When the student becomes the teacher

Today’s post comes from Jessica Stillman, School Outreach Coordinator for Bronte Creek Provincial Park.

Bronte Creek Provincial Park is a unique setting, with rich natural and historical features. As the School Outreach Coordinator at the park, I get to connect students to this wonderful site on a daily basis!

Let me tell you a little about myself and the programs we offer:

A park camper for life

Growing up, I spent a lot of time camping. My parents are both teachers, which meant we spent the entire summer outdoors. We would pack up our lives for two months and spend it outdoors.

My friends were always bewildered by this. “No television, no internet, no flush toilets – what could you possibly do?”

In a provincial park, there’s lots to do!

Hiking with my mom!

You go for hikes and bike rides. You visit the park naturalists at the Interpretive Centre or join in a weekly program. You go swimming and read books at the beach.

And you use your imagination to create wild adventures.

Photos of staff members grandparents and her.
Left: Grandmother and I outdoors. Right: Grandfather and I exploring

Every year, we camped on our favourite site with my grandparents just around the corner on theirs. My grandparents loved being outside, and they passed that onto my parents and then onto my siblings and me.

We spent time together exploring and observing things big and small. They taught me how to appreciate everything’s value, from the biting insects to the bloodsucking leeches.

Growing up in a family of outdoorsy teachers, I knew from a young age, I was going to be a teacher too, but I wanted nature to be my classroom.

Starting my career as a naturalist for Ontario Parks

When I turned 16, I began working as a naturalist at the park I held so dearly to my heart. Every day, I got to learn more about nature through teaching others and experiencing it firsthand.

My classroom changed every day too! It could be a sandy beach, a shaded forest or along a rocky outcrop. I worked hard to develop new skills in interpretation, so I could tell the park’s story and build strong connections for others at the park.

I was protecting the place that taught me how to find myself in nature by sharing my passion for the outdoors with others. It was a natural fit and quickly became more than just a summer job for me.

Fast forward 13 years, through a university degree, new jobs, and countless guided hikes to today, in my role as the School Outreach Coordinator at Bronte Creek Provincial Park.

School programs at Bronte Creek

Did you know that we have been providing in-park programs to school groups for over 40 years?

Recently, we expanded the program. We wanted to make outdoor education more accessible to everyone, and I couldn’t have been more excited to help them do this by expanding into in-school programs.

First, I had a lot of new things to learn moving from a northern park into an urban one. Gone were my days talking about the voyageurs or camping in Black Bear country. Instead, I embraced the wonders of life during the Victorian Era and farm animals.

It took a lot of planning, research and program piloting, but the result are programs that let kids enjoy nature at their school. We encourage them to get messy, see something from a new perspective, experience new things, and ask questions. We want students who participate in these programs to get excited, become more appreciative of nature and have fun learning.

The time I spent camping, exploring, and generally just being outside played a huge role in leading me to where I am today. Spending time outside has made me a more well-rounded person. It improves my creativity, inspires me, and calms my nerves. The passion I have for the natural world was fostered within me at a young age, and now, within my new role I want to spark that same excitement in a new generation.

Want to try one of our programs?

Let me bring my passion and love of nature into your classroom through one of our hands-on, activity-driven, inquiry-based programs that will give your students the chance to see nature differently.

Students can enjoy:

  • Bronte exploration (the in-park experience)
  • Naturalist in the classroom (we come to you)
  • Nature-goes-digital (video-conference with a naturalist)

To learn more or book a school program, click here.