In my three years working at R.O.C.K. (Recreation Of City Kids) Programs with the City of San Jose, the opportunity to implement nature focused enrichment in our daily afterschool program had yet to come up until this past Fall. My supervisor informed me that my school site Majestic Way Elementary was chosen to pilot the Wildlife Explorers Program through the NRPA.
Majestic Way was selected based on past observations, our active and engaged staff, and supportive specialists. Out of our 74 students, 20 were made into explorers every Thursday. The enrichment could have been about anything, but it just so happened to pertain to what I was always so curious about; nature and other living things. At every school site I have ever worked, I have encouraged my students to leave bugs, insects, and critters in peace. It is important to me that they understand that these other living things have their own lives and those lives have just as much meaning and merit as anyone else’s.
Since the inception of Wildlife Explorers in October, every Thursday at Majestic Way has been buzzing. The twenty explorers are more motivated to finish their homework on time in order to participate. As I prep for each lesson, I already see kids looking up at the sky noting the weather, getting ready to tell me their observations during our Weather Report warm up.
Among the twenty explorers, are students from first to fifth grade. Despite their diverse personalities, every student has one thing in common; they are notably open-minded. I originally had qualms about the twentieth student I selected. Nathan was friendly and enthusiastic to everyone and everything, but he also happened to be scared of everything. Nathan was known for voicing his fears to anyone that will listen.
Creepy crawlies and critters were not Nathan’s favorite things. Sometimes his own shadow even scared him. It was a surprise to me that Nathan wanted to join Wildlife Explorers. Although always apprehensive, Nathan is a curious boy. With the encouragement of his fellow explorers Nathan replaced his fear of the unknown with curiosity.
One day, while eating a snack and exploring at the same time, Nathan received a shock he could never imagine. Cookie crumbs were falling from Nathan’s mouth. When he bent down to pick up his crumbs, he almost picked up a roly poly. He was sure that it was a chocolate chip on the floor and not a bug. We decided to take a closer look at Nathan’s chocolate chip. While everyone was taking turns observing the roly poly with the magnifying glass, Nathan was standing shyly at a distance watching the other students’ expressions. The exclamations of “cool!” and “so cute!” rang through Nathan’s ears. The line was dying down and Nathan finally came up to me and asked me to hold the magnifying glass so he could take a look. This roly poly was the biggest, roundest, and darkest one that Nathan had ever seen. He was able to count the fourteen legs and identified two colors on the exoskeleton; brown and grey which explained the resemblance to a chocolate chip. As a group, the explorers came up with a name. They decided on Cookie, since all of them enjoyed chocolate chip cookies and that the roly poly was going to be named after something it will never eat.
Since meeting Cookie, the explorers have been extremely cautious when taking steps on foliage and Nathan has been double checking his snacks in fear of eating potential new friends. We have yet to see Cookie since our first encounter, but the kids are hoping Cookie is out there disguising himself as a chocolate chip to surprise someone else.