The Highlands Center for Natural History’s Education Team cultivates diverse experiences for people of all ages—in nature, about nature, and with nature—especially now

By Sarah Vincent, Education Director, Highlands Center for Natural History

The Highlands Center for Natural History (HCNH) has been a leader in natural-science education since the 1990s. Passionate individuals came together to build and sustain the non-profit – helping “children and adults discover the wonders of nature and become wise caretakers of the land.” Today, HCNH celebrates the Education team, a dynamic group of women, shaping the future of education at the Center.

the belief that experiences in nature, about nature, and with nature are foundational for not only human health, but the health of ecosystems in general, is implicit in HCNH’s identity. Education is woven throughout these experiences. The team leads thousands of miles of hikes in nature and coordinate appearances from experts to present on topics about nature. However, to facilitate transformative educational experiences with nature is trickier.

Experiences with nature can happen building a stick shelter at Nature Camp in July, walking through the Discovery Gardens during Arthropoolza in August, digging trenches for irrigation during the SchoolYard Habitat program this fall, or watching artists during the Plein Art Festival in October. From adult Happy Hours, to children’s nature play, HCNH is committed to providing diverse experiences for people of all ages to seek that moment with nature.

Recently, the importance of these experiences has been elevated due to COVID-19. In times of adversity, HCNH leaders look to stories in nature for inspiration. The natural history of the Central Highlands is full of examples of resiliency: coyote comebacks, fungi after a burn and light rain, willow in the wind. What these examples have in common is the ability of individuals and communities to move and react in times of change. With adaptation as the guiding principle, and the mission close at heart, the education team continues to serve this community.

Check out “Fresh Air Moments” on the HCNH website; it’s content adapted for the online forum and serves as just one example of the resiliency of this impressive team of women.

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From left to right:

Jessica Manley-Ewald, Education Coordinator, has a BS in Soils and is completing her certification in Early Childhood Education. Jessie has been at HCNH for over a decade and is with nature gazing out at the open grasslands.

Erin Nixon, Education Coordinator, has a BS in Zoology. Erin has served as an outdoor educator/docent and is with nature basking in sunny patches with lizards.

Melissa Church, SchoolYard Habitat Coordinator, has a BS in Environmental Science. Melissa has served as an environmental educator and is with nature building “gnome homes” next to a creek.

Sarah Vincent, Education Director, has a BS in Earth Science and is completing her M.Ed. in Secondary Education. Sarah has served as a leader in outdoor science education and is with nature when in the presence of bluebirds.