Back to School: Young Teachers Take National Park Experience from New Mexico Back to Florida Classrooms

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Date: September 17, 2011

In early spring 2011 Arren and Allison Swift started thinking of what they would like to do this summer. Arren is a teacher at Seminole High School in Seminole, FL and his wife Allison is a recent graduate of the University of South Florida.  Vacations would be nice but would cost too much. Learning something to bring back to the classroom would be great but how could they do that? Then Arren discovered the National Parks posting for a teacher-ranger-teacher position. They started to think about the position. They would be able to travel and would be able to bring something back to the classroom.  But, what if Arren actually got the job? What would actually happen? How could Allison apply for a job for the upcoming school season?  They didn't want to spend the summer apart but thought the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program would be a great opportunity. Arren applied for the teacher-ranger-teacher position at many different parks. Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, just north of Silver City, New Mexico, called and set up an interview in early April. The job sounded great but Arren and Allison wanted to make sure they could spend the summer together. The park's Chief of Interpretation Rodney Sauter suggested that they would be able to stay together in a government-rented trailer near the park.  It was set in early June. Arren and Allison would be heading to New Mexico.

As they began to make plans, they started to wonder what Allison would do for the summer once they arrived at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument. Arren suggested that Allison could have lots of fun doing laundry, cooking meals and cleaning. Allison laughed and suggested she would find something to do, maybe hike or soak in the hot springs. During their 2,000-mile drive across the country the chief of interpretation called and asked if Allison would like to volunteer in the park for the summer. She was excited to help out but soon wondered what she had signed up for.

Once they arrived at the park they both received training and learned about the park's resources. Soon they were working together in the Gila Visitor Center, which reminded them of how they first met each other almost 6 years ago at their first job at Village Inn restaurant. Within a week they were working at the monument and even giving tours. Their next job was to create several educational activities for young visitors. Arren and Allison worked very well together since they both have degrees in education. Together they created a magnet activity, corn grinding activity and a clay pottery activity. The magnets were designed for young visitors to have the opportunity to design their own pottery. There are modern pictures which they can choose to put in the center of a border to tell their own personal story. The corn grinding is simply a mano (hand stone) and metate (flat stone) which the visitors can use to grind corn to see if they can grind enough for dinner. The clay pottery activity provides the opportunity for kids and adults to mold white clay and use a black marker to make their own Mimbres-style pottery. 

Their time at Gila Cliff Dwellings really helped them learn new things about a different culture and new ways to educate people. The highlights of their trip this summer were working together and growing closer, meeting new people, learning new things, getting to visit new places and eating amazing food. They grew to love the climate and environment and were nervous to drive back home to the high humidity of Florida.

Their biggest fear in working together was not fighting with each other but whether Allison would be able to obtain a job for the upcoming school year while being so far from home, surrounded by wilderness and with limited communication. Their prayers were answered July 28th when Allison received a teaching position at Orange Grove Elementary School in Seminole, FL. Now they can both take their national park experience and New Mexico adventures back to their many students in Florida.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is open every day of the year. Call the Gila Visitor Center at 575-536-9461 for current hours of operation and more information.


Last updated: February 24, 2015

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26 Jim Bradford Trail
Mimbres, NM 88049


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