Teacher-Ranger Program Launched in 2008

Ranger Nelson Turner swears in a young Junior Ranger

September 12, 2008
Grand Teton National Park participated this past summer in a new National Park Service (NPS) program called “Teacher to Ranger to Teacher” (TRT). By hiring educators from across America, Grand Teton joined other national parks in recruiting teachers and enlisting their help to encourage young people to learn about their national parks. Erica Vogt from St. Mary, Pennsylvania, Carmi Strom from San Diego, California, and Nelson Turner from Brentwood, Tennessee, spent eight weeks of the summer season working for the park’s division of interpretation. After returning to their respective classrooms, these three teachers will now create curriculums to introduce their students to the remarkable American heritage that national parks preserve.

The TRT program targets areas with large, ethnically diverse populations and links national parks with teachers from Title 1 urban and rural school districts — those that qualify for federal funding to help disadvantaged youths achieve state-mandated academic standards. Selected participants spend the summer working as park rangers, performing various duties related to their own interests and the needs of the park. Their duties may include developing and presenting interpretive programs for the general public, staffing visitor center desks, developing curriculum-based materials, and assisting resource management through research or other special projects. Then, during the school year, these teacher-rangers bring the parks into their classrooms by developing and presenting new lesson plans that draw on their in-park experience. During National Park Week in April, teacher-rangers will wear their NPS uniforms to school and discuss their summer experiences as a park ranger; they will also engage students and other teachers in activities related to national parks, and talk about the role that the NPS plays in preserving our nation’s legacy.

Erica Vogt, a middle school reading teacher from St. Mary’s School District, worked at the Jenny Lake Visitor Center. Vogt said of her TRT experience, “I loved taking visitors on hikes and teaching them about the wonders of the area. I also loved the fact that I worked for the Park Service, which is committed to conserving our natural resources.” She also stated that, “I hope to show my students that there is so much of the world to learn about and explore. I want them to keep filling their vessels, and to keep finding ways to make a better life for themselves.”

Carmi Strom, a resource teacher from the Oak Park Music Conservatory who worked at the Colter Bay Visitor Center, said he intends to “show my students that national parks are not just pictures in books, but places where you can actually visit to experience the incredible scenery and wildlife, or perhaps even work in.” He added that he was “extremely proud to wear the NPS uniform and to work as a park ranger.” Strom previously taught at Oak Park Elementary School in San Diego and was named teacher of the year in 2001/02. Prior to his summer in Grand Teton, Strom worked as a seasonal park interpreter for Great Basin and Denali national parks, Cabrillo National Monument, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Middle school science teacher, Nelson Turner, worked at the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center. Turner said, “This was an experience of a lifetime and I feel very fortunate to have been given this amazing opportunity.” Turner presented a program on astronomy as part of his seasonal work and often marveled at the brightness of stars in the Wyoming night sky. He plans to develop a geology unit to explain the physical environment of Grand Teton to his Tennessee students. Turner commented that, “I thought I came as a teacher, but I found out that I was more like a student in summer school, learning about the natural world from knowledgeable park staff.”

The TRT program is made possible through an Inter-governmental Personnel Act Agreement (IPA) between the public school district and the NPS. The program was initiated in 2003 and became a national program in 2007. This summer, over 80 teacher-rangers wearing NPS uniforms served visitors at various parks nationwide while learning about park resources and issues. As park ambassadors, the teacher-rangers are taking the knowledge gained back to their home schools and sharing their unique experience with children who may one day become ambassadors themselves.