Education on the Go


Students learning in a wooded environmentThe multicolored cliffs and cerulean waters of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (PRNL) made a pretty inspiring classroom for Jaime VanEnkevort’s '09 BA, '20 MAE secondary education students and those they teamed up with from Jesse Kainulainen's '97 BS, '09 MS Marquette Alternative High School science class. The groups spent a day at “The Alt” getting to know each other and learning about water quality in preparation for a later field excursion to PRNL. There they were immersed in a park-designed Healthy Water, Healthy People curriculum focused on Great Lakes water and environmental stewardship, led by park Education Coordinator Zach Gostlin.

“Not only did they take part in appliable activities, our NMU education students studied the park’s lesson design to see what makes a good plan and attached social justice and next-gen science to it,” said VanEnkevort. “It’s valuable for our students as they move into creating lesson plans. At the same time, the high school students learned about Great Lakes hydrological systems and stewardship principles for protecting public lands.” The NMU students who weren’t able to experience the Sand Point area beach and marsh created conceptual models for integrating place-based learning, such as seeing real-life applications of math in New York City architecture, investigating aquatic insects in the Little Garlic River or taking students with disabilities to a store to learn about money and independent living skills.

Why is placed-based learning valuable? “I impress on our teacher candidates the importance of exposure in a curriculum, of being in a place instead of learning about it by studying it,” VanEnkevort said. “The sensory aspect is very different than being in a classroom. It often lets students imagine themselves in a career they otherwise would not.”

Her students are also continuing a pre-pandemic place-based partnership with KI Sawyer Elementary students. Working with KIS Principal Kathy McCowan '09 MAE and third grade teachers Linda Wagner and Corrina Sullivan, NMU elementary and secondary education students visit the school and are each teamed with a "KI Buddy" who gives one-on-one tours of their school; then NMU students play and talk with their Buddy. Their assignment is “What do you want to know about schooling and school from a third grade student?” On another week, the roles are reversed and the Buddies come to NMU for tours and special experiences.

“Our teacher candidates get to see veteran teachers in action. They see intentional instruction. They see how the kids with clipboards in hand were empowered to lead. It’s invaluable for our students to see what these teachers do professionally.”


Kelsey Clark

Better books for better lives

Kelsey Clark, a special education major and Student Leader Fellowship intern, is working to build a more inclusive and equitable library at Bay Cliff Health Camp. The quaint rustic cabins in Big Bay, Mich., host summer camp experiences for children with disabilities to promote greater independence. One is dedicated as a library.

“Most books were donated, but some are not in the best condition and are outdated and don’t fit the anti-biased and anti-racist themes that we want our students of the future seeing,” explained Clark. “I’m still in the process of going through them. If the theme isn’t appropriate then it won’t be in the library. It’s hard to let go of the books because they were donated, but what these children are seeing is impacting them in their lives.”

“It’s important that all campers are able to see themselves, their friends, and their families reflected in the books,” said Education Professor Sharon Bohjanen '00 BS, '03 MS. The collaborative assignment was part of her children's literature course and used funds from a memorial dedicated to her mother to purchase new books.

Clark found a personal connection in the project. “I grew up with a single mom. I had always loved the book The Kissing Hand, where there are two baby raccoons and one mom. I had never read a book about people with only one mom. But it wasn’t until I took this class and reflected and understood that was probably why I liked it so much.”

Kelsey has extended the project with plans to increase accessibility and enjoyability by rearranging shelves so a wheelchair can fit through, painting with fun colors and getting new furniture, generally “making it more warm and inviting. It shouldn’t be a dark scary place that no one wants to be.” She added that “getting bookshelves that close to protect the books from the mice is also a major goal!"

Kelsey and Dr. Bohjanen plan to seek funding from literacy groups across the state.

The benefits radiate in multiple directions. “I didn’t like reading growing up,” said Clark. “Now that I’m increasing the books the kids will be able to see, which is so much fun for me and brings me so much joy, it has increased my love for literacy. As a special education teacher, I want to make an impact on students’ lives  every day. This is a start.