Guest Blog by Ambassador LeAnn Simmerman, TN.
In June of 2022, I had the privilege of attending STEAMinthePARK at the National Mall and Memorials in Washington DC. It was the experience of a lifetime. Exploring and learning in the heart of our nation’s history…every moment full of awe and wonder. I expected nothing less from Dacia and Steve Jones. Their standards are high and they plan for nothing short of extraordinary in their programming. What I didn’t expect was the community that was built in only 4 days. Thirty educators journeyed from complete strangers to treasured friends at what seemed like the speed of light. We laughed, learned, collaborated, debated, explored, grappled and danced our way into each others’ hearts. We left our nation’s capital with new connections. We continue those relationships still today.
In June of 2023, I was once again excited to learn with STEAMinthePARK. I was honored to serve as an Ambassador for their camp at Cumberland Island National Seashore. My excitement level was high, off the charts high. I knew it would be an exceptional 5 days. Having experienced the beauty of community at the National Mall and Memorials the previous summer, I was hopeful for new connections. However, I had no expectations of the level of community I have from my days in Washington DC. Then it happened. It happened just like before. 20 strangers came together in a matter of days to become community. It was different…a different setting makes different experiences. We cooked meals, laughed, learned, experienced places where history tells tragic stories, debated, explored, stood awe-struck by nature, wrote songs, sang songs, brainstormed lessons, explored food webs and bounced around the island. We became so close in those short few days, we couldn’t stand the thought of losing touch. Before we made it back to the mainland, we had plans for future meetups, classroom collaborations and zooms. I truly love each of those people, as much as I love my NAMA people.
Then it happened again, yes again. The very next week I was with STEAMinthePARK at New River Gorge National Park. I had the very same low expectation of community in the beginning. How could lightening strike a third time, so to speak. But it happened. Just.Like.Before. Four days from strangers to community. This time I sat back and watched in awe as it happened. As I observed the beauty happening around me, I noted the intentionality of Dacia and Steve. Every plan, every activity and expectation had a purpose. They know educators and they know how to connect those educators. What they do in a matter of days has ripples that radiate exponentially. Not only did I see strangers become friends, I saw defeated, broken educators renew their spirit and strengthen their determination to make a difference in the lives of their students. I saw every single educator beam as they talked about how this experience would go back with them to their classrooms. I saw joy and pride in their calling as educators…all because they spent 4 or days in a National Park with STEAMinthePARK. I am in awe of Dacia, Steve and their ability to impact so profoundly the educators in their programs.