CNC Receives Interpretation Awards
Chippewa Nature Center (CNC) accepted two awards at the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) Regional Interpreters Workshop (RIW) in Ontario in April 2017. Michelle Fournier, Interpretive Naturalist, received the ‘Outstanding New Interpreter’ Award, and CNC, in partnership with Bullock Creek School District, received the ‘Outstanding Interpretive Program’ for Nature Kindergarten.
Fournier’s career at CNC began as a teen Nature Day Camp volunteer. She moved through the ranks of the camp staff, transitioning to a year-round part-time employee. In the fall of 2012, she became a full-time educator. After two years of youth programming, she became a full-time Interpretive Naturalist in 2014. Her professionalism, commitment to providing a positive, relevant and inspiring experience to visitors and her passion for the natural world set her apart as an outstanding interpreter.
As an Interpretive Naturalist, Fournier leads programs such as live snake presentations, snowshoe hikes and kayak trips, night lighting for wildlife and salamander ‘meanders.’ She regularly teaches school programs, visits libraries and senior centers, provides programming for area park systems and land conservancies and speaks to garden and civic organizations. She also writes articles for numerous publications, and has served as a consultant for two books. In 2015, she also planned, designed and was the primary text writer for a new permanent exhibit featuring live reptiles and amphibians in CNC’s Ecosystem Gallery in its Visitor Center.
Fournier was a co-coordinator for the 2016 BioBlitz, helping organize outside presenters, internal staffing and event locations and presenting programs. She acts as a mentor to CNC staff and interns, frequently leading trainings.
Outside of Chippewa Nature Center, Fournier is making connections with interpreters throughout the region. At the 2015 RIW, she co-led a session on providing nature programming for children on the autism spectrum, and this year, she presented a session on using apps with visitors. In January, she led a session entitled ‘Tips, Tricks and Tails: Programming with Live Reptiles and Amphibians’ for Michigan naturalists. She received the Sandy McBeath Outstanding Part-time/Seasonal Interpreter Award in 2012, and is a 2016 graduate of Leadership Midland.
Nature Kindergarten began in 2012 when 65 students were provided with the opportunity to meet their curricular goals outdoors, using nature as the framework for learning.
As part of the grant, a CNC naturalist visited the class once a week and led the nature lesson for the day. This provided an opportunity for the naturalist to model a variety of outdoor activities, as well as interpret the phenomena occurring around their local schoolyard, forest and pond. The time led by the naturalist also gives the teacher the unique opportunity to experience the lesson alongside their students, allowing for a deeper connection with the students and nature.
The nature component of the program is not restricted to just the outdoors. Bringing nature indoors has helped to reinforce the nature philosophy. Branches hang from classroom ceilings to be used as displays for the students’ work; alphabet lines are associated with Michigan flora and fauna; calendar pieces incorporate appropriate natural phenomena; job charts are created with nature jobs in mind; manipulatives come in the form of rocks and sticks; literacy centers focus on animals that migrate, torpor, hibernate and brumate; classrooms are even given names such as the mighty oaks. Holiday parties and celebrations are held outdoors with natural components – Halloween parties are focused on pumpkins and their parts and nocturnal animals; holiday parties are focused on snow and winter animals; St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are about mapping their property in an effort to find the hidden four leaf clover.
The daily effort of the Nature Kindergarten teachers cultivates the children’s understanding and appreciation for nature, helping to create stewards of the natural world through exploration and interpretation in addition to meeting science and other curricular needs. The impact of Bullock Creek School District’s Nature Kindergarten is so well-received by the children, teachers, parents and the public that the program has expanded and now incorporates five sections of Nature Kindergarten between Floyd Elementary School and Pine River Elementary and three sections of Nature First Grade at Floyd with an additional section coming to a second Bullock Creek elementary school for the 2017-18 school year.