Teaching with Nature
Liz Lawler and Jenn Sutton are both teachers, steeped in a love of nature. The Harris Center has woven in and out of Jenn and Liz’s lives in a great many ways, including serving as the location where they got married back in 2014. They now live right down the road with their beautiful daughter, Wren. This little girl was exposed to nature early on; Liz took her to one of the Harris Center’s Babies and Backpacks programs when she was just 11 days old!
“It was a nice way to connect with other mothers. And even as a baby, going outside was always calming for her,” says Liz. “Susie Spikol leads the program, which we also did when Wren was a toddler. Susie lets the toddlers guide the walks and explore without a predetermined agenda.”
Wren, who just recently celebrated her third birthday, has her own set of binoculars and bird guides. She attends Robin’s Nest Preschool, where her love of the outdoors is nurtured, sometimes during classroom visits and field trips with Harris Center teacher-naturalist Jaime Hutchinson.
Liz is a 2nd grade teacher at Antrim Elementary School. Now in her 13th year at the school, she has worked alongside many Harris Center naturalists over the years, both in and outside her classroom. Liz says,
“Even as an adult, I always learn something new. I love how they connect students to nature right outside where they live, and they get so excited about it!”
Thinking Inside & Out
Jenn is currently a 3rd grade teacher at Pierce Elementary School in Bennington. Years ago, when she was teaching at Hancock Elementary School, she was asked to be a summer camp counselor for the Harris Center. She eagerly accepted the offer. The following year, Jenn became the director of our camp program. Four years after that, she accepted a full-time position at the Harris Center, taking on teacher-naturalist responsibilities as well as camp duties for another four years. Jenn credits her earliest experiences as a camp counselor with molding her approach to teaching:
“I think of everything I do inside and out; it’s been pretty pivotal. I got to work with many people from different backgrounds and was able to learn from the best of the best in environmental education. One of the most rewarding things over the years has been seeing the campers and students grow up. Some of them go into environmental fields; it was fun to see it come full circle!”
Now, Jenn partners with Susie Spikol to offer before- and after-school walking clubs for Pierce Elementary School students and teachers. Jenn feels fortunate to teach in a school district that values outdoor education and its many Harris Center partnerships.
“It’s a draw for educators, students, and families. The kids look forward to being with the teacher-naturalists.”
Seeing the Bright Side
Last March, when COVID-19 meant more time at home for many families, Liz and Jenn looked at the upside: spending more time outdoors with Wren. Liz says,
“We don’t have to go far because the Harris Center gives us so much to explore, including the new rail trail, which we love. One of our favorite things to do is to look for frogs in the Harris Center’s frog pond and pollinator garden. And Wren really loves newts, so we go on newt walks — she’s learned how to help them safely cross the road.”
Jenn echoes Liz’s positive outlook. As a teacher, she reflects on the good things that can come out of living in the era of COVID-19:
“We live in a perfect setting for kids to be outside more. This school year is different, but there are exciting opportunities here. It’s all about how you embrace it!”
Wren searches for frogs in the Harris Center's frog pond.
The Lawler-Sutton family takes an early spring stroll at the Harris Center.
Wren finds a wooly bear caterpillar in the pollinator garden.
For more information on the Harris Center’s 50th anniversary celebrations, please contact Lisa Murray at (603) 525-3394 or by email.