As the new school year approaches, local teachers and students will return to school with a wealth of knowledge and experience gained from a summer working with Park Rangers in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Teacher-Ranger-Teacher and the High School Student Intern programs are each a six-week paid work experience for teachers and student interns. Both of these programs allow participants to learn a great deal about the Park through on-site training exercises which enable them to perform ranger duties.
“These programs are mutually beneficial,” said the Park’s Education Specialist Karen Ballentine. “The students and teachers get an in-depth study of resource education techniques, scientific methods, and field research to enhance their skills and talents, and, in turn, the Park creates advocates through better understanding of and appreciation for the Smokies. Teachers will bring the knowledge into their classrooms and the interns will share their education and experience with friends.”
Among the students in the program were Tagan Crowe and Alexis Maney from Cherokee High School.
During their time in the Park, teachers wear a Park Ranger uniform and work alongside Park employees in the field dealing with resource management activities and education programs. In the office, teachers are assisting Resource Educators develop curriculum for the popular Parks as Classrooms (PaC) program for area elementary, middle, and high schools. This summer, one of the teachers focused on the new hiking program in the park called “Hike the Smokies for Families.”
Student interns, from different local high-schools within the surrounding counties and communities, assist scientists and Park staff with field research and education programs while exploring possible career opportunities. They get exposed to and gain knowledge about a variety of areas while working in the Park–wildlife biology, fisheries science, botany, forest and stream ecology, geology, Cherokee history and culture, Appalachian history, and Park management.
The two successful programs were expanded this summer, thanks to a variety of public/private funding sources. Alcoa Foundation, Friends of the Smokies, Toyota, and two federal grants supported 7 teachers and 18 high school students from Tennessee and North Carolina school systems.