For my third co-op, I am an Environmental Education Intern at the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (Links to an external site.) (BEMP). BEMP is a citizen science program that takes students out into the field to collect data on the health of the Middle Rio Grande and adjacent forest ecosystem (the “bosque”). This data is then used by researchers at the University of New Mexico, and by agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the New Mexico Fish and Wildlife Service. It is considered of the most successful citizen science programs in the country. BEMP engages ~10,000 students throughout New Mexico per year in classroom enrichment and field research.
I was able to hit the ground running with BEMP, observing and assisting in classrooms across Albuquerque from day one. At this point I have begun teaching classes on my own and co-leading study trips in the bosque. Some of my other responsibilities include clerical work, attending promotional and professional development events for BEMP, and preparing curriculum materials.
During my time at BEMP I have witnessed students who are aware and excited by the work BEMP is doing and their own contributions to it. They are familiar with the environment they live in and have a strong sense of place from a very young age. The students I have worked with are learning or already know: how to identify native and exotic species, where their drinking water comes from, and the impacts humans have had on the local ecosystem over time. As well as recognizing their place in the history of the landscape, they also feel connected to the history and legacy of BEMP itself. Younger students build on the work that was done before them, older BEMPers guide the younger generation and recruit them for special projects.
Not all of the students I have worked with have had the same exposure to BEMP, and some had never been out to the bosque. While the difference between these students and students with more outdoors and BEMPing opportunities is sometimes very apparent, many lessons even in these classrooms were able to connect to something students had experienced in their environment: the cottonwood seedlings or “New Mexico snow” in May and June, or wildlife sightings in the Wal-Mart parking lot near the river.
When it comes to classroom teaching, I appreciate that most of BEMP’s curriculum involves hands on experiments and activities (for one class I taught, I had to bring a wagon in order to transport all of the curriculum materials from the car to the classroom!), and the students enjoy it, too. However, the real magic of BEMP takes place in the field work and monitoring. It is truly transformative to take students out in the woods, to do serious outdoor work–and serious outdoor play! Out in the field, students are doing real work that benefits the larger community, they are part of something bigger than themselves. I see that have a tremendous impact, especially on students who do not thrive in traditional academic environments. The classroom education is a valuable introduction to the larger concepts of environmental science and how the bosque ecosystem functions–especially once student get out into the field and are able to really see, touch and taste these concepts. Classroom education is also a vital form of outreach for students whose schools are not involved in monitoring and often attend schools with no other form of scientific enrichment. However, it does not hold a candle to really getting kids out in the bosque.
I came to BEMP because I believe that environmental activism begins with a sense of connection to the spaces we inhabit–to our food, our water, our ecosystem, and our planet. From what I have seen so far, I believe that BEMP’s place-based education model can help foster this sense of connection.