By: Sara Motz, Berks Nature’s 2023 Alliance for Watershed Education (AWE) Fellow
As Berks Nature’s Alliance for Watershed Education (AWE) fellow, my favorite experience this summer was undoubtedly seeing how excited kids get about finding live animals, especially crayfish in Angelica Creek. They remind me of my own delight when I’m outdoors hiking and find a toad or salamander on the forest floor. It’s really incredible to see their small faces light up with excitement to show you what they’ve found, and I love how interested they are in asking questions to learn more about the animals. I also love our archery programs. As someone who grew up dominating the archery classes at my brothers’ Boy Scout camps, I love the joy reflected on kids’ faces when they pull back the bow string and shoot their first arrow. A lot of my favorite experiences this summer were things that reminded me why I fell in love with nature as a kid in the first place, which I think speaks volumes for how impactful what we’re doing at Berks Nature can be. I grew up doing very similar activities, and now I’m pursuing careers in a field dedicated to environmental education, conservation, and preservation. I can only imagine what’s in store for the future of the children we educate through Berks Nature.
Through the education team, I frequently spend about two days a week assisting in running field trips, especially for Olivet Boys and Girls Club of Reading & Berks County or Reading Recreation. Through grant funding, Berks Nature is able to offer free field trips to these Reading groups, where about 30-100 kids and their counselors join us at The Nature Place! We provide a variety of activity options based on weather and interest. We take them on guided hikes, teach them about macroinvertebrates while having fun in Angelica Creek (my favorite part), provide scavenger hunts and lessons on animal furs and pelts, deconstruct owl pellets, and end the field trip with unstructured nature play in our large Nature Play Area. These are some of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences I’ve had through Berks Nature. To provide urban youth of Reading with an opportunity to leave the city and have an educational experience in nature that they may otherwise never have is so amazing. The wonder and awe on their faces makes it so much better. I love hearing kids say they’ve never been here and have so many questions, or they’ve visited Berks Nature and are really excited to be back! I love being able to teach them something new and give them an experience in nature that they’ll appreciate and remember.
I am a rising sophomore Ecology major at Susquehanna University and can honestly say I went into college having no idea what I wanted to do with my degree. I chose to study ecology because I was raised surrounded by nature. My family and I are always outdoors hiking, biking, camping, backpacking, skiing, boating, and more! I know for certain my future career needs to include the outdoors, wildlife, and now definitely environmental education. My goal is to become more educated concerning biology, animal behavior, the environment, and conservation, so I may lead a future working in a field actively preserving the wildlife that has always brought so much joy and adventure into my life. I aspire to provide the wonder and interest in the environment that I grew up with to future generations. If what I just described sounds like you, I highly recommend applying to the fellowship program at Berks Nature, or any of the other 22 AWE centers! The fellowship has been a learning experience in both a professional and personal sense, and an excellent first step into the environmental education field.
I have Berks Nature to thank for strengthening my interest in environmental education. I knew I enjoyed working with kids, but it’s really become a rewarding experience that I love. I’ve experienced a lot of growth as I’ve come to recognize how privileged I am to have grown up with such a high quality, expansive environmental education. Through this growth, I’ve learned how to educate all ages and am definitely more understanding of how reasonable it is for people of any age to not know what I used to consider common knowledge about our local environment.
The AWE Fellowship culminates at the end of the summer with a capstone project based upon the Delaware River Watershed. For my project, I developed an Amphibians of the Delaware River Watershed Program for Berks Nature to use in future field trips, summer camps, tabling events, etc. This program includes five educational amphibian games and activities, as well as an activity book, all of which I designed in detail with the input of others at Berks Nature and in the community. Berks Nature provided me with a ton of resources, as well as a lot of freedom for this project. I really appreciate how I was able to adapt one of my interests to fit a need here at the center, rather than being told exactly how I had to spend my summer.
As a nature center, Berks Nature does not currently run any programs focused on local amphibians, meaning there may be a lack of education on this topic in the Reading area. As bioindicator species, amphibians are vital to our understanding of the health of our waterways because they are sensitive to pollution and other changes in their ecosystem, a fact that would be beneficial to our environment for people to know. Through the development of this program, I surveyed local organizations and community individuals for their input on what amphibian topics they thought would be important for people to know. This was in order to gain wider community engagement and involvement in the program-creation process to better know what the citizens of Reading would like to see from Berks Nature. Additionally, this programming is continuing our goal to increase inclusivity by having all physical materials be written both in English and Spanish. This is especially reflected in the activity book I authored and co-illustrated, which is bilingual, thanks to our Community Educator, Melissa Acosta. The activity book will not only be utilized by Berks Nature, but also distributed to an entire grade in Reading School District by Reading Public Works, who ordered 2,000 copies! I piloted a mini-version of this amphibian program at this year’s Riverzilla event on August 12! It was amazing to be able to teach so many people new, fun and important facts in such a short time frame, as well as to give out the activity book for free. I am very excited to see how kids at future Berks Nature programs enjoy what I’ve created this summer!