By Dedra Cordle
If a student in Christa Ewing’s classroom at Galloway Ridge Intermediate School asks what she did over the summer, the fifth and sixth grade math and science teacher will not know where to begin.
She could try to get their hearts pumping by telling them about her close encounter with a black bear. She could give them the creeps while recounting long nights with mice scuttling nearby. She could spark their imagination by sharing how small she felt standing next to ancient trees of seemingly unending heights. Or she could simply tell them she lived a dream.
Ewing’s love of all things nature began at a young age while flipping through books showcasing the wonders of the world. That passion was harnessed further in the Girl Scouts where she spent much of her time exploring the outdoors and using her surroundings to solve problems.
Wanting to spread her enthusiasm for the outside world to others, she encouraged her family to try camping. Much to her dismay, they did not share her interest in doing anything of the sort.
“We were not a camping family,” she said.
Still, they encouraged her to continue her love of the natural world through education and were not surprised when she wanted to shape the minds of future generations.
In the 11 years since taking a teaching position at Galloway Ridge, Ewing has watched as her pupils discovered their own passion for math and science. She said their desire to unlock the world’s mysteries inspires her as well.
To keep challenging her students, as well as herself, Ewing often attends seminars and workshops in her field to stay up to date with the latest teaching trends and experiments.
It was during one such workshop that a life-long dream presented itself as a viable and valuable experience.
While attending a physics workshop nearly five years ago, an educator who had completed a program with the U.S. National Parks Service spoke about spending the summer tracking grizzly bear movements at Yellowstone and applying the lessons they learned to the classroom.
Further research on the program, which is called the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program, re-energized Ewing’s passion for exploration and her desire for the great outdoors.
“I wanted apply for the program, but it wasn’t the right time,” she said, referring to the fact that both of her children (future Cub Scouts) were too young for her to leave for the eight-week program.
As the years went by, Ewing kept the TRT program at the back of her mind until this January when the NPS announced they were accepting applications for the summer.
Upon discussing the logistics with her husband, Ewing decided to go for it and applied to national parks throughout the country. Though she says she would have enjoyed spending time at any national park, she had her heart set those in California.
“I had never travelled west of Mississippi and I had always wanted to see those huge sequoia trees in person,” she said.
After interviewing with several parks out west, she was accepted into the TRT program at Kings Canyon National Park where she would spend the summer in a ranger cabin exploring the wilderness, interacting with guests and working on educational packets about the biodiversity of the area.
She left for California on June 10, shortly after school let out for the summer. One of the first things she did was travel to the neighboring Sequoia National Park and stand amongst the giant, ancient trees she had only seen through the pictures of her childhood books. It was a moment she could hardly believe.
“I don’t know if I will ever have the words to describe how I felt at the first sight of them,” Ewing said. “It was just awe-inspiring.”
She said she stood there for what felt like hours, just soaking up the experience of being around those majestic trees.
But, just like she did in her youth, she soon left to explore more of the surrounding area, gain more knowledge and share it with anyone willing to listen.
She said those weeks she spent at Grant Grove in Kings Canyon National Park has been one of the greatest experiences of her life. She said only in her wildest dreams did she imagine seeing a black bear 15 feet in front of her without the safety of zoo glass between them. She said only in her dreams would she see a spotted owl while taking a hike or discover how a red-headed pileated woodpecker sounded. She said never did she imagine she would come to accept the fact that her nights would be shared with mice searching for food in her cabin. But now she can tell her children, both biological and those in her classroom, that when they dream of exploration, it sometimes becomes a reality.