Full Circle: Second and third grade students from Georgia visit the Apostle Islands on a virtual tour of our national parks

High Meadows School (Georgia) classroom with students

February 14, 2023

Any questions? The hands shot up like fireworks. Can you fish in Lake Superior? Do you have Wi-Fi? Why is it called a national lakeshore and not a national park? Are there bears?

With Education as one of our pillars, opportunities to learn and teach others about the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore have always been an important part of the mission of Friends. Recently, Executive Director Jeff Rennicke, a former teacher himself, had the chance to speak by Zoom to the second and third grade students of Ms. Hildebrandt’s class from High Meadows School in Roswell, Georgia.

Exterior of High Meadows School in Georgia with students outside

Photo courtesy High Meadows School

Set in the rural countryside on a 42-acre historic farm property, High Meadows School “celebrates and perpetuates each individual’s quest for knowledge and skill, sense of wonder, and connection to the natural environment.”

As a part of that quest, Ms. Hildebrandt’s class enthusiastically embraced a unit on the national park system as a way to instill a knowledge of and appreciation for the diversity of landscapes in the United States.

“Our unit is about biomes and interdependence through a project-based learning unit which basically combines science and social studies,” says the teacher, Ani Hildebrandt. “I decided to have them ‘travel’ to National Parks, going virtually to one park in each major biome and making a travel scrapbook to document each park we go to.” The class will bring in speakers from national park units like Yellowstone and the Apostle Islands by Zoom and do a field trip to the nearby Chattahoocee National Recreation area.

“They are only 2nd and 3rd graders – but very strong critical thinkers. They do a lot of project-based learning. Today we did a read aloud about John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt’s camping trip in Yosemite and talked about protecting wilderness. The writing unit has to do with persuasion so I’ll have them write about the importance of protecting wild land.”

Ani Hildebrandt


Screenshot of question on whiteboard: Do you think wild land should be protected? Why?

Since the students were not able to visit the islands in person, Executive Director Jeff Rennicke took them on a tour of the Apostles in words and photographs telling stories of shipwrecks like the Sevona, of black bears and northern lights, and of Francis Jacker, the keeper of the Raspberry Island light, ending up marooned on Oak Island in his underwear.

“Although it was around a computer screen instead of a campfire,” Rennicke says, “the stories of the islands I hope sent sparks into their imaginations that will burn brightly and give them a new appreciation of the beauty and importance of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.”

Northern Lights
Black Bear

And then there is this: it was not so long ago that their teacher, Ani Hildebrandt, sat in a circle in Jeff Rennicke’s classroom asking questions about wilderness and national parks. “Mr. Rennicke used to be MY teacher,” Ms. Hildebrandt told her students. “And he was one of the people that inspired me to be your teacher.” Like hiking an island in the Apostles, sometimes things just seem to come full circle.

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