A Firsthand Account of This Summer's Voyage of Learning Teachers' Academy

The Voyage of Learning Teachers' Academy is an annual program that invites local teachers to experience Forest Park as an outdoor classroom. For eight days in July, teachers from every grade level and specializing in a wide variety of subjects come together to do a deep dive into the world of experiential education, learning how they might incorporate the outdoors – and Forest Park – into their curriculum. 

This summer, one of the VOLTA participants was incoming Forest Park Forever Education Coordinator Ellie Stevens. In this blog post, Ellie recounts her experience as a Voyager and a few of her favorite moments from this summer.

“What’s the difference between your nose and a dog’s?” asks Jim. We all look around at each other, hoping someone knows the answer. “A dog’s nose is always wet?” someone offers. “Right! Now, everyone, reach into your water bottle, get your finger wet, and then wet your nose.”

This moment captures the magic of the experiential education workshop that is the Voyage of Learning Teachers' Academy. This program draws together education staff from many of St. Louis’ best loved institutions. Together, they immerse a cohort of local teachers in a cross-curricular outdoor learning experience. As a participant this year, I loved the chance to be a student again. I was able to learn from talented educators like Jim Wilson, from UMSL, who helped us explore nature through our senses with “deer ears,” a wet nose and guided meditation.

Fast forward a few days, and you could find me at Deer Lake Savanna, learning how to identify the wildflowers in bloom like prairie blazing star, chicory and obedient plant. By the end, I’m learning from my fellow teachers about the Japanese art of gyotaku, or fish printing, and we are making our own fish prints using fish harvested from Forest Park.

As Forest Park Forever's incoming education coordinator, I was deeply inspired to see the dedication and enthusiasm of our local teachers firsthand. Even on the days when the temperatures were well over 100°, all 24 participants were out in the Park ready to learn. I think all of us were drawn to the program by our love of learning and the students we serve.

On day eight, everyone is brimming with new ideas that they can’t wait to take back to the classroom. As one of my fellow participants put it:

I never really saw Forest Park as somewhere to learn with my students. I can’t wait to share these sacred places with them. The program reminded me of who I am at my core. A Voyage of Learning is an immersive experience that will re-energize you both as an educator and as a person.

I couldn’t agree more — and I can’t wait for next summer!

EducationEllie Stevensvolta