Junior Naturalists

For the summer of 2021, another Excellence in Teaching Award winner, Jordan Seigler, and I wrote a Summer Learning Program grant through CMSD in order to deliver a high-quality summer program to our 3rd–5th grade students.

Our grant proposal began as follows:
“Imagine for a moment that you are back in school. You’ve been handed a reading test. You are a great decoder, and feel confident. As you begin to read the text, you see that it is a poem. You follow your teacher’s strategies and instructions, but everything begins to go wrong. This poem,
by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, starts, “By the stream I dream in calm delight, and watch as in a glass,” Now, if you are a child who’s been outside and to the park, who has had rich natural experiences, this poem is likely a breeze. However, what if you had never been to a stream? Would you understand the undertone of nature being a relaxing experience? Would you even be able to visualize this excerpt? It is highly unlikely. So many of our students have been deprived of natural experiences, and due to this are unable to truly connect with a huge portion of literature. Another unfortunate result of this disconnect is that students are generally apathetic about the nature in their community, and sometimes even fearful. If you had never played in a stream and realized how wonderful it is, would you ever feel passionate about protecting it from pollution? Of course not! The only way to combat
both of these issues is to give students authentic natural experiences.”

We planned a 5-week program that included almost a dozen field experiences, and worked closely with the Cleveland Metroparks to get our students experiences that are often only provided to more affluent students. This included fishing, swimming, hiking, recording with GoPros, lasercutting solutions to nature and pollution problems in Cleveland, and so much more. Students got to use microscopes, catch insects, catch their first fish, see wild animals, and even go geocaching. Throughout all of this students practiced real world writing and research skills as they recorded what they experienced.


Chrystal Urbansky is an elementary school teacher in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. She works with third grade students. Chrystal believes that all students can learn, grow, and find success in a supportive and inclusive environment tailored to their individual needs. She believes all students deserve rich opportunities and learning environments that best fit their learning goals. Chrystal teaches through hands-on, real-world experiences that shape each child’s education in positive and meaningful ways. Chrystal has found success in creating a learning environment that fosters creativity and values student input in creating lessons and topics of study. Her success is based largely in creating a learning environment where students feel safe and confident in taking risks and trying new methods of learning the subject matter. Chrystal holds an undergraduate degree in elementary education from Kent State University and is licensed to teach elementary education in grades one through eight. She recently earned her master’s degree in educational leadership from Concordia University Chicago.