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Teaching In the Great Outdoors, Right In Our Backyard: Rosabella Hernandez, ’25 at The Glen Helen Outdoor Education Center

It’s 7:35 am at the moment, and I’m writing this blog post on the trail to work. 


I call it “work,” like it’s some sort of office building or a job where I spend all day in monotony, but in fact, that’s almost the opposite of how I plan to spend my time today and for the foreseeable future. I wake up early, sure, but I do so practically in the middle of the woods and have to take a short hike to get to my current workplace: The Glen Helen Outdoor Education Center. 


I spend almost all of my time awake these days getting trained or having a trail group, meaning I’ve quickly learned the ins and outs of leading a group of 8-12 elementary schoolers into the woods for fun games and exciting lessons in science and culture. For some, this is their first experience in a place like this, and I strive to make it both memorable and educational.


And this is initially where I had to stop writing.


You see, once I reached the lodge first thing in the morning, I had to quickly settle down in the dining hall to greet my students from that week with a cheerful wave and a smile. I didn’t use to be a morning person, but this job certainly makes me seem like I am.


I had to then go through the routines of breakfast, and then hike, and then lunch, and so on and so forth. It’s a packed day, as each school has to get the full experience.


Though I now sit back at home, far from the loudness of meals or the rigor of hiking, and can bring my attention back to writing.



A chalkboard with cartoon beavers that says "Welcome to the Lodge!"

This was the first chalkboard I did for the Glen.

My background is certainly that of an artist, though I feel like my differing experience from my coworkers gives us all insights into new ways of experiencing the world and the Glen. Right before the kids arrive on their buses, either on Tuesday or Wednesday, I erase any marks made on the chalkboards in the previous week and start again, doodling and lettering out signage to display with pride: Welcome to the Lodge! We call the main building which houses our dining hall “the lodge” here, and I’ve taken to drawing cartoon beavers across the board to take advantage of that fact- we actually will likely be taking these same kids down to a real beaver lodge at some point in their stay here. 


As you could likely tell, the students, when not hiking or participating in activities we call 4:30s, (can you guess what time those start?), stay in “dorms” or “cabins,” depending on who you ask. Each school group brings their kids on a bus with their luggage, which we then load out to carry to these dorms, where they can stay from 3 to 4 days if they decide to overnight it. 



Rosabella hugging a student in the dining hall, their face unseen.

A teacher sent me this photo while they were on the bus ride home.

It’s a tad overwhelming for some, especially with the pandemic keeping many at home full-time for the past few years, and emotions can run high. Both the children’s and mine. But despite any issues that may arise, I do my best to teach in a compassionate and mindful manner, even during the most difficult times. That might mean slowing down a lesson for some to catch up, or taking certain students aside to check in on their mental health. Otherwise, I have to keep things interesting, though, and what better way than bringing out a live animal ambassador at the beginning or end of a hike block?


Rosabella holding out a snake to a student to feel.

This is a picture taken by a coworker of mine, where I hold Number One.

Yes, you read that right. In my time here I have been trained in handling screech owls, kestrels, and snakes for animal talks with my week’s group. We lesson plan carefully on weekends to ensure each of us has a chance to show our kids these awe-inspiring creatures, and it’s the highlight of my day when I get to being Number One, our Eastern Rat Snake, out of her enclosure to wrap around my arms or my shoulders as I explain to kids what being a reptile entails. It’s just one of many ways we keep our “school” here both captivating and informative.


I have learned so much from my coworkers and my “bosses,” who are referred to as Lead Naturalists and Admins. Everyone here is incredibly kind and knowledgeable, and we share the same drive to make every week the best it can be for kids and their teachers alike. It also helps that we mostly live together, and therefore spend quite a bit of time in each other’s presence. Even though we have our own bedrooms, living spaces, bathrooms, kitchens, and even the trails in our backyard? All shared. And it’s surprisingly comforting, especially when it’s pouring rain and instead of sulking back to our homes in silence, the trails are instead filled with laughter as we take turns regaling the day’s funniest or most shocking stories.


In short, this job has been a rollercoaster for me, with very few stops in between. Even if that makes things a little difficult to keep my head on straight, and the rails are a little bumpy, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am grateful to work at Glen Helen now, and into the summer, as I know I’m doing some real good in this world for both myself and the many, many schools that come through.

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Rosabella Hernandez they/them, Class of 2025 I was born in 2003, to a Latino family residing in the city of Chicago, Illinois. Coming from a family of life-long learners invested in the public good and education for all, my goal is to work in one of the many museums I spent my childhood inside. I am interested in Art, History, Art History, and everything in-between!

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