I received a message recently from someone with whom I have connected and communicated infrequently over several decades and I did not remember ever meeting him. He did and he sent me a note which is in the next paragraph. It shows that you never know what impact you might have on someone by what you said or did even when you don’t remember. That has happened to me numerous times and usually comes as a glad surprise. I hear suddenly and unexpectedly from former students and colleagues from 25-40 years in the past I remember them but have no recollection of saying or doing something that they retained. I don’t know if it is a poor memory or an overloaded hard drive. Here’s what my “friend” sent:
“We met one time and you made a statement that made a big impact on me, 30 years ago. It was something to the effect of, ‘We can teach biology in a barn, we do not need a fancy classroom.’ I took that to heart and always remembered that it is not about the facility and cool equipment. You have been a long-distance mentor. Many thanks!”
I believed then, and still do, that we could teach and students could learn wherever we were, with who we were, where we were and with what we had. This was put to the test and 30 years ago I hired an outstanding science teacher who did exactly that. I also selected 7 other teachers who did similar things in different subjects with few resources save their own experience and their access to original sources. We were starting a new school from scratch and did not have much of that in the beginning. What we did have was passion and purpose. The school became known as Bosque School, bosque being the Spanish word for forest or woods. The school is now on a beautiful campus on the edge of a large cottonwood forest.
The science teacher’s name is Dan Shaw and I chose him 30 years ago because he had this exceptional talent of using field studies, the best of hands on, place based learning to give students a personal connection to what they were studying by seeing and doing. A small group started by immersing themselves in the ecosystem along a stretch of the Rio Grande in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That program, which became BEMP (Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program), currently has 33 active sites, across 270 miles of the Middle Rio Grande, and over 1 million data points are collected each year. Data is primarily collected by some 10,000 K-12 students and their teachers, demonstrating how local science initiatives like this can successfully connect people to their landscapes while helping inform resource management policies.
I recall the early days when a college professor, a parent of a student, asked Mr. Shaw what textbook they were using and his response was, “Mrs. H. we are doing the science that others will study and read about.” That seemed an appropriate response given the kind of teaching and learning that excited the students and captured their imaginations with what could be done in “the real world,” a phrase that I usually dismissed although I understood the implications. The students took pride in their work and had the opportunity to present it to several important organizations including the Nature Conservancy, the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy, New Mexico Game & Fish, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and others. The students knew they were doing real science in the real world. Today, Mr. Shaw, and his partner Cathy Bailey, are sharing their expertise with others through https://www.canyonwren.org/
This is about people who have a lasting impact on others by who they are as much as by what they do. My “friend” who wrote the note is retiring from a career as a teacher, inspiring students in science including computer science. Dan and Cathy have also worked with and engaged students for 30+ years. What these people, and many others with whom I have had the privilege of working, have in common is a genuine interest in and commitment to their students. They communicate a contagious enthusiasm for their chosen fields and a vision of a future that can be shaped and improved by well-educated young people. I admire and respect them for having chosen their life work serving others and I am grateful to have known them along the way. They had an impact on me and my work too.
I bought a new pair of shoes recently and inside found this inscription: “Every step makes an impact. Consciously created for a better planet.” What kinds of impact are you making?
The entire quote from inside the new shoes (Keen) is this: “We’re on a journey ro lighten our environmental footprint, walk the walk, and give back more than we take. Every step makes an impact. Consciously created for a better planet.”
One of many things I remember from my Dad is when he told me, “Remember always to put in more than you take out.”