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Grand Canyon rangers bring hands-on learning to Williams schools

A student explores an animal skull at Williams Elementary-Middle School.
Photo by Wendy Howell.

A student explores an animal skull at Williams Elementary-Middle School.


A Grand Canyon ranger volunteer explains characteristics of an animal skull during a visit to Williams Elementary-Middle School Mar. 2.

Williams Elementary-Middle Schools experienced a bit of the Grand Canyon last week, when volunteer rangers from the park visited the school.

The rangers were in to their second of three days at Williams Elementary-Middle School (WEMS). They are trained environmental educators from Grand Canyon National Park who travel throughout Arizona, southern Utah and the Las Vegas area conducting educational classroom activities and school assemblies.


A student asks questions during a session with a Grand Canyon volunteer.

“We have a variety of topics the school can choose from,” said Nicole Orzechowski, one of the two volunteer rangers who came to the school. “Sometimes it’s new material the kids haven’t learned yet or sometimes it goes along with what they are already learning.”

Student Services Director Maya Caldwell organized the park rangers’ visit. The rangers came to the school for three days and taught a variety of classes to the elementary and middle school students. This is the second year the rangers have visited the school.

All the programs the rangers offer are based on Arizona State Education Standards and are free of charge. Topics include geology, ecology, the five senses and archaeology. The rangers held assemblies Feb. 7 and then rotated through classrooms Feb. 8 and 9.

Kindergarten through second grade classes were taught about the five senses. Using their senses, students drew connections between the use of sense and survival in the animal world. Activities and games connected students with what it would be like to be an animal in the wild.


A student discusses attributes of an animal skull.

“We do a mixture of discussion beforehand with Powerpoint,” Orzechowski said. “And then we do hands-on activity. We try to do more of the hands-on because it’s more engaging.”

The rangers taught the older elementary students about archaeology, geology and ecology. The students learned about the people who shaped Grand Canyon’s history as it became a national park. They also learned about the plants and animals that call Grand Canyon home by participating in activities that emphasize adaptations, ecological principles, and plant and animal interrelationships. Hands-on activities may include artifacts, charades, and inference-based games.

Orzechowski said the rangers visit a lot of schools during the winter and then do more field trips at the Grand Canyon as temperatures get warmer.

“We can also connect to students across the United States through Skype or IP address,” she said. “So we are able to connect to students who can’t come to the canyon, but we can bring the canyon to them.”

The education rangers are part of the Interpretation Division at Grand Canyon. The rangers programs are similar to the programs conducted by interpreters at the park.

“Our programs are a little different,” Orzechowski said. “They are more curriculum-based to reach students at the schools. The programs at the park are more holistic and have a broader view.”

Orzechowski has been volunteering at the Grand Canyon for three months. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut in ecology and evolutionary biology and a master’s degree in biodiversity and conservation.

“I think it’s important to have a good background in the material you are teaching,” she said.

She said she enjoys working for the National Park Service and likes the opportunity to explore different areas of the United States.

“It’s very rewarding,” she said. “And it’s fun to teach kids.”

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