By Carly Hopkins
Sunglasses on and covered in unidentifiable bug bites after attending National Great River Research & Education Center (NGRREC) training week, I drove down I-70 to my research placement city: Columbia MO. Admittingly, I was a little nervous. I attend school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and had never visited Columbia before. Looking back, it was such a waste of nerves – Columbia turned out to be amazing! The downtown area radiates life, and there never seems to be a shortage of things to do. However, the crown jewel of the town is undoubtedly Missouri River Relief.
Unlike my nerves about Columbia, I was just mostly excited to start work with Missouri River Relief. Once I got my placement email from NGRREC, I immediately researched all about the program. From their website and news clippings, it seemed like Missouri River Relief was run by passionate people that wanted to make heartfelt changes in their community. That ended up being entirely true, but what I didn’t know was exactly how much heart, sweat, and blood goes into making their mission happen.
Headquartered in a cozy office, you couldn’t find a place filled with better people. I could write paragraphs about each of the people I worked with – along with Indigo and Baby, the two office dogs - but for the sake of (relative) brevity, I won’t. I would be remised; however, if I did not mention my supervisor, the education director of Missouri River Relief, Kristen Schulte.
With her unmatched wit and sharp mind, you honestly couldn’t ask for a better supervisor. On the first day of meeting each other, we sat down and discussed what I would be doing that summer. I would be mainly focusing on one event that Missouri River Relief puts on called Missouri River Days. Missouri River Days is a half-day field trip on the Missouri River that takes the entire 4th grade on the Missouri River in Columbia, Missouri. My primary mission over the summer was to write pre and post curriculum for teacher’s use. This would also be the area where I would develop a research project.
No big deal. I had written some educational material before and thought I knew generally how it was going to go. Research, write, go through 2-3 drafts, and call it done. I even thought I could complete the project way ahead of schedule.
Boy was I wrong.
Learning how children best learn and writing lesson plans around a certain layout was all new to me. In the past, I had written things more to just have concepts flow from one another and kind of wrote a lesson plan based on that format. Kristen soon taught me the importance of having set understandings, knowledge, and skills you want students to walk away with along with specific exercises for them to use while learning. The hardest part of it all was letting go of my previous conceptions about curriculum and diving headfirst into relearning about proper development.
We then piloted these lessons with some local grade school teachers during their summer school sessions. This may have been one of my favorite parts of the whole internship - there’s something amazing about seeing your work unfold. The feeling of hearing the teachers read the words that went through countless revisions, and the kids absorbing it, falls nothing short of complete elatement.
The teachers gave us their feedback through surveys, and we tweaked lessons accordingly. Their comments also helped establish my research project that looked at ways to interweave formal education into and informal learning experience. But the most impactful part of it all is that we actually get to compile all the lesson plans and supporting material to be distributed in the local grade schools. As I type this, piles of binders, laminating paper, and plastic envelopes sit beside me ready to assemble once the lessons are done being printed.
Although my main project was the curriculum development for Missouri River Days, I also helped write short lesson plans for a creative art project for Missouri River Academy. Missouri River Academy is an overnight camp that connects 8th-12th graders to the Missouri River. I was a little hesitant about the camp – I had never been in charge of leading high schoolers before and was worried they would be difficult to handle. Instead, I was met by an incredibly smart and eager to learn group of kids. Even though we weren’t able to go on the river (due to flood stage), it was still a fantastic experience. Watching so many kids having fun while actively learning about the environment was heartwarming. I was even blown away by what they ended up creating in the creative art project! I learned that kids – whether they be the 4th graders in Missouri River Days or high schoolers at Academy – will never stop surprising you.
It was also just fun being back at a camp again – it was very nostalgic of my other camp experiences and made me remember what kind of experiences made me first fall in love with the environment.
That pretty much summarizes it all. I wish I could tell you about every single event that happened during my internship, but there simply isn’t time. It’s your turn to make your own Missouri River Relief stories. But there is some advice that I can share with you that I learned from my internship experience.
Some snippets of advice for future NGRREC interns
But most importantly remember how lucky you are. Not only to be an intern for NGRREC but that you got the opportunity to work with Missouri River Relief. I am incredibly biased in saying this, but it’s the best placement of all the projects you could have gotten.