From Outdoor Education to an Elementary School Classroom

Lisa Ferensak, MEd ’11 always considered becoming a teacher, but as an undergraduate pursued a different field. Now she’s well on her way to achieving her dream.

“It’s a funny thing,” she said. “I always wanted to teach. It was always on my radar. But then, when I went to UConn, I decided that I really wanted to get life experience, and I wanted to travel. But I always had teaching on my mind.”

Lisa earned a BA in international development in 2004 from the University of Connecticut, then spent the next few years in seasonal outdoor work. She refurbished and finished trails with the Student Conservation Association and the Mass Park Corps, mapped ATV trails with a GPS for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and traveled throughout nine southeastern states as part of the invasive-plant management team of the U.S. Park Services.

As a way to return to education, she accepted a position at the residential Blue Ridge Outdoor Education Center in Toccoa, Georgia, where she taught ecology and high-ropes courses to schoolchildren on field trips.

“I definitely loved finding myself as a teacher,” she said. “But the problem with outdoor education is that the kids came for three to five days, then left. I never saw them again. I wanted to figure out a way to be in education and build relationships with students.”

After carefully investigating graduate schools, she chose AUNE. “I knew what foundations were important to me in education,” she said. “I had read some of David Sobel’s books on place-based education. AUNE’s focus on place-based education and making education relevant to students matched what I thought was important. AUNE put names to many of the vague ideas I had had. For example, I believed in integrated learning. I just didn’t know what it was called.”

Lisa completed her first internship at the public Winchester School in New Hampshire (grades K through eight), where she taught seventh- and eighth-grade plant science, accompanied her students on a week-long field trip to a nature center, and joined an existing committee of teachers and administrators to expand the school garden. The project, which connects children to the foods they eat, includes a greenhouse, six raised beds assigned to different classes, and a separate school-wide garden area.

“The school was really excited to have someone coming in who could take on some of the responsibilities of the garden that teachers don’t have time for,” she said. “I was out in April and early May, planting potatoes with first-graders, or cabbage with third-graders. The children plant different things and learn about seeds and growing.”

“For me, it was a wonderful experience,” she said. “I got to learn what it takes to make this type of project work. I got to experience some of the challenges. It also was very encouraging. The garden is a work in progress. It’s still growing.”

“I felt very prepared going into my first internship,” she said. “My AUNE program gave me a lot of tools. I came into the program feeling that I had a vague idea of what was important to me in education. AUNE gave me concrete ways to manifest that. I definitely feel prepared. I’ve got a great start.”

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