Our program owes its creation to dedicated individuals who have poured their passions and strengths into its foundation. When sharing the story of In My Backyard, we must first speak of Ranger Ruth Kerr. Ruth was a ranger at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. To many of us, she was a second mother. Her passion for the outdoors and young people was unmatched. This program is dedicated in her memory. She passed away in the fall of 2013, but not before she helped inspire the creation of In My Backyard. It all started with a conversation between Ruth and Ranger Kelsey Johnson one summer afternoon. Here is our story:
The program began in the summer of 2013, when Eastlake High School Humanities Educator Rachelle Horner worked with our home park, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, as a Teacher-Ranger-Teacher. Ms. Horner developed a problem-based learning lesson based on this new focus. Her lesson was inspired by a conversation between Rangers Ruth and Kelsey. This is what Ms. Horner heard:
“As I listened, I heard a very passionate interchange between two Rangers about the connection between the park and the community. The reason I started to take notes was because everything they talked about was what I feel education is about; Making a difference. They wanted the park to not only matter to the community but make a difference in the lives of people who have very little. The other reason I started taking notes was because all of the things they discussed were solvable. These were things that needed outside of the box, and creative solutions. Real problems with real solutions is what problem based learning is all about.”
The lesson was put into action in May 2014, when Ranger Kelsey visited Ms. Horner’s AP U.S. History class. Ranger Kelsey introduced herself, the park service, and the problem: how do we engage youth and under-reached audiences to the NPS, while building a sense of place that will encourage future investment?
After another classroom visit with a “ranger panel,” the students got to work! Two weeks later, a crew of Klondike staff including Ranger Kelsey, former Chief of Interpretation Spirit Trickey, Volunteer Leila Mirhaydari and Ranger Rebecca Korf, were presented with the class’ final proposals. The three groups focused on three different areas: education, events, and social media. Each group presented formal, concrete proposals on how the park could improve outreach in each aspect. Ideas included a “Night for Nature” event at a Seattle Mariners game, more frequent use of social media and inclusions of different platforms, such as Pinterest, and partnerships with other organizations working with local high schools. The students impressed the rangers with their creativity, professionalism, and dedication. For more information on the proposals, click on the following links:
“I was extremely impressed with the multi-dimensional aspects of the project, and with the people who made it possible. Ms. Horner, Kelsey, and the kids all did amazing work and produced outstanding proposals,” said Spirit Trickey. “I was blown away by the professionalism, innovation, and appreciation of the relevance of the National Park Service that the students displayed.”
Ranger Kelsey pointed out that this is a “groundbreaking experience-as far as we know, we’re the first National Park to do this sort of outreach.”
“I’m so thankful Ruth and Kelsey were so open and so passionate about their park and careers because without that openess and passion the lesson would not have come about,” Ms. Horner said.
Perhaps most compelling were the comments from the high schoolers: “I learned that each park has a story, a sense of place. I used to think of parks as just landmarks, but I now I know they’re something special.”
Most importantly, the students said that the project empowered them to create meaningful change in their communities. “It was overwhelming at first,” one student said, “but then I was surprised with how much of an impact we could make.”
– written by Ranger Rebecca Korf