Why don’t you introduce yourself and the clubs you teach?
This is my 25th year at Prescott Unified School District. In the past, I’ve mainly been in the behavioral field. I was a behavioral coach and ran a discipline room for many years. For the last several years, I’ve been the math interventionist for K-4 at Abia Judd Elementary School. I have some sports clubs, but also offer the Prescott Audubon Junior Nature Club as well as The Grand Canyon Club. These are enrichment clubs, after-school clubs really, offered once a week to 14 students at a time on a quarterly basis. It’s basically to introduce them to the Audubon as well as nature. We do a variety of things. I have outreach speakers who come. Mr. Wilson, the Great Horned Owl from the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary. We always have a docent from the Highlands Center, and, typically, someone from Audubon, of course. It’s so wonderful to have these speakers come. I have so much information I could give to them all on my own, but the kids love having speakers. We also do things like making bird feeders, dissecting owl pellets, and hiking and bouldering.
Why are clubs about nature and the outdoors important?
These children are the stewards of our future and the natural world. There’s so much stuff going on the in the world right now, and it’s important to expose them to the tenants of being stewards of the natural world. I don’t just feature the Audubon and ornithology; I bring in all kinds of things about nature. We’ve had in the Prescott Astronomy Club, too. We’re very fortunate to by so near the Community Nature Center and use that as our living lab two, or three, or four times a season. We can do some gentle bouldering there and learn about the animals here and even at the Grand Canyon. We do similar things in both clubs, actually, it’s just that one is more focused on, of course, the Grand Canyon. The clubs are limited to 14 children and, not to toot my own whistle, but I’ve always got a waiting list. I’ve been so happy we switched from semester to quarterly enrichment programs. Now, I can teach 112 kids per year as opposed to 56.
How did you end up in Prescott, anyway?
Well, I was from Steamboat Springs, Colo., and we moved here as a family — me, my two small boys, and my husband at the time. … I ended up kind of scrambling with the kids to myself, and we picked up the pieces and moved on. You know, it’s a beautiful area. I think for most people, moving here is an upgrade. I used to ski every single day in Steamboat Springs, though. … I think one of the reasons I really wanted to start up these outdoor programs is because it’s such a gorgeous outdoor area with diverse topography as well as wildlife. And to answer another part of your question about the Grand Canyon, I think introducing kids to what’s there gets them excited about it and, hey, it’s only two hours away by car to the South Rim. So many of the kids from the club end up going home and pestering their parents until they get to go. I’m always amazed by how many adults live here who’ve never been.
Taking a step back and looking at teaching, at large, not just in the clubs, when’s that eureka moment for you, when things click for you and the kids? What’s that look like?
It happens every day, seriously. I’ve been doing the Math Title I program for kids that kind of fall through the cracks. At this point I’ve served over 100 kids — about a fifth of our school — and every single one of them, with only one exception, improved dramatically. I just have a real passion toward teaching. You can probably throw anything at me, I’ll learn it, and I can teach it. That’s what teachers do. You have to instill that passion first. Once there’s passion, the knowledge comes second.
I understand you do some work with kids at Yavapai College, as well. Would you tell us about that?
I helped develop a program with administration that just finished our ninth summer. It’s called Yavapai College for Kids. They developed something similar on the Verde Valley Campus several years ago, too. It’s pretty much a summer enrichment program for kids to learn a variety of things. I was a drama major in college, in addition to taking a million classes in other things, and it’s my time to do all sorts of art and drama classes. I’ve also done a major hiking class the last five years. We get into a Yavapai College van and go venue to venue. It’s a wonderful outdoor program. It’s interesting because when we started it was mostly PUSD, HUSD, and Chino Valley USD students. Now, it’s been a lot of charter school kids and home school kids and kids spending the summer with grandparents. Our audience has changed. … It’s like a family and it’s really grown in the community.
How can people help support these programs?
Well, one way is to support all the organizations who support us, including the Prescott Audubon Society, the Community Nature Center, the National Forest Service, the Highlands Center — and, oh, Jay’s Bird Barn, who’s donated to a lot of organizations in town, including us. There’s the zoo — the Heritage Park Zoological Society — too. I helped develop a program for kids at the Humane Society, and zoo has summer zoo camps too, which is great. I guess it’s competition for my summer programs, technically, but when they visit my clubs, I tell them to make sure and bring their brochures. All of us in nature education are just trying to help each other. I can’t speak on behalf of PUSD, but they have a volunteer person at the district in charge of volunteers.
Contact Sue Lord at Sue.Lord@PrescottSchools.Com.