Country Visited: New Zealand
Program Year: 2014-2015
What a great privilege it was to have the opportunity to spend time researching and learning about my passion through the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program! I gained so much insight that I am taking home to share with my school and community. I believe this experience has been extremely influential in shaping the path of my future in education. The purpose of my project was to explore place-based outdoor learning programs in the public school setting in New Zealand and to compare them to existing programs in the United States in order to determine the best way to bring more outdoor learning opportunities to public school students in our district. To start, I administered a survey to inventory the following components of outdoor learning: spaces used, subjects and curriculum taught, activities that occur, teachers' attitudes towards teaching outside, successes and challenges of established programs.
As I had planned, the majority of my study while in New Zealand took place through direct observations and face-to-face interviews with teachers and administrators in eighteen schools across both the North Island and the South Island. Of these schools I had extended interviews, lasting from two hours to an entire school day, with teachers and/or administrators at twelve of them. Three of the schools I visited on several occasions, and one school I visited on an ongoing basis. I also attended a 3-day, 2-night outdoor camp with and intermediate school. Overnight multi-day outdoor camps are extremely commonplace for intermediate schools here (grade equivalent of 5th and 6th in the U.S.), and also fairly common for primary schools (kinder-4th grade) as well, even in low-income schools. These opportunities to see into schools and talk with faculty really enhanced my understanding of how we can better implement outdoor educational experiences in my district.
Thanks to tremendous support from my community, I was able to bring my husband and four children with me. We found it very easy to enroll three of the kids in school, and the kids have had a pretty easy time making friends. We were lucky that many of the parents have been really good at communicating when we reached out to them. We were also happy to have had some social events come from our kids' new friends and people we have met at the school and in the neighborhood. We are still keeping in touch with several of our Kiwi friends with plans to visit each other again in the future.
As nature lovers, we absolutely loved our surroundings. We lived on the coast and surrounded by hills that provided great hikes and views on a daily basis, and we had the opportunity to travel on the weekends to immerse ourselves in New Zealand's exquisite landscapes.