“How can you care about something you don’t know about? How can you want to protect and defend something you have not experienced? Why recycle and use your canvas bags at the store? Why plant pollinator plants in your yard?” retired teacher Kathy Gingerich asks.

To help everyone answer those very questions, and many more, Gingerich is a firm believer in the importance of educating everyone about the natural wonders all around them — and just how important it is for us all to protect those wonders.

Gingerich, who enjoys life with her husband on a 23-acre wooded lot in Dover, Pennsylvania, spent her childhood in Williamsport in a family cabin on Kettle Creek in Clinton County.

“We spent lots of time playing in the creek and in the surrounding woods,” she said. “I grew up with parents and grandparents who loved being outside. My maternal grandfather worked with Gov. Pinchot on Pennsylvania’s environmental issues.”

These days, besides enjoying time with her daughter, grandchildren, and great-grandson, Gingerich continues to enjoy the outdoors by fishing, downhill skiing, deer hunting, and spending time in the woods.

Before her retirement, this award-winning teacher spent 38 years in the classroom, 28 of those teaching high school science.

“Most of that time was at Red Land High School,” she said. “I taught Earth science, astronomy, and geology. For 10 years, I was one of two teachers who ran the Whitetail Environmental Center at Pinchot State Park for the West Shore School District.”

The program at the environmental center that she helped manage allowed all of the students in the 10 elementary schools in her district to visit the environmental center at least twice a year.

“We were awarded top honors for our environmental program by the state the year before the program was cut by the school district,” she said.

As a teacher, Gingerich had a unique approach to her earth science curriculum that kept her students very interested in the subject: She focused on natural disasters.

“Earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, floods, and glaciers or icebergs,” she said. “My ninth grade ES classes also went on a trip to Indian Echo Caverns and a fossil dig every spring.”

 Her astronomy classes had unique learning opportunities as well, joining her at the Astronomical Society of Harrisburg’s observatory each month “to look though the big telescopes,” she said. “There was also weekly measuring of the position of the sun with the compasses to chart the seasonal movement.”

When working with students at the environmental center, it was all hands-on, Gingerich said.

“Kindergarten through first grade had fall and spring walks. Second and third grade involved collections. Fourth grade focused on the watershed and the path of water, and fifth grade focused on stream studies.”

She also ran the school district’s portable planetarium, StarLab, while she was at the center, something her astronomy classes enjoyed taking advantage of.

In the early 1990s, Gingerich and her husband, also a teacher, both completed a three-week onsite training program offered by the National Geographic Society to become teacher consultants.

“Their goal was to take the idea of geography away from memorizing states and capitals to a five-themed approach,” she said. “Our mission was to present workshops to teacher groups throughout the state.”

They were honored to be selected as the two teachers from Pennsylvania to participate in the NGS national workshop with the theme of “Workshop on Wilderness,” based in Oregon.

“This was three weeks of intense training by the experts in each area we visited, which included the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood, Mount St. Helens, and the temperate rainforest of the Northwest,” she said.

After completing that program, Gingerich said that “our obligation was to put on three teacher workshops in that then-coming year — we put on over 70.”

Following that summer program, Gingerich spent a month in Oxford, England, on an NGS grant, where she studied British geography.

Around that time, she had also received a grant from the National Audubon Society to attend a camp in Wyoming, “where the interconnectedness of all aspects of the area — water land, climate, weather, plants, and animals — was the emphasis,” she said.

Once she retired, Gingerich took some of her favorite lessons as a teacher, adapted them for mostly elementary classrooms, and offered them to the teachers in her former district. These included “Owls and their Pellets,” “Fun with Water,” “Minerals,” “Rock Cycle,” and moon, planets, and planetarium programs in StarLab.

When this busy environmental enthusiast became the chair of the Birds, Bees, and Butterflies committee for the Garden Club of York, she added speaking programs to her repertoire, which included three different presentations at the general meetings each year.

“I try to choose topics that are not general knowledge, even to me, and do a deep dive,” she said.

Each program involves up to 40 hours of preparation. Some of her program titles include “Birds of a Feather,” “Migration – Should I Stay or Should I Go?”, and “Do You See What I See?” which focuses on pollinator vision. She also presents to other groups, ranging from children at a library in Canada to various Audubon societies.

“I adapt the program depending on what the requester gives me for a timeframe and for the audience,” she said.

Gingerich recalls that when she was working at the environmental center at Pinchot Park, she was “always amazed and crushed at how few students had been to the park or even for a walk in the forest,” she said.

It can be difficult to care about something that you have never truly experienced, which is why she’s so passionate about environmental education.

“With my earth science, astronomy, and environmental background, I have a detailed view of just how incredible, balanced, renewing, and vulnerable the environment of the Earth is.”

When she’s not teaching, or researching, or presenting a program, Gingerich said she loves walking her 23 acres, “pulling out/cutting invasive species, cutting vines off trees, and marveling at seeing a walking stick, a praying mantis, a feather, a skull, a bird egg, a snake, a deer, or hearing an owl or woodpecker.”

She has a great passion for the great outdoors, and encourages everyone to simply take a walk outside.

“Parks are free for the walking,” she said. “Take a small section and look at the variety of plants, insects, and birds living there — and be amazed!”

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