Our Adolescent Program is currently spending an overnight at Shaw Nature Reserve, which reminds me of last semester when I interned here. As this is my ninth (and last) year at CMS, Ms. Jenna and Mr. Mike thought it would be great for me to reach out to organizations outside of school in order to schedule an internship. We thought Shaw would be a great place to work, so I contacted the staff working there and I officially became an intern.
Shaw Nature Reserve is a 2,400-acre property located in Grey Summit, MO and is an extension of the Missouri Botanical Gardens. By the end of last school year, I had successfully created my internship, so I made a phone call, sent out several emails, and planned out the schedule. I would show up there for one day a week for the months of September and October. Right when this school year began, I worked out a possible date to begin the internship. We settled on the following Tuesday, the 11th of September.
That day, I arrived at Shaw after a long drive and stepped onto the property. It was beautiful. The rich prairies, the dense wetlands, and the vibrant woodlands all gave the nature reserve a sense of peace and security. The wildflowers (located mostly in the prairies) were plentiful and varied; it took a keen eye to detect the same plant twice in the vicinity. Even the man-made structures (mostly cabins, a visitor center, and some staff offices) blended effortlessly into the landscape. For added effect, there were even recreations of an Indian teepee and a sod house in the prairie, emitting a pioneer-esque aura, a simple reminder of the people who inhabited this amazing environment.
My mom drove me through the gates, beyond the visitor center and to the staff buildings. There, I met Jessica Kester, the woman I would be working with for the majority of my time at Shaw. We talked a bit about our plans for the day, which involved mostly a tour of the reserve. We hopped into a jeep and drove around on the gravel path. I got to see some more of the prairie, which Jessica said would be burned, in a controlled fashion, during the winter to help replenish the land with the rich nutrients stored in the leaves and stems. The plants themselves do not actually die, however; the roots are too deep underground for the flames to reach them. It’s pretty fascinating how something so destructive actually does a great job at restoring the environment.
Once we returned from our tour, Jessica talked with me about a project I would be working on during my stays. Our goal was to educate children about Shaw’s interconnected ecosystems. I decided on a matching cards project meant to showcase the different habitats on the nature reserve: prairie, woodland, wetland, and glade. There would be four cards with these habitats printed on them. The objective of this matching cards game would be to match a variety of plants and animals with their respective habitats. For example, a fox would match up to a prairie, a deer would match up to a woodland, and so on. I spent the remainder of my time on the first day working on my cards.
Throughout my internship, I became involved with other events on the side, just to learn more about what the daily schedule is there. The next Tuesday I went on a walk through the prairie with some of the staff and volunteers. Our guide seemed to be very knowledgeable about the environment as he talked about some of the wildflowers there and some of the benefits they give to the environment. Of course, I took notes as I could use some of these plants for my matching cards. Looking back on it, I thought it was really amazing how much people dedicate themselves to the outdoors. I learned from Jessica that Shaw Nature Reserve has only about 30 full-time staff members but over 100 or so volunteers.
The next Tuesday, one of the staff members, Andy, took me to the Dana Brown Overnight Center on the reserve. The place is surrounded by beautiful (and spacious) cabins where visitors can schedule overnights. In fact, this is where the Adolescent Program has often stayed for winter retreats, so it was somewhat strange to see the property while it was still warm outside. Andy explained to me that there was a 3rd grade class staying there for educational purposes and that he was going to take them on a hike in the woodlands. It was a nice hike; I got to see some interesting plants including the spicebush, a shrub with the most wonderful smell you’ll ever smell in your life. We also saw a snake or two, so that was cool. I took some more notes to use for the project.
Most of the work I did at Shaw was to prepare for my matching cards project, but for the next Tuesday visit, I directed my attention to the upcoming Missouri Days event in October. Essentially, the event consists of presentations and demonstrations from the staff and volunteers to help educate children about the nature reserve. Jessica asked me to help participate. We tried to tie this demonstration into my habitats project as a bonus, so I handled furs. You heard that right. Animal furs. I learned as much as I could about some of the animals whose furs I would be showcasing, such as the coyote, bobcat, deer, rabbit, fox, and even the skunk. The point of my demonstration was to explain how different animals thrive in different habitats, and even just to deliver some fun facts about those animals.
The next week I arrived on a Wednesday, different from my usual schedule, because that was when Missouri Days was held. I set up shop in one of the glades, prepared my notes, and waited for children to come. I tried to be as informative as possible without being too boring (my usual style of presenting) and I involved the audience, letting them handle the furs gently and encouraging all sorts of questions. I did get a very concerning question from one of the children, who was wondering if we killed the animals ourselves to get the furs. I forget how I tackled that one, but I’m sure it must have been a long answer. I wasn’t equipped to deal with ethical issues so I was glad when someone else asked a different question.
Overall, it was a very nice experience and it helped my presenting skills greatly. Involving the audience is absolutely essential for a good presentation, and if I wasn’t already aware of that, I certainly became so after Missouri Days. I also learned a lot about the ecosystem of the nature reserve, so I made sure to preserve my notes for the project.
Over the next few visits, I focused more on my matching cards project, researching the topics, typing the cards, printing them, laminating them, and ordering them. When the final day arrived, we had a full set of cards, ready to be shown to the public. Unfortunately, that was the last day, meaning I wasn’t going to be able to return to continue my internship. I thanked Jessica for all the hard work she did to help arrange my schedule and for driving me around Shaw. When I left, I thought about the all the different habitats and how each one supports a massively different community. To me, Shaw Nature Reserve represents an effort to keep those habitats alive, to form a relationship between nature and the human race, figuratively and literally. After my internship, it dawns on me just how crucial that relationship is, and how necessary it is for that bond to continue.
Blog post written by: Carson, Adolescent Student at CMS