Every first grader in Hamilton Southeastern Schools has the unique opportunity to visit Ritchey Woods Nature Preserve once a semester. Perhaps one of the more memorable parts of their learning adventure lies in interacting with Amy Risinger and Susan Davis, Fishers Parks’ Nature First instructors. Seen by many teachers and students as a team, their first-grade celebrity status has been solidified.
“At almost every Fishers Farmers’ Market, a child will come up to me and ask ‘Are you Susan from Ritchey Woods?’” said Event Coordinator Susan Davis.
Davis, whose background lies in radio and television, has always had a position facing the public and talking to people. So, when Ritchey Woods Chief Naturalist Danesa Stolz reached out to Davis to join the team, she said, “We need somebody who shows the children the enthusiasm of how much fun it can be at Ritchey Woods, and how joyful it is to be in this beautiful environment,” Davis recalled from their conversation, “and I said, ‘Oh I can do that.’”
The other half of this dynamic duo is Lead Environmental Educational Program Instructor, Amy Risinger. Prior to taking over this program, Risinger worked as a teacher in Hamilton Southeastern Schools for 22 years. It is there where she fell in love with this program. “It was a program I already loved, had seen in action, believed in, and knew the importance of, so I jumped in,” Risinger said.
This year, the Nature First program will reach 69 first-grade classrooms from all over the district. The program sees 4 classes per day. When a class arrives, they are immersed in three different habitats. “We have a prairie habitat, a forest habitat, and a swamp habitat,” Risinger said.
Each of these habitats includes a mini-lesson based on Indiana State Science Standards, and then both Risinger and Davis supplement that with exploration, discovery, and lunch. “We try to hit as many of the state standards as we can while encouraging them to become scientists themselves and enjoy and take care of this beautiful property.”
In addition to science standards, they also love incorporating other subjects into their lessons. “We try to be cross-curricular and pull in social studies, math, and literacy,” Risinger said.
An important aspect the team emphasizes to students is when they walk into Ritchey Woods, it is different than any other park. “This is a nature preserve, and the word preserve means to protect,” Risinger said. Through this both Davis and Risinger introduce the word “citizen”.
“When they come to Ritchey Woods, they become a citizen of Ritchey Woods, and a citizen of any group has rights and responsibilities,” Risinger said, “and so they have the right to enjoy it and learn, but they also have the responsibility to take care of this park, the plants, and animals that live here.”
Nature First’s immersive learning environment is one that is sure to make a mark on students’ educational journey. Risinger sums it up best with her take on a quote from Rachel Carson, “students just need one adult who takes an interest in bringing them outside and showing them what’s available. We may or may not be that one adult, their teacher may not be that one adult, so we just want to get them out here and see the beauty and joy of nature, and all of the wondering that comes along with that.”
Laura Masoni is the Public Relations Intern for the City of Fishers. She moved to Fishers from Greenwood in 2010. Her favorite activities include traveling, rowing at Eagle Creek, and going to concerts in Downtown Indy. In her free time, she loves to hang out with her friends and listen to podcasts & music.