University of Vermont

Sara Holbrook Community Center, Burlington, VT

Julia VanderWoude

My internship at Sara Holbrook Community Center this semester was a great learning experience for me. Once a week I went to hang out with the eight fourth and fifth graders in their after school program and do hour long, fun little environmental education lessons with them. My lesson plans were entirely up to me, which was at once exciting and overwhelming. At the beginning of the semester, the two women that run Sara Holbrook Community Center informed me that these students would be challenging, many of them with behavioral issues and short attention spans. That was entirely true, but in many ways that was my favorite aspect of the internship. It was a huge challenge, but once I figured out how to reach the kids, learn more about their interests, and develop a sense of trust in them, it was a great time.

I think the most valuable aspect of having such an unstructured internship was that I could cater my lessons to things that interested the kids most and that would hold their attention spans the longest. The second week I was there we played a tag game about animals and their adaptations to habitat- and the students loved it and understood the point of the game. From there on out I centered the large majority of my lessons around animals, and I always used some form of game to teach it. Every week the kids would grumble that they wanted to play Wii or something else, but as soon as I introduced the game, they were running around, laughing, and fully engaged in the lesson. I also always maintained the rule that if they played my game, I would play theirs, which meant a lot of games of knockout and Jenga. Playing games with them that were familiar to them and that I of course played as a kid instilled a huge sense of rapport with them that went a long way in maintaining their respect and trust in me and my games.

I think the most challenging aspect of this internship was the lack of feedback and interaction with a supervisor. The people at Sara Holbrook are amazing, but they are not environmental educators and did not have time to be a part of my time with the kids. I learned a lot about self-evaluation after lessons. Another challenge was the space that I had to work with, which was either a small parking lot for outdoor activities or a multi-purpose classroom in the community center. Adapting my lesson to the space as well as the small number of students was a big challenge, but one that definitely enhanced my ability to think on my feet in teaching and make things interesting for the students.

If other students are considering more unstructured internships such as this one, I strongly encourage them to look into Sara Holbrook Community Center. The kids are really fun and will present a rewarding challenge to anyone who is up for it. They have mentioned their desire for future interns to do similar environmental education activities with the kids. If there are students with sufficient environmental education experience and are willing to work on their own in this that are interested, Sara Holbrook is a great place to get a ton of experience very quickly.