June 05, 2017

ENVS Blog: Teaching Through AmeriCorps

Rebecca Kidder (’16), a graduate of the Environmental Studies Program at Lewis & Clark College, describes her time working as a reading tutor in a kindergarten classroom in Minneapolis.

Rebecca Kidder ’16

My college years culminated a year ago in two bachelor’s degrees and a seventy-something page long thesis, in which I studied the relationship between students’ home and school physical environments with how they experienced their transition to college. It was awesome to write–but, like so many others, I found myself graduating without a solid idea of what it was I wanted to do.

Nonetheless, I graduated. I spent a month visiting national parks in the western US. I moved back home and applied for a bunch of jobs; some directly tied to my degrees and others with a bit more convoluted of a connection. Eventually, I landed on a position with AmeriCorps, working as a reading tutor in Minneapolis schools. I’ve spent the past year in a kindergarten classroom on the north side of the city, working with kids one-on-one and in small groups to teach them basic literacy skills.

While it may seem like this position isn’t directly connected to environmental studies, I constantly use my degree. It has given me the ability to not only recognize but to think critically about the many environments that surround me. I constantly think about how I can best help kids thrive within the school environment. I think about the political environment and how it affects my students in ways that I will never fully understand. I think about the kids’ home environments and how it shapes their behaviors at school, and I think about the environmental justice surrounding the physical environment of North Minneapolis. My students have less access to parks and green space, breathe more polluted air, and live closer to more Minnesota Pollution Control Agency clean-up sites than kids who live just a few miles away.

And my degree is not just present with these thoughts: I use it when I work with a student exhibiting challenging behaviors, “zooming out” to look at the student as a whole to try and figure out what’s going on. I use it when I explain to a kid why it’s important to learn how to read, connecting the skill to their interests. It turns out, life is pretty darn interdisciplinary.

So now here I am, moving forward. My position ends with the school year in June, and I’ve gotten a seasonal position for the summer with a regional park system as a naturalist (the connection here to my degree is a bit more obvious). I’m hoping to eventually go to graduate school to get a master’s in elementary education alongside a teaching license. I’ll be entering a complicated world of education as a teacher; one where I hope to incorporate environmental and outdoor education into my classroom, while juggling state standards and ever decreasing funding with managing classroom behaviors and rising class sizes. If I’ve learned one thing this year, it’s that the classroom environment is one of many environments that shape a kid’s life; I look forward to the challenges and opportunities to actually help create such a space.