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  • tatum244

Interning in a COVID World

My name is Izzy Bertram. I’m a junior at Sierra Nevada University, majoring in Interdisciplinary studies- I’m studying outdoor adventure leadership and environmental science. This past semester, I have been interning with SWEP for my service learning project. My interest in the environment began at a local summer camp back in my hometown in Virginia. The naturalists who led the camp were super passionate about the outdoors and as I grew older I went from a camper, to a volunteer, to a budding outdoor educator under their guidance.

I learned about SWEP from a fellow SNU student who interned with them. After learning about her experience, I knew that pairing with SWEP would be a great way for me to work with local students and learn more about environmental education. My goals throughout this past semester have included: learning more about lesson planning, the local environment and how to weave all of that together to create a meaningful experience for students. Obviously, with COVID and distance learning many plans have turned upside down, but I have been able to witness firsthand how SWEP has been able to adjust and overcome the challenges.

One of the programs SWEP adapted to a virtual format is the Sagehen Outdoor Exploration Program. During a normal year, fifth graders go on an overnight field trip to the UC Berkeley Sagehen Creek FIeld Station to participate in hands-on environmental science activities and field work. This year, the program was adjusted to take place in a distance learning classroom, but still had the same goal of getting students outside to learn about their own backyards and local environment. SWEP’s lessons focused on trees and soil.

Under the guidance of SWEP’s educators, I was able to create the soil science lesson, connecting soil science and art with an at home soil painting activity. We spent time planning, refining and practicing to offer the best possible experience to the students. My favorite part of the whole process was the virtual meetings with each class after they had made their soil paintings-- many brought their art to class to show off! We wrapped up the lesson with a discussion about what makes up soil and the important role soil plays in the environment. It was awesome to teach students about soil through artistic explorations where they were able to go outside and get their hands dirty.

Aside from the soil science lesson, I was also able to participate in SWEP’s tree lesson. During this lesson, I not only learned more about the native trees of Tahoe, but I also learned more about teaching. I was able to observe each of the instructors in action and then take my own turn teaching. Teaching at a screen isn’t something I ever expected to be doing-- but that’s just how 2020 goes.

Throughout my internship with SWEP, I have learned plenty of new skills; from lesson planning, to virtual teaching strategies, and even creating video content with iMovie! Along the way I also picked up more knowledge about the Tahoe environment, such as tree identification and various types of soil. With this internship, I have been able to witness how local organizations such as SWEP bring hands on environmental education to classrooms. I have seen firsthand how valued these lessons are by the students and teachers alike, especially during COVID and distance learning. Organizations such as SWEP make getting outside exciting and accessible for all. Moving forward, I am excited to use my new knowledge as I finish college and beyond, to pursue a future career in environmental and outdoor education.

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