Today we continue our new series with an interview with Forest Park Forever Education Coordinator Jean Turney, who joined FPF full-time in 2012, having spent 26 years as a teacher in the St. Louis region. Between 2005 and 2012, Jean served as the Coordinator of Forest Park Forever's Voyage of Learning Teachers' Academy, which is now one of several programs she develops for the St. Louis community.
1. How do you describe your Forest Park Forever role to new people you meet?
At the broadest level, I work to promote the idea that Forest Park is the greatest outdoor classroom in the city of St. Louis. I promote this idea with a variety of audiences: teachers, parents, scout leaders and all life-long learners. On a day-to-day basis, that means providing opportunities for teachers to experience the Park as a classroom, equipping them with the tools to inspire discovery in their students, introducing them to places in the Park that can serve as laboratories for their curriculum. My hope is to enrich their current lessons with local, real-life examples from the Park, whether they are studying water systems, the Civil War, art appreciation, forest ecology, storytelling, math or music. Sometimes this is a structured program like the Voyage of Learning Teachers’ Academy and other times it is a one-on-one conversation with a teacher, a tour of the Park to highlight areas that may fit their needs or a staff-development day.
In addition to the traditional school connections, there are also opportunities to share Forest Park with the public through initiatives such as our walking tours. Forest Park Forever is fortunate to have a Land Management staff of Horticulturists and Nature Reserve Stewards with a vast depth of knowledge and passion about the natural areas of the Park. It has been a great source of learning for me to tap into this resource and share it with others through the walking tours as well as public classes and teacher workshops.
2. Do you have a favorite spot in Forest Park?
Another hard question, because I have many favorite spots and it often depends on the season. I love the Deer Lake area in late May, as the prairie flowers are just beginning to bloom and the chorus of frogs can be heard through the cattails. I love to escape the heat and walk the trails in Kennedy Woods on a hot summer day. The area around Steinberg Skating Rink has some of my favorite old, twisting, gnarly trees, as well as a boardwalk that makes me feel as if I am suspended above the water and a Victorian Bridge that takes me to another time.
3. What is something about Forest Park Forever you find many people don’t know?
Many people don’t realize that Forest Park Forever is not a department of the City government. We work in partnership with the City of St. Louis, but we are a separate non-profit agency with a great story to tell. It is a story of concerned citizens taking action to restore and protect a great city treasure. The best part is that we are still living that story, recreating this Park, responding to the changing needs of the residents and working together to keep it vibrant for generations to come.
4. What is it about Forest Park Forever that makes you proud to be an employee here?
You are the company you keep, so keep good company. I am in the best of company here at Forest Park Forever. The depth of knowledge and experience within each department is humbling. I consider myself a life-long learner and this is a great place to learn — not only the scientific knowledge of the trees, plants and water systems from the Land Management crew but also the development and fundraising side of things, volunteer management and the marketing and communication initiatives … not to mention all the engineering concepts that I am picking up as I learn about Forest Park capital projects. There is so much going on here, it is hard not to get caught up in the excitement and creativity.
5. What is one memory that stands out in your mind while working with students in Forest Park?
One of my favorites was during a project called "Survivor: Forest Park." It was an interdisciplinary project with 4th, 5th and 6th graders. Throughout the day, students explored basic survival needs by participating in activities related to those needs. For example, in the AIR station, students had to build and fly a kite. In the SHELTER station, students had to pitch a tent. Students went fishing as part of the FOOD station.
As I was watching the students work together to complete the tasks, it was evident that different skill sets were being challenged and new leaders were developing. I remember in particular one young student who had been struggling academically in the classroom; in this setting, he was a natural leader. He had been camping several times with his family and was very comfortable in the outdoors. He very patiently explained and guided his classmates in the set up of the tent. He offered suggestions on the best fishing techniques to those who were having trouble. I could see his self-confidence growing before me. It gave him the opportunity to teach others — perhaps most profoundly me.
As a teacher, it takes a lot of effort to create these experiences, significantly more than a classroom lesson. This young boy reminded me that it is so worth it.