CWES: Where Students Become Teachers and Everyone Learns
Sarah McQueen

CWESPhoto1.jpgWhen someone mentions envi­ronmental education/interpretation (EE/I) you may tune them out before they even get to the end of saying their major.

It could bring to mind long nights of studying, science courses, and so on. What might not come to mind though, is spending time on a 200- acre spread based on glacial Sunset Lake, surrounded by tall aspens, furs, and pines.

That is exactly what the EE/I major or minor requires: spend­ing time at the Central Wisconsin Environmental Station (CWES), a learning and teaching facility used by students of all ages.

For students in the EE/I major, there is hands-on experience to be gained at CWES, an experience like no classroom can offer. At CWES, students take on the role of teacher and help educate elementary-aged students on survival strategies, lum­berjack and logging history, birds and many other things that pertain to nature. 


“I loved that I had the opportuni­ty to teach out at CWES,” said Andrea Szcepanski, a biology major and EE/I minor. “There aren’t a lot of under­graduate programs that do teaching like this, and I believe it helped me greatly. I feel much more prepared for the real world, in which I hope to become a naturalist or educator at a nature center, state park or zoo.”

Students are required to put a fair amount of work into their lessons, personalizing and planning before they teach them. Lessons are an hour long, but one student, now teacher, might have to teach up to four differ­ent groups in a day.

Not everything is straightfor­ward learning though. Sometimes, there are campfires, songs and skits. Yes, that’s right. Singing just might be part earning an environmental degree.

“I liked having the chance to do a variety of lessons,” Szcepanski said. “Sometimes, I would be talk­ing about animals, which I am more comfortable with, while other times I would be talking about lumberjacks or general laws of nature, which I was not very familiar with. I also had the chance to work with a range of students, from kindergarten to ninth grade.”

The Lumberjack Olympics is one of the creative ways used to help young students understand of log­ging works. There are stations set up where students can see if they have what it takes to be a lumberjack. They even get the chance to try their hand at using a crosscut saw.

However, there are challenges involved. As a temporary teacher, the instructor must make the young stu­dents listen and participate. Slightly akin to student-teaching, there is no experience like taking charge of a les­son and making sure that everyone gains from it.

“I also think that CWES ben­efits all the elementary students we teach,” Szcepanski said. “Even if it is just for a day or a few hours, I feel like the children learn a lot about a world they might not be that familiar with. I am glad to be one of the people to help the youngsters understand or at least be aware of how their actions can affect the environment we live in. “

CWES offers more than just an outdoor classroom, though. They also maintain Sunset Lake, one of the cleanest lakes in the area, where peo­ple can go to swim, boat or fish. They have hiking trails, an archery range and courses such as map and com­pass training or forestry education.