The Prairie Immersion program at Spring Creek Prairie is like a language immersion program for the statewide 4th grade Nebraska history curriculum, but it’s immersion into the setting of the past. It’s one thing to be able to recall historic names and dates, but quite another to experience the natural environment and feel its effects.
“Some of them are really interested in the history, but everybody gets something out of being outside,” volunteer Discovery Leader Sam Armstrong said. “As long as they’re outside and enjoying and making memories of the prairie, making connections, that’s my main goal.”
She describes one student having an epiphany with wide eyes and a big grin: standing in a wagon rut and realizing out loud that history happened right there in that spot.
“We learn about bug, plants, and have reflection time, but really focus on getting them out there physically. We talk about the animals, we don’t always see them, but there are very interesting things that they have never seen before, they are very curious and that’s always fun,” says Sam Armstrong.
“They want to know the names of every single thing,” adds Bella Devney, also a student volunteer. “They come in wanting a lot of facts, but what we try to do is let them explore and make their own discoveries.”
Devney, a junior Environmental Studies major at UNL, says she was thinking about a minor in Environmental Education, but decided getting experience with education programs would be more beneficial.
“I’m surprised every day. School groups come with all different levels of knowledge, different levels of excitement,” she said.
Sam Armstrong says she did a lot of online research to find a volunteer program that would be a good fit for her; she wanted a center that focuses on conservation, but had seasonal work and a flexible schedule for students. Armstrong has also led summer camps at the Henry Doorly Zoo. What sets Spring Creek Prairie apart – besides the prairie itself of course – is the enthusiasm of the people.
“This is a beautiful place and everyone is surprised by what we have here,” Armstrong said. “It’s great to drive out, watching the city disappear behind you and coming out to so much space and just slowing down…This is a very unique organization in the sense of community and culture, very positive and nurturing. Everyone here has this passion, and when you work where your passion is everyone around you can feel it.”