LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — A Penn Manor School District teacher is one of 50 teachers from around the U.S. and Canada selected for the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship. She hopes the experience will help her encourage students’ senses of wonder and find new ways to engage them in their education.
As a 2021 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow, Hambright Elementary School teacher Katie Harnish will travel to a yet-to-be-determined remote location outside of the U.S. with teams from National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions to gather educational resources and experiences to share with her fifth-grade students and fellow teachers.
Harnish teaches science and English language arts, and she has been finding creative and hands-on ways to engage students, even during COVID-19. Some of her class projects include raising rainbow trout to release into a local stream and speaking with CWS Lancaster to learn about why the area is considered “America’s refugee capital.”
Q&A with Katie Harnish
Q: Why are science and language arts important?
A: Science is all about wonder. Science is about curiosity and exploration. And writing and reading — it kind of helps us all make sense of it, and also it helps us to share what we learn, so they’re kind of a perfect union. I’m a very globally minded educator, so for me, the idea of going to a faraway place and bringing it back in a way that my students are going to care about is so exciting, and I can do that through writing or through reading about the area where I’m going to be traveling and also by connecting in all the really, really rich science content that I’m going to find when I’m there.
Q: Why do you think it’s beneficial for students to get that sense of global education?
A: The world is fascinating. It’s so interesting, and there are people and geography and geology and animals and, you know, everything. There are so many incredible things for kids to learn about and explore that happen beyond just our own country. We’re so globally connected. This pandemic really put into perspective the fact that we really are connected to people who are thousands and thousands of miles away. So I think just kind of helping kids to wonder about what’s out there in the world is just super important. And I really hope, too, that if they see their teacher, someone who they’re connected to and they have a relationship with, out and exploring the world and being active and engaging with the world, that they’ll be inspired to do the same thing.
Q: What topics within the subjects of language arts and science are your favorite to teach?
A: I love teaching about biology. I love teaching earth sciences. Anything that’s really hands-on and outside is my favorite to teach.
Q: What are some of the hands-on projects you’re working on?
A: One of the projects that we’re doing right now is we are raising about 200 rainbow trout in our classroom, and it’s through a project called Trout in the Classroom, which is a national project.
So we’re raising these trout, but we wanted to kind of dive a little deeper into it, so we were like, “Let’s look at our local watersheds” — because we learn about watersheds as well in fifth grade — and we were like, “Let’s get out and see what these rivers are actually like. And what are these creeks like where we’re going to be releasing our little babies, so we can make sure that they’re healthy, and we can make sure that we’re being good stewards, and so we can make sure we’re being good trout parents?”
We partnered with Stroud Water Research Center, which is in Avondale, and did a lot of investigative work. We went out into the creek. We collected samples of macroinvertebrates. We tested the water. And we’re continuing to investigate.
Q: How has COVID-19 impacted the way you engage your students, and how are you adapting?
A: I have been lucky that most of the time I’ve been in person with my students, so I’ve had to do very little remote work. But as is everything with teaching science, it’s all about helping kids wonder and helping kids be curious, and so we can do that right in our backyards. We don’t have to travel across the world or go to a remote place to feel wonder and curiosity about the world around us.
The other thing in terms of COVID-19 was that I feel like it was really important, at a time when kids were so stressed and kids had been cooped up for months and months and months, to get them reconnected with the world and get them connected with nature in a way that was safe. So we were still able to be masked and we were still able to be 6 feet apart, but we were in a river instead of in a classroom and running around in the woods instead of being in our seats. I worried at first about being able to get the kids out because of all the restrictions around COVID-19, but it ended up working so well, and it was the perfect time for those kids, I think, to be out and about in the wild.
Q: Are you anticipating these projects like raising trout or like meeting with CWS Lancaster continuing in upcoming years?
A: I’m excited to expand on some of these ideas and go deeper and bigger with some of the things we’ve been doing in the classroom. In terms of our trout and our watershed project — expanding that to more classrooms so that more students can get out into the wild and have that experience.
And with some of the other work — our refugee project, for instance — I would love to continue to expand that. And in a time when it’s a little bit safer and COVID-19 is not as much of an issue, I would love to get us into the community, into Lancaster City, so that we can see how our community welcomes refugees and speak to the people who help refugees settle because Lancaster has been nicknamed “America’s refugee capital.” So it’s exciting for us to be able to explore what that identity means, what it means to be a citizen of this community like that.
Q: How might the Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship be meaningful or impactful to the work you do as an educator?
A: I think that whenever teachers are really passionate and on fire about what they’re doing and are engaged with the world and curious about the world, I think it’s always a win for students. For me, just the opportunity to go to this place and say, “Hey, guys, I’m going on an adventure and I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen, but we’re going to look and see what’s there. And what do you guys want to know about this place?” and helping the students to indulge their own curiosities about places where I’ll travel, and then coming back kind of reignited and inspired by this opportunity to go to a new place like this…I think it’s just going to continue to really drive my passion and give me all sorts of brand new ways to engage students with our curriculum.
(This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.)