Wednesday, September 16, 2009

To Park Ranger Elizabeth

While cleaning out some of my purses/backpacks/assorted totes this morning, I ran across a letter I received at the park a few weeks ago. "To Park Ranger Elizabeth" from Scales Elementary. My very first school-group thanks! I've been sent generic thanks from school groups, but usually they are addressed to the park or to Ranger McKay. The letter made my day, as the visit had made my day the week before. 

I had visited Ms. East's class dressed as a Civil War soldier. The other male rangers were not going to be able to come in that day, and questions were raised about the effectiveness of me being a girl dressing out. I don't fool a lot of people when I dress out. I was only with the class for about an hour, but it was so much fun. 

I used my obvious female traits to talk about Frances Clalin. I walked into the class, introducing myself as Elijah from Minnesota. Eventually, I told the class if they wouldn't tell anyone, I could tell them my secret- I was a girl. They were so funny. "We know!" they exclaimed, exasperated and giggling. I talked about daily life as a soldier. My favorite technique to relate soldier life with their lives is to show them a toothbrush. 

"What's this?" I ask.

"A toothbrush," they reply.

"Right. I need to keep my teeth clean, just like you. Do you know what these bristles are made of?"

(At this point I get lots of very good guesses, ranging from caterpillar fur to horse hair) 

"Ew, horse hair!?" I ask. "Do you want to put that in your mouth?"

"No!" replies the class.

"Let's not be silly!" I say with a playful smile. "I don't want horse in my mouth! That's gross." Then I deliver my next line very seriously. "This is pig hair."

The shrill squeals of the delightful horror from the thought of pig's hair in one's mouth make me giggle with the class. The whole session is fun. That is the idea. The kids have fun and are learning, too. 

I eventually switched out of character entirely to talk about being a park ranger at the battlefield and how the battlefield is a part of the National Park Service. The class engaged with a variety of thoughtful questions ranging from the Civil War to working as a park ranger. "How come you know so much about the Civil War?" one girl asked. (Because I am a dork...). Another asked how did I become a park ranger. That's right. Start cultivating those Junior Rangers early. 

Finding the letter this morning renewed my gratification. "Miss Elizabeth, Thank you soooo much for coming out to school today. Now I am totally interested in the Civil War!" wrote Grace C. Knowing I helped spark a child to be "totally interested" makes me feel all warm inside and encourages me to keep on keeping on. That's what we are here for, right?

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