

At that moment I understood that my job was not to entertain these students or to teach them about the hows and whys of science or even to remind them to recycle. My job was to encourage them to look, feel, run, roll…whatever they had to do to enjoy the park. Hawley Environmental is one of 50

partnering schools through our Neighborhood Environmental Education Project, so these students will have the opportunity to visit Washington Park every year, to progress from simple exploration to discovery of the complexity of the natural world.

With each visit, these four-year olds will feel more comfortable with the park and more observant of the local ecosystem. Over time they can become the next land stewards, the next environmental educators, the next engaged neighbors.

I am excited to know that my fellow teachers and I will be there as guides and mentors throughout the years. As the naturalist John Burroughs wrote, “Knowledge without love will not stick. But if love comes first, knowledge is sure to follow.” Instilling that love of nature in the neighborhood is the vital first step in learning to care for it. I think it’s the most important aspect of my job, and, as the kindergartners reminded me, it can also be the easiest.


Laurel Cutright

Laurel Cutright

Laurel has gone from playing in the farm country near the Cedarburg Bog to doing restoration work in the parks of St. Paul & Minneapolis to educating students in Washington Park. She is excited to be part of a community devoted to life-long learning, compassion, and stewardship. Laurel wants her life to be a blur of camping, bike rides, potlucks, road trips, good books, and spontaneous dance parties.

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