“Nature is one of the best teachers and healers for us as humans,” says Andrea Parker, an experienced educator and founder of The Rejuvenation Grange, a consulting business that helps individuals, schools and organizations with place-based, experiential learning opportunities in their communities. “Trees emit volatile compounds called phytoncides that act on our bodies to lower cortisol and stress hormones, slow the heart and still the mind,” she says.
The Rejuvenation Grange, launched in January 2016, embodies the philosophy and science that being in nature is healing, and it builds on Parker’s own passion for creating community and connecting people with their local environments. Currently, Parker offers online workshops that help educators develop nature-based programs in their classrooms, with topics such as “Designing Your Outdoor Classroom,” “Ecology as a Bridge for Science and History” and “Science Observations and Journaling.” Eventually, she hopes to work directly with schools to develop experiential and outdoor education programs that integrate observation, art and science.
The Damariscotta native has worked in public, private and place-based schools across New England, and she says diverse educational settings have allowed her to “explore, experiment and integrate concepts of nature and community-based learning.” Her vision for The Rejuvenation Grange came from a desire to “inspire and facilitate change within our schools and our workplaces” and to shift the focus to learning that allows people “time to explore, communicate, connect and question.”
As a teacher herself, Parker says exploring nature and inspiring creativity “helped me manage my classroom dynamics so that I could reach all my students and give them space to explore, experiment and engage.” Parker believes that “learning needs to be rooted in connection to the world around you,” and that students need to learn outside of the classroom and school walls. “The current system is designed where students are inside most of the day not moving their bodies, not getting time to truly explore, experiment and engage with nature and their community.” The same is true for many adults, who spend their days at desks and behind computers.
The Rejuvenation Grange facilitates workshops (both virtual and in person) where educators and entrepreneurs can gather, explore natural resources, brainstorm and solve real-world problems. “Our communities have so much to offer in the form of natural and personal history, artists, authors and performers, entrepreneurs, parks and natural reserves,” Parker says. “People have so much knowledge and real-life experience to share, and they come up against problems, which students of all ages could help investigate and solve.”
Parker has led online workshops for educators and businesses around mindfulness and finding organizational clarity and purpose. This spring, The Rejuvenation Grange is launching a six-week online community program called “Digging Deep: Unearthing our Creativity to Rejuvenate our Life and Business,” as well as a two-month online summer course titled “How to Design and Implement the First 6 Weeks of a Community-Based Curriculum.”
Parker has big plans for The Rejuvenation Grange’s future, including hiring a virtual assistant to help with social media and outreach, training staff to run workshops and opening a community space in the Midcoast area that would serve as a physical grange or hub for her programs. She also hopes to partner with Midcoast Conservancy to implement more place-based learning initiatives in schools.
The ultimate goal of The Rejuvenation Grange’s programs is to build relationships and help people implement lasting, systemic change in their schools, workplaces and communities. In an effort to tailor her programs to educators’ needs, Parker is interviewing teachers to gather feedback and launching a video series showing what educators are doing to engage their students with nature and community-based learning.
At a time when in-person communication and outside time are at a minimum, The Rejuvenation Grange focuses on building human-to-human and human-to-place connections. “We as humans have become less connected to the systems we live in everyday. We are more connected to technology, which has its place, but we need to have a more balanced dynamic,” Parker offers. “Integrating the outside world and using it as part of your work system will allow for greater understanding, empathy and solutions to our community, national and world problems. We as humans were not meant to exist just in four walls and we need to stop barricading ourselves within them.”
For more information about The Rejuvenation Grange, go to www.therejuvenationgrange.com.
Mercedes Grandin is a freelance writer, editor, English teacher and tutor. She lives in Brunswick with her husband Erik and their chocolate Labrador Fozzie.