Exploring the Last Frontier Through the Eyes of Children
By Luke Bushatz
M.S. Outdoor & Environmental Education
When I moved to Alaska to pursue a graduate degree in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University, I was struck by the enormity of the country. I had little grasp of the scope and depth of the last frontier, and even after traveling through this great land I had little appreciation for the natural wonder that surrounded me.
Alaska Pacific University brought me and my family to Alaska with a compelling program that offers both the pursuit of academic advancement and the opportunity to immerse oneself in nature through significant time spent in field course work. The ability to leverage elective course work in mountaineering, alpine skiing, glaciology and adventure therapy are compelling reasons to pursue a graduate degree in Outdoor Education. However, the key to loving the place where you are is in embracing that place.
Within a week of settling into our new home in Palmer, I was climbing the hills to Crow Pass to take in the marvels of the upper reaches of the Eagle River at its headwaters. There I saw magnificent glaciers and a snow pack lasting into July at elevations of only a few thousand feet, a novel experience for me, a native of Ohio.
A few weeks later, I spent the day and night backpacking with two dozen other Alaskans. The sun set around 1 AM, but I never lost the light of day. This was another amazing experience to my mind. Everyday I was met with wonders that the eye could barely comprehend and I had only been in Alaska for a month.
Then came the fall and the inevitable pressures of graduate school. I had a full slate of classes and quickly found that I was in over my head at times. I had the opportunity to take a practicum at APU’s Kellogg FIELD School (Fully Integrated Environmental Learning and Discovery). The Kellogg campus is located in Palmer, and I taught in nature’s classroom along with the rest of the MSOEE cohort. I had the privilege of teaching ten and eleven year olds. The Eagles, as the class was called, spent the fall exploring agriculture in Alaska and nature based skills that are tied to the concept of preparedness.
While studying outdoor and environmental education literacy, I learned that children respond positively to active learning environments. I had the privilege of seeing the natural world explored through the eyes of boys and girls. I shared in the wonder and excitement that the Eagle students experienced every week as we made observations together. My own Alaskan story is just beginning, but I can say that I have not had a dull moment as I explore the last frontier through the eyes of its children.