Following a busy summer full of workshops and nature projects, Huron-Clinton Metroparks interpretive services department will soon become even more of a daily presence in the lives of local students.
The 63-person team, one of the nation’s largest of its kind, offers educational opportunities for students of all ages, from preschool through high school. Their instructive programming includes field trips to Metroparks’ various centers, in-school presentations, and remote learning content focusing on science, nature, history, and agriculture.
Through a new partnership with Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD), the Metroparks interpretive services team will lead supplemental science lessons for elementary and middle school students. Metroparks interpretive staff will be on-site at John R. King Academy twice weekly, appearing in multiple classrooms and grade levels.
The Metroparks interpretive services department features 10 centers across the area. Last year, the department engaged 1.459 million visitors through in-school appearances, field trips, and virtual programs. That number is up from the pre-pandemic number of 1.3 million in 2019. And with the new DPSCD partnership, the department looks to build on that momentum starting this fall.
The Chief of Interpretive Services, Jennifer Jaworski, makes an important distinction: what her team is bringing to DPSCD schools is in no way replacing teachers and the incomparable value they provide. Instead, this is an additional resource to enrich the students’ learning environment and support those dedicated teachers.
“We’re going to be providing active, engaging, and hands-on science-enrichment lessons that complement and support to DPSCD curriculum,” Jaworski said.
The lessons will involve getting kids out of the classroom and into the natural environment they may often overlook or take for granted. Examples include identifying the area’s native trees, plants, and vegetation and observing insects and wildlife.
Jaworski says the method and delivery style forges a connection with kids and that repetition is the key that’s been lacking during these pandemic-ravaged past couple of years.
“The impact is created by the way we teach the class and the hands-on engagement and experiential learning that is incorporated,” Jaworski says. “[The students] become investigators. A science question [is thrown] out there and they have to discover the answer. That may spark a little bit of an interest. And then they come back and we’re able to engage with the students multiple times during the school year.”
The department’s presence at John R. King Academy will provide ample opportunity to reach students in and out of their classrooms. The aim is to engage with over 400 students per week.
This Interpretive Services Department isn’t purely student-focused. It’s also a valuable resource for teachers all year long. This summer, the department offered courses where teachers could earn continuing education science credits at three nature centers across the system.
Additionally, in partnership with Macomb County’s head-start program (pre-school education for students up to five years old), the department trained nearly 200 of the county’s teachers over a four-day session. This required training instructed teachers on incorporating the outdoors and available natural settings into their science lesson plans.
“We provided activities and lessons for the teachers so they’re able to then go outside in whatever space they have and engage the students in a hands-on learning exercise so that they can explore nature,” Jaworski said of the summer sessions.
Endangered Butterflies’ Habitat Project
St. Olaf College’s Milkweed Adaptation Research and Education Network (MAREN) was another area of emphasis for the Metroparks Interpretive Service Department over the summer. The International Union for Conservation of Nature listed the monarch butterfly as an endangered species in July. Milkweed serves as the sole host for monarchs to lay their eggs. Its leaves are also an essential food source for caterpillars during the monarch’s larvae stage.
The MAREN project utilized the restored milkweed habitat within Lake St. Clair Metropark as a monarch way-finding station. It was also the only teacher-training hub for this project in Michigan.
Jaworski says it’s another example of showing teachers how to use natural spaces to tie into the science curriculum, and in this case, there’s a climate change link. “This allows students to use their investigative skills to look at what is happening,” she says of milkweed observation exercises. “Are there insects chewing on the plant? Is there ozone damage on the milkweed [indicating climate change]?”
More Learning Opportunities
There are still plenty of chances for your schools and classes to utilize the Metroparks’ Interpretive Services Department, even as the school year starts. There are 60-, 90-, and 180-minute field trips available for booking at many Metroparks throughout Southeast Michigan. Costs range from $3 to $6 per student. Some classroom may qualify for free field trips and visits through grant programs offered on the website. You can also book an educational outreach program to come to your school. There is a four-program max per day with 30 students per program. Please limit the program type to one per visit. There are also many on-demand virtual programs on the Metroparks website that can be utilized in a classroom setting.
One of America’s premier metropolitan park systems, the Huron-Clinton Metroparks have served the people of Southeast Michigan since 1940. Managed by the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority, the Metroparks are made up of 13 properties in Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Wayne counties. Available activities include fishing, swimming, boating, hiking, nature study, biking, golf, winter sports and more. The Metroparks also provide educational resources on science, nature, history and the environment. Learn more at Metroparks.com.