In an ever-changing world, the Fossil Rim Education Department is making some changes to ensure the facility’s guests are presented with optimal learning opportunities.
While the new offerings will not be officially implemented for several more months, Fossil Rim Director of Education Jennifer Arledge discussed where the department is headed and also took the opportunity to make sure everyone is familiar with her crew of education enthusiasts.
“The education department was lucky enough to be granted permission to spend a month planning how we will meet the current and future educational needs of our visitors and program participants,” Arledge said. “After assessing our current programming, we looked at the uniqueness Fossil Rim offers, not only regarding what we do for conservation, but also the facility itself.
“We thought about how we could capitalize on that uniqueness from an educational standpoint and how we can supplement what people need to learn. By establishing a new foundation in our department, we can build and adapt programming as we grow.”
The education department’s stated purpose is “to facilitate individuals discovering their role and fulfilling their responsibilities within the natural world”. All programming created by the department must utilize at least one of these core levels – discover / understand / engage – as its foundation.
“Discover” relates to concepts like awareness and curiosity. “Understand” deals with critical thinking, empathy, and immersion. “Engage” pertains to conservation action, empowerment, and finding solutions.
“Some of our programming strategies include interactivity, social-emotional learning, stewardship, and creative problem-solving,” Arledge said.
Two major categories of Fossil Rim’s educational offerings are visitor programs and reserved programs.
“We created both reserved and visitor programs so that we can meet the unique educational needs of each group,” Arledge said. “Visitors will be educated about nature and conservation, while those who reserve a program will have the opportunity to learn over a longer period of time – specifically four, eight, 24 or even 48 hours. Available themes for reserved programs will depend upon many factors, including the length of time chosen, the age of the group, and the core level of learning needed.”
Visitor programming means guests who explore Fossil Rim in their own vehicle or take a guided tour will have even more learning opportunities at no additional charge.
“Our general visitors who come to the Overlook (area) are going to notice increased educational opportunities, and, over time, we’d like to do the same at the Front Gate area to provide a cohesive experience throughout their Fossil Rim visit,” she said. “These efforts will continue to grow accordingly with the progression of our structure and staff. Interactive activities will be key, because we know these people will have been sitting in their vehicle or on a tour vehicle for an extended time. On that note, a big part of our job as a department is to help people learn more about the animals they see in the park, Fossil Rim’s many conservation programs, and every person’s role within nature.”
Not unlike a guided tour compares to a self-guided scenic drive where a person can randomly show up and enter the park, reserved programming requires advance planning from guests.
“Our reserved programming will emphasize an immersive approach in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), nature, and conservation issues,” Arledge said. “By immersive, we mean depth of understanding with a cohesive theme, interactive learning, and critical thinking. These guests will have the opportunity to be here with us a lot longer than in the past, if they wish. Programming will encourage them to use their five senses and practice what they are learning, which should help retention and application.”
The department will still include homeschool elements, but in a different manner.
“We will still have offerings for our homeschool audience, but those specific details – and where it fits within our new content – will be announced at a later date,” Arledge said.
As Fossil Rim’s education staff gears up for a new era, it is important to know the cast of characters who will be interacting with the public.
Arledge is responsible for all education throughout Fossil Rim.
“I need to make sure our educational efforts have a shared vision and messaging so people have a better understanding of what we do as a conservation facility,” she said. “Hopefully, I’m able to recognize the strengths of each staff member so they have the best opportunity to shine. Our meetings to plan these changes were an amazing opportunity to do some of that evaluation. I saw a great team come together.”
James Morgan is curator of education.
“James is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the department to ensure it stays within our desired messaging,” Arledge said. “He is very good at logistics and making sure our operation is running smoothly. He also has a lot of experience at Fossil Rim, so he’s the right person to merge preexisting aspects of the department with these updates.”
Andrew Bullard is the reserved programs supervisor.
“Andrew is in charge of anything you have to reserve in advance,” Arledge said. “Andrew is very knowledgeable about reserved programs and how they should be run. He brings energy and experience, as well as an instinctive ability to adapt to the learning needs of all participants. Andrew is going to provide magnificent educational experiences.”
Will Baker is the visitor programs supervisor.
“Will came to us from the tours department, so he already had a lot of visitor interaction experience,” Arledge said. “Will has a great depth of knowledge about so many different things, which will be very helpful for him to utilize all of the relevant concepts when teaching nature programs. Because Will has excellent customer service and interpretive skills, he can make sure the guests understand what he’s taught and how they can apply it.”
Mark Phillips is an education specialist.
“Mark will be teaching a lot of our programming,” Arledge said. “Because of his homeschool background, Mark shines in his ability to teach all different ages at one time – from adult to child. That can be difficult for many educators to pull off.
“Mark loves nature and people, so he makes sure that everyone is having a good time and understanding while his passion for the subject matter shines through. That’s how you connect people to nature.”
Emily Little, who will begin her Fossil Rim career on Aug. 20, is also an education specialist.
“Emily comes with quite a bit of experience from a variety of places, include UGA Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant, Glazer Children’s Museum (Florida), and Honeymoon Island State Park (Florida),” Arledge said. “She was a play instructor at the museum, where she helped kids learn how to engage and absorb educational content. Emily has a lot of experience helping people enjoy nature on the Georgia coast.
“We think she’ll bring vitality to the department and a different viewpoint, which is great. When you meld together what everyone can bring to the table, I think it will be pretty spectacular.”
In the coming months before all of the new programming is officially rolled out and made available to the public, questions can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“In early 2020, we will announce all of the new programming and what people can register for,” Arledge said. “At that point, we will go into much greater detail about what each program offers. For the rest of 2019, our preexisting programming will still be offered. It’s impossible to be everything for everybody, but we are going to try to reach as large of an audience as we can.”
-Tye Chandler, Marketing Associate