Mt. Baker Snow School: Reflections of a Volunteer Instructor
I participated in Mt. Baker Snow School during my senior year at Western Washington University. During my time as a student, I spent the vast majority of my winters exploring Mt. Baker on skis. I quickly found a strong sense of belonging to the community surrounding the mountain. Therefore, when I heard about the program through one of my professors, I figured it would be a perfect opportunity to pay it forward to the people and environment that had given me so much.
As a biology major and outdoor enthusiast, I am aware of the necessity for programs like Mt. Baker Snow School that teach our youth to be environmentally-aware, and inspire the next generation of environmental stewards. I wanted to be a part of furthering this mission of the North Cascades Institute. My main goal as a Mt. Baker Snow School instructor was to encourage students to find the value in environment through outdoor recreation, while having meaningful discussions about watershed science.
As Mt. Baker Snow School students learn about the environment, they also learn valuable life skills. As an instructor, I encourage them to work together to make observations and solve problems, promoting social development.
Many students were put out of their comfort zone, whether it was their first time on snowshoes or first time conducting inquiry-based investigation. With the guidance of the instructors, they were challenged to try new things and adopt new ways of thinking.
Having been immersed in such a unique atmosphere, I also noticed that many of the students were developing a sense of responsibility to preserve the environment, as they were discussing the impact their actions have on the environment. I believe it was a truly transformation experience for some youth, and I am hopeful that their exposure created a lasting impact.
Mt. Baker Snow School also played a crucial role in my own development. As a Mt. Baker Snow School instructor, I gained a unique perspective on how weather, terrain, snow crystal morphology, and snowpack analysis provide clues about changing climate and water supplies.
The program provided me with valuable experience facilitating discussion with youth, organizing materials and plans, and introducing students to real-world science-based investigation. Working in a changing environment provided me with insight into ensuring student safety and effectively communicating issues. It also taught me how to promote stewardship by encouraging students to make environmental decisions based on real-time data.
By the time the program finished up, I was eager to explore more opportunities related to watershed education. I continue to apply the skills I gained from the program as an education assistant at the Tahoe Environmental Research Center in Incline Village, NV, where I conduct Lake Tahoe-specific community outreach and student education.
I am very grateful for the Mt. Baker Snow School program, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in science-based or outdoor education. It is rewarding in many ways, and a fun way to share your passion for the environment.
2019 Update from Bree!
After graduating from Western Washington University, I moved to Nevada where I taught a variety of inquiry-based programs at the Tahoe Environmental Research Center. The following year I moved to the Olympic Peninsula, where I worked with Middle School students to design and implement their own salmon habitat restoration projects with the North Olympic Salmon Coalition. Recently, I was lured back to the North Cascades, where I currently instruct Mountain School.
As an Instructor for Mountain School I have the opportunity to take groups of fifth grade students into the forest to explore the plants, animals, watersheds and geology of the North Cascades. Mountain School provides students with the opportunity to become engaged in real world issues that reach beyond the classroom walls. As a Mountain School Instructor I get to witness firsthand the connections that students make with the environment and with one another. I am constantly inspired by the student’s sense of wonder, creativity and persistence in finding solutions.
I look forward to continuing my journey as an environmental educator and as a positive role model for youth!