Park Ranger, Annie Runde, Gives me the Inside Scoop

Park Ranger, Annie Runde, Gives me the Inside Scoop

I had a little chat with Annie Runde, Mount Rainier’s Education Park Ranger. Annie has worked at Mount Rainier National Park for 6 years – the last year being an interesting one. Annie and I did not keep our conversation strictly to work topics. As, in the last year and a half, COVID has muddled the lines between work, home, and play. 

So, let’s start at the beginning – March of 2020. The COVID bells rang. Lockdown was in order and there were increasing caseloads throughout the USA. Being an Education Ranger, Annie’s work usually involves class field trips and in-person learning within the Park.

“It rolled out slowly, then all at once.”

The education rangers had to cancel every field trip in the near future, then soon – as we all realized how infectious and deadly COVID really was – all the field trips for the entire year were cancelled. The thoughts running through Annie’s head as an Education Ranger slowly leaked into those of her family life – as a mother of 2.

Annie lives in Morton, Washington. Morton is a rural town about 3 hours from Seattle. In Morton, technology is not a big part of childhood education. So, when COVID hit, Annie was receiving a packet of worksheets every week for her two 8-year-old boys, Oliver and Wilson. While urban schools were doing Zoom-school for 8 hours, 4-5 days a week, Oliver and Wilson had one hour of Zoom-school a week.

“How are they going to be able to learn?”

COVID was a surprise to us all. There were no contingency plans. So, it was time to get creative. Annie found that there was an immediate need for student engagement. As all of us can imagine, Zoom-school was not as engaging as in person and often lacked science content. So, Annie and her team created a number of online Ranger Program for virtual field trips to the National Park. The most challenging part of doing the online Ranger Program for Annie, was having two young kids at home. Kids interrupting virtual work became a part of life during COVID. However, Annie enjoyed allowing her co-workers to see Oliver and Wilson, virtually. That being said, work-life separation was still a bit out of whack.

“The hard part is there wasn’t much separation, and everything was closed. All the lands were closed. Recreation was off limits too.”

This is Annie and her two boys skiing down from Camp Muir on Mount Rainier. Oliver is in blue and Wilson is in green.

Annie has always been an outside teacher. And she says, “That is the Magic.” Checking out rocks, looking at toads in the field, it all has to be in person. The virtual National Park field trips Annie led did not give her as much satisfaction, but on the upside, the learning outcomes seemed to be similar. Nonetheless, “The value in experiential learning is something that you just can’t get from a computer,” Annie notes.

What is next? With vaccines in stow in adults, we are making forward progress in the USA. Annie’s kids were able to go back to school 3 months ago. Meanwhile, until kids are vaccinated, there won’t be many field trips at Mount Rainier National Park.

“Being home with my kids during the pandemic was a blessing, and a huge challenge. They are not going to want to hang out with me forever. So having the chance to spend so much time with them was appreciated, but working and being a mom all day was not the easiest situation. Throughout the pandemic, I never lost faith in what I was doing for work or at home.”

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