DOUGLASS: High school teacher builds outdoor curriculum, community

Friday, September 9, 2011 | 9:33 a.m. CDT; updated 11:36 a.m. CDT, Monday, September 12, 2011
John Reid, an environmental sciences teacher at Douglass High School, takes students on a short kayaking trip Wednesday morning at Stephens Lake Park. Reid uses community-based learning to provide a different way of teaching his students.

COLUMBIA — Some students sang, while others squealed about how "dirty" the water was. Donning life jackets, the group from Douglass High School paddled their way around Stephens Lake in kayaks and canoes.

This is just one of the many outdoor adventures environmental science teacher John Reid has taken his students on this year. He and his students have also hiked on the MKT Trail and visited local lakes and creeks.

Another adventure this year involved taking students to the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, where they moved chicken coups and gathered eggs Reid later boiled for them to eat in class.

On their next outing, Reid and his class will step into rubber boots and pick up trash, as part of the Missouri River Relief project's 10th anniversary.

"I want to get out of the classroom as much as they do," Reid said. He's been applying outdoor learning to his science curriculum for the past 16 years.

With support from faculty, staff and a new principal, Reid said he hopes to build his outdoor curriculum.

"Curriculum is bigger than what's in a book," said new Douglass principal Eryca Neville. "How do we get back into the community and make it a part of us?"

Reid said his goal is to enhance his students’ connection to the environment, whether it prepares them for a future job or simply gives them an opportunity to experience life in their community.

Before Douglass, Reid was a general science teacher at Lange Middle School. When a friend told him about an opening for a science teacher at Douglass — an alternative high school for students who aren't thriving in a traditional academic setting — Reid jumped at the opportunity.

“I always felt a need to reach these kids,” Reid said.

Reid said many of his students don’t have much experience with their environments. Taking students on trips early on helps build a better classroom community for the duration of the semester.

“It’s encouraging to see them respond to me differently than in the classroom,” Reid said.

Despite initial hesitation from most students when he asks them to get into a kayak or pick up trash along a river, Reid said students eventually come to enjoy the outdoors.

“Last year he took us once a week," said Marcia Williams, a senior at Douglass and a member of Reid's science club. "This year I want to be in this class because they go every day."

Williams said Reid is there for support during their environmental trips, and often finds a way to tie their time outdoors to their classroom lessons.

Reid’s classroom appears quite typical for a science teacher — animal skeletons, the periodic table and rubber boots for students to use when they do river and compost cleanup. He also tapes photos of his students to the wall adjacent to his desk, demonstrating his genuine focus on his students.

Outside his window, he can see the garden beds and composts his students created last year.

“I am proud of them,” he said.

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