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From Camper to “Coolest Person in the World”, Paige Simenz Comes Full Circle at the UEC

Written by Urban Ecology Center
    Friday, 24 September 2021
From Camper to “Coolest Person in the World”, Paige Simenz Comes Full Circle at the UEC

Paige Simenz fondly recalls her experiences as a kid in the Urban Ecology Center summer camps. Growing up in nearby Shorewood, she says, “I had this sense that whenever I was here, I was exploring, I was doing big things, I was making scientific discoveries. And that stayed with me throughout my entire life.”

She was back at the UEC this past summer and she was facilitating those experiences for other kids as an intern with the Community Programs department. “That's why I'm at UEC. I try to give back all that the center has given to me.” Naturally, as we talked, one of the campers showed us their most recent discovery: a toad crawling through the grass.

So what’s it like being on the other side now, as a camp counselor?

“When I was a camper, I remember idolizing my counselors. I thought they were like, the coolest people in the whole world. So it's definitely really fulfilling to get to be on this side. Because I know the impact that it had on me, I just feel even more passionate and driven to try and make this a great experience, and hopefully have a similar impact on as many of them as possible.”

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Paige engaging with a camper. Photo by Ben Binversie

In her first camp of the summer, Outdoor Detectives, Paige led campers on scavenger hunts and other adventures to investigate the mysteries of the natural world at Riverside Park. Campers learned about the Milwaukee River watershed and navigated their way around the park through hands-on activities.

The experience was especially gratifying given the challenges and isolation many kids faced during the school year. Paige noticed how excited the kids are to be together, learning, creating, and playing.

In the role of teacher, she finds herself learning all the time, incorporating experiences that inform her educational philosophies. Paige is studying environmental science in college, with the eventual goal to be an environmental educator.

“​​My goal, hopefully, in the future as an educator is to find those different pathways to make it exciting, accessible, interesting and understandable to everyone...finding ways to really make them care, because if you don't care about it, there's no way you're gonna protect it.”

On the last day of camp, the students became the teachers, and led the counselors around the park. Giving them this autonomy and freedom to make mistakes is crucial, says Paige. By the end of a week of camp, the kids have a real sense of accomplishment in knowing they figured out their way around the park. With that feeling comes something that’s hard to quantify, but impossible to ignore. “They feel like this place is really special to them, and they know it. They feel comfortable and proud of this park that they have.”

And that’s a lesson that will be carried on, from Paige to the next generation of UEC campers and educators.

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Enjoy more details of the story by listening this audio version of an interview with Paige Simenz:

 

 

Blog and audio story written by Ben Binversie, 2021 Science Communication intern.

Copyright © 2021 The Urban Ecology Center