Fifteen year after attending North Cascades Institute’s Mountain School at Newhalem, Emma Ewert is coming full circle. This fall, she will join our fifteenth cohort in the Masters of Environmental Education degree program and teaching Mountain School!
Emma attended Mountain School with her 5th grade classroom from Lopez Elementary School, where her father Greg Ewert was a teacher.
“We were at the Newhalem campground and what I remember most is the rain,” she recalls. “It rained a lot and we were outside most of the time, yet we still had so much fun.”
Emma still remembers learning the names of Cascadia’s native trees, and today can point out a Western hemlock or Douglas fir. She also recalls learning the cultural history of many plants, such as nettles, and how enthusiastic the instructors were.
She felt comfortable at Mountain School because of a lifetime spent exploring the outdoors with her family, including frequent trips to the North Cascades and Olympic Peninsula.
“It is so important to get kids to learn where they come from, what we have here,” she says. “If we don’t understand what we have, it is easier to not to take care of it. Making decisions about sustainability and conservation is much easier if you have already learned to love it. This is especially important since we are so urban these days.”
Later on, Emma left Lopez Island to study international development abroad. She returned back to Lopez when her father got cancer and, with her mom and two sisters, made the most of his last nine months, spending precious time together.
In his last days, Greg received notes from a broad spectrum of students, friends and colleagues who said over and over how inspired they were by him as a teacher and mentor. Every fall, he took his students camping in the Olympics, and this stuck with his students too.
Emma enjoyed the special time with her father until he passed away in August 2012.
Considering her next move, she wondered how to combine the elements of the things she loves — education, being with kids outdoors, learning about nature – and her earlier Mountain School experiences kept coming up.
“I realized that it is in these moments – backpacking, camping, loving the outdoors ‑ when I am the happiest, so why not figure out how to do this as a job?” Emma explained. “Plus, doing this work keeps me connected to my father, getting to pass a love for the outdoors on to kids continues his legacy.”
Offered in partnership with Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University, North Cascades Institute’s M.Ed. residency program prepares students in all aspects of environmental education while living among the towering peaks of the North Cascades at the Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake. In the first year of the program, students take classes on teaching strategies, natural history and curriculum development – skills that they are able to instantly put in to practice through teaching 5th through 12th grade students in Mountain School.
“I was drawn to the Institute’s M.Ed. program because it is really experiential and hands-on,” Emma says. “Sure, there are classes too, but you’re also immediately doing something with this information. I’m just really excited to get up there and start the program!”
Fifteen years after learning about native plants and glaciers in the rain as a Mountain School student, Emma will return to the North Cascades this summer, as a teacher, as a graduate student and as a proud daughter carrying forward her father’s legacy of education and loving the great outdoors.