An Interview with Anne West, Teacher, Owl Camp Volunteer, and Donor

They are looking up at the sky, and pushing away from the pier – they’re in nature. Forever changed. That’s why I do this. To be a witness to that change. It gives me life. 

-Anne West

When did you first connect with LandPaths, and what drew you to it?

It was 12 or 13 years ago – I believe it was before Bayer Farm! I was teaching third grade at Luther Burbank Elementary School. I was able to get my students into In Our Own BackYard (IOOBY), so our classes would do these trips up to Taylor Mountain Regional Park four times during the year. It was just incredible. To this day, for many families that is their “go-to” place because the kids introduced their parents to it.

Part of what drew me in was the effort and energy of the people LandPaths hires. The folks out in the field are very enthusiastic and know so much about nature, and they make that connection with what we are studying in science and social studies. And everything ties into what we are learning in the classroom.

Have things changed in environmental and science education since you first started teaching and being part of LandPaths?

I definitely know it’s changed – and for the better. At the same time that LandPaths started growing up, the science standards started changing, too. One summer, my teaching buddy Cynthia and I went down to your offices with Jamie [LandPaths’ Youth Programs Manager], and we went through all of the IOOBY curriculum and said, “this is what we’re doing in 2nd grade, in 3rd grade, in 4th grade… Where can we make connections, so that the field trips really enhance what we’re studying?”

So now, there’s this marriage that just works with your program so well: we’re studying in books about animal adaptations, and with LandPaths the students literally hold that creature in their hands, or see it move and use those structures, and they get that that’s why the animal is made that way. It’s makes the learning deeper, and they don’t forget. And, it’s our own back yard, literally! Right up the hill from the students’ neighborhoods, or even right across the street at Bayer Farm! 

For yourself, your fellow teachers, and your students, what does it mean for you to have IOOBY as part of your school year?

I’m a better teacher because of it. Knowing where we’ll go and what we’ll do in IOOBY helps me design how I teach to make those connections. For my students, doing stewardship as part of the four days we spend with you – still to this day I love it, because they are learning about native and non-native and invasive species, and watersheds. It’s so exciting because it’s never the same. I think it makes us better people to be in nature and to care for it.

Or, for the student that just doesn’t talk much – I’ve taught some that have selective mutism, or super shy. Just this last week when we were on the trip with IOOBY, one of those children found their voice and was just saying what they are grateful for in a loud voice, and said “I’m grateful for being here.” They get out of their usual environment, out in nature enjoying themselves, just being humans in a beautiful place. 

Especially this year, when a lot of kids got sedentary. I’m really grateful that the School District this spring pushed and helped pay for the busses so the kids could get out and do two IOOBY field trips this spring! They were huffing and puffing at the beginning of the hikes – they say “my leg hurts”, or “I can’t make it”. 

The funniest thing is, by the end of the day when we shared gratitude in our closing circles, I asked, “What was your favorite part of the day?” They said, “The hike!” They realized they did it! They look back up the trail, and see where they came from – it’s very empowering.  

As a teacher you bring your students on IOOBY trips, in summer you volunteer at Owl Camp, you’re a donor… What keeps you coming back, participating and supporting LandPaths so much? 

I wish I had something like this when I was a kid. I grew up in San Francisco, I was a latch-key kid and that was fine – I’m very independent now as an adult! But, to be immersed everyday in a summer camp experience in nature… I just feel happier in nature, I love the sounds of the birds and the breeze and the smells. It’s a happy place, it’s just a gift. Every day is a gift on this earth, and to be able to support it and nurture it and take care of it and get kids to be excited about it – it affects me greatly, and I want to make sure that my students, who I care about them and their families so deeply, I want to be able to share nature with them. I am forever-ever grateful to IOOBY. It’s like a rite of passage in 3rd grade for the students at my school, and it’s a gift you give me every year that I get to do this.  

Also, I really appreciate your never-ending effort to reach out to and support different communities. That kind of love – you’re pushing it out, and you don’t give up on it. It’s like you’re finding the tendrils to reach out, and you are finding new paths to be connected to society – I think that’s the best. Like, I just found out about the new camp you have for LGBTQ+ teenagers – YES! That makes me so happy, I’m SO excited! I believe in you and that’s why I support you. I want to be a part of something that I know makes a difference. I feel the love, and I know that you care about teachers and you care about students. My kind of church. Amen! 

Do any stories or moments with LandPaths stand out from across the years?

There’s been a few times when I think back, with some very quiet, or shy or reserved little humans where they’ll put the swimming vest on, and they are just standing on the dock, hanging back. The other kids are splashing and jumping in, and this one is not – they don’t know if they want to get wet or swim. It’s that bravery – all of a sudden coming to a moment where they feel safe enough to put their toe and then their leg in, and then they swim and they’re floating in the pond! They are looking up at the sky, and pushing away from the pier: they’re in nature. And to see that look on their face, like “I can do it, I’m in it, I’m ok, and it’s good.” Then they’re swimming like those water boatsman bugs in the water, and they just take off! Forever changed.

When you have those moments of breakthrough, there is nothing like it. When you watch the lightbulbs go on when they make a connection, or you see them be more gentle to things at school after they get back. Or sometimes, they are now picking up rocks on the yard at school – “look at this one, look at that one!” – or they go out to the bushes picking blackberries, because when they went on the IOOBY field trip that’s what we were doing, and now they are doing it all the time! It literally changes their lives. That’s why I do this: to be a witness to that change. It gives me life. 

What’s your wish for your students after they go through IOOBY with us? 

My hope is that the experience they have on the land with LandPaths stays in their hearts and that it informs them moving forward to be kind and gentle stewards of the earth, and continue to be curious. I mentioned before that visiting Taylor Mountain with IOOBY made it so the kids see it as “their mountain” – so my wish is that they pass it on to their children, and that I get to teach their children, too!

Thank you supporting our mission to foster a love of the land.

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