When Tara O’Malley finished her first year as a teacher at Table Rock Elementary last summer, she wasn’t exactly leaving the classroom behind for three months.
Instead, she traded her desk for hiking boots and four walls for the more than 100,000 acres of land in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
O’Malley was the first educator to learn and work in the monument as a participant in BLM’s Teachers on Public Lands program.
The program, which started in 2014 and spread to the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument three years later, brings teachers on as interns of sorts for the federal agency, with the goal of bringing knowledge of the work and the wilderness back to the classroom.
The application window for this year’s program opened Monday and continues through April 20.
“It’s a great opportunity for the teacher, especially if they’re from the Rogue Valley, to understand more about the roles of public lands,” said Christine Beekman, the monument’s interpretive specialist and program coordinator. “And in particular the reason why the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument was set aside.”
The monument, which was designated in 2000 by President Bill Clinton, is rich in cultural history, comprising territories of the Modoc, Klamath and Shasta tribes who were later displaced by settlers. It’s also characterized by unusual biodiversity.
“That’s significant because we live in a Mediterranean climate,” Beekman said. “You usually find a greater amount of biodiversity in equatorial and lower-level areas.”
The teachers spend 160 hours in the field, and their time is split between learning about the role and function of the BLM and development of their own curriculum to adapt in their classrooms in the upcoming school year. Beekman said that split is 30 to 70 percent.
O’Malley’s lessons included projects on topics such as butterflies and other endemic species. Teachers are expected to create lessons that can be scaled for a variety of grade levels.
Teachers receive a $2,000 educational stipend and earn three graduate teaching credits through the University of Colorado for participating in the program.
“It’s more than just taking a college class during the summer,” O’Malley said. “I have a license in education, and to keep renewing the license you need to have a certain amount of educational credits. That helps me along those lines.”
Applications are available on the BLM website at www.blm.gov/learn/teachers/teachers-on-public-lands/oregon. A teacher will be selected based on his or her experience creating project-based lesson plans and ideas to bring those skills to the experience.