July 13, 2012 | Chelsea Tanis

Education students are running the "Creepy Crawlies" camp at Calvin's preserve.

A day at camp

Each summer, some 120 to 135 children participate in the day camps offered by Calvin’s Ecosystem Preserve, located east of the East Beltline. Here in this wildlife refuge, middle school students learn to integrate science and photography, while fourth, fifth, and sixth graders tackle entomology and ornithology (the study of insects and birds). Then in the “Creepy Crawlies” program, four through eight-year-olds get down in the dirt and explore the habitats of organisms such as spiders, slugs and ants. Leading these elementary school expeditions are Calvin senior Becca Hibbler and fifth year senior Alyssa Hollemans—summer interns at the Ecosystem Preserve.    

For Hibbler and Hollemans, a day at camp begins with an hour of quiet preparation in their joint office overlooking South Pond. During this time, they go over the lesson plan, review names and share with one another some of the observations they made about the campers during previous days.

Camp officially begins at 9 a.m., and once the children are all accounted for, they jump right into the itinerary: story time, an “adventure” on the trails of the Ecosystem Preserve, devotions, snack, a chance to observe any captured “Creepy Crawlies,” an art project and then a short recap before parents arrive at noon.

When camp isn’t in session, Hibbler and Hollemans are designing the camp’s lesson plans. “But before we do that, we sit and read books about what we’re doing our lessons on,” said Hibbler, “We read about worms and figure out what our questions are about worms. Then we look at what the kids will want to know. There’s so much stuff involved.”

A lesson plan is a detailed sketch of everything they’ll have the campers do in a day. It includes puppet shows, coloring pages, an exploration guide, questions they’ll ask the children and even rainy-day activities.

“The hope is that anybody could pick it up—people that don’t necessarily have the education or science background—and find it comprehensible. That’s what Jeanette is striving for,” said Hibbler.

The right fit

Jeanette Henderson, the Ecosystem Preserve program manager at Calvin since 2007, helped start the summer camps in 2000 and, among numerous other things, is responsible for hiring two interns each summer. 

“I don’t choose just anyone,” said Henderson, “It’s always a hard decision, but a lot of times you can just see it. You can see that they’re the right fit.”

While the experience of creating lesson plans and having charge of a class has shaped Hibbler and Hollemans as future teachers, both interns agree that working under the guidance of Henderson has been just as formative.

“She has this love of knowledge,” said Hollemans, “She always knows what information to bring in—what cool fact will excite the kids. She helps me appreciate the job more.”

“When a teachable moment comes, you take it, even if it’s not part of the plan. That’s something that she’s got down,” said Hibbler.

Gaining work experience

Like many first-year students, Hibbler came to Calvin uncertain of what she wanted to pursue. She spent the spring of her freshman year talking with professors in various departments, hoping to find a direction.

“My advisor said, ‘Why don’t you just try some stuff out and see how you like it,’” Hibbler recalled. So, like her mother and sister before her, she decided to try an elementary education minor and found it to be a good fit. Even now, as she makes her way through the program, Hibbler is regularly surprised by how much she enjoys teaching.

“I had my teacher aiding last fall in a fourth grade classroom and I didn’t think I liked fourth graders… Now, I do,” said Hibbler.

On the other hand, Hollemans (previously Gorter, married July 8) always knew she wanted to be a special education major.

“People with special needs aren’t always treated with respect or dignity,” Hollemans said, “I wanted to be someone that would make them feel valuable.”

Hollemans’ mother was also an elementary school teacher (“You’ll find that’s a trend in education,” said Hollemans). And while both interns had insight into what a classroom looked like from an educator’s perspective, they believe their work at the Ecosystem Preserve has been invaluable preparation for their future careers.

“There are a lot of the resources here that I never knew about and so many different ways to bring more authentic learning experiences to the kids,” said Hollemans.

Because of the Ecosystem Preserve’s interdisciplinary approach to teaching science, Hibbler, also a science minor, is now able to look at the elimination of science programs in public schools and feel hopeful. She can see ways of incorporating science with other subjects and providing lessons built around multi-sensory learning. 

Future plans

As the interns enter their final semesters at Calvin and at the Ecosystem Preserve, they hope to apply their knowledge in very different settings.

“After a couple years, my husband and I would like to live abroad for a while and teach in developing countries. A lot of times, those schools don’t have special education programs, so I’d be in a general education program, but able to give proper attention to kids with special needs,” said Hollemans.

Hibbler hopes to student teach outside of Michigan in the fall of 2013. And with her experience at the Ecosystem Preserve, she’s also equipped to take part in outdoor education. “When you’re a teacher, you have summers free, so I could do stuff like this during break,” she said.

Wherever the interns end up, they’ll take with them stories of following a slug’s slime trail through the office, of early mornings spent trying to identify a single duck, and of the thrill found in hearing a child exclaim, “This is the first time I’ve seen a real turtle in my whole life!"

"Creepy Crawlies" kid finds a slug

Alyssa Hollemans teaches her group about slime trails

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