Midland Business Alliance

CNC's Zablocki Named Outstanding New Interpreter

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May 13, 2019

Victoria Zablocki, school program coordinator at Chippewa Nature Center (CNC), was recently recognized by the National Association for Interpretation (NAI) Great Lakes Region 4 as Outstanding New Interpreter for her contributions to advance the profession of interpretation.

Zablocki started her career at CNC as a Nature Day Camp Counselor in 2012 as a college student. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and serving as a part-time school program educator, she became a full-time educator in the fall of 2014. This January, she was promoted to school program coordinator. In just four years, her contributions to CNC and the larger community have been significant. From professional self-guided exhibits, to writing nature curriculum for local schools, leading Spring Break Mini Day Camp programs, developing Story Hour programs, planning major events and leading kayak, snowshoe and geocaching programs, she has had an impact on numerous programs at CNC.

Zablocki works behind the scenes and on the front line to ensure CNC visitors develop meaningful connections with the natural world. She installs hands-on, self-guided activities for Exploration Days, a program offered throughout the year during school breaks. Activities such as crafts, board games, obstacle courses and building help visitors learn about topics such as how animals are adapted to deal with Michigan winters.

As a full-time educator, Zablocki’s primary responsibility was to work closely with the teachers of Bullock Creek Schools to develop and implement a nature curriculum. She regularly met with kindergarten and first grade teachers to help them identify a scope and sequence of lessons which would align their science curriculum with the natural seasonal occurrences. She also demonstrated how to integrate other subjects (math, language arts, literacy and social studies) into the nature experiences the children were having. In addition to supporting the teachers, Zablocki provided 30-45 minute weekly programs for kindergarten and first grade classes and monthly visits to second through fifth grade classes, totaling 27 classroom visits per month. Each program was custom designed specifically for that grade level, associating nature with the subject matter the class was studying. She did this to ensure the nature lessons had context within the students’ greater educational experience, and to provide dynamic experiences that would help them retain their traditional lessons. Thanks to her hard work, dedication and partnership with the teachers, the Nature Kindergarten program won the Outstanding Interpretive Program award from NAI Region 4 in 2017. Additionally, the school district was awarded a $490,000 grant from The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation to expand the program to all of its elementary schools for the next three years. Zablocki now makes weekly visits to second grade classes to develop that curriculum while supporting five part-time educators who visit the other grade levels.

Zablocki has been heavily involved with two programs that have won the Outstanding Interpretive Program award in Region 4 – Exploring Nature Together (a camp for children on the autism spectrum and their typical peers) which was awarded in 2014 and Nature Kindergarten (described above) which was awarded in 2017. At this year’s RIW, she presented a session entitled Engaging Self-guided Exhibits for Children where she highlighted the eight activity types she uses to create self-guided exhibits and how to use them as guides for implementing these exhibits.

Zablocki also makes significant contributions to many CNC festivals, programs and self-guided exhibits. She either designs or supports an intern who designs each of nine Exploration Days exhibits during Thanksgiving weekend, winter break, spring break and six unique exhibits throughout the summer. She ensures that each exhibit engages children of all ages and abilities and works to include large motor activities, fine motor skills, organized games, free/creative play, sensory experiences, quiet space and an invitation to explore outdoors. Each exhibit has a theme that ties all of the activities together and helps the visitor have a cohesive experience. Her commitment to a positive visitor experience is evident as families spend quality time together learning about the natural world.

In addition to self-guided exhibits, Zablocki plans several annual events including Nature at Night (1,400 visitors over 2 nights), Winter Solstice Celebration (150 visitors), Groundhog’s Day Party (170 visitors) and Nature’s Eggs Extravaganza (300 visitors), coordinating the staff, volunteers, food and activities. She has added activities, developed themes and made them engaging experiences for visitors. Last year’s Winter Solstice Celebration included a candle-lit trail, inviting visitors to explore the trails at night, a time when most people do not visit the woods. She also leads kayak trips, snowshoe hikes, Families in Nature programs, Story Hours, camp special events, geocaching programs and more, and develops new school field trips that align with Next Generation Science Standards, writes new Birthday Party themes and trains staff on program content and delivery.

Zablocki is committed to her own professional growth, and has attended Regional Interpretive Workshops at every opportunity. With a desire to support the field, she joined the Membership Committee of the Great Lakes Region 4 of NAI in 2016. In 2017, she co-chaired the 2018 Regional Interpretive Workshop in Traverse City. She utilized her background in the hospitality industry (having previously worked at a convention center) as she negotiated with the hotel, asked critical questions of vendors and organized the logistics of the workshop.

Always willing to share her expertise, Zablocki presented Next Generation Science Standards in Your School Yard (2018) at a local teacher professional development day and Next Generation Science Standards in Your School Program (2019), Interpreting the Fur Trade (2017) and Exploring Winter Adaptations (2017) at a Michigan interpreters’ workshop. She regularly participates in teacher development training with Bullock Creek and Coleman Schools, and plans and executes CNC’s internal educator training in September and March.

Zablocki’s recognition as Outstanding New Interpreter acknowledges her commitment to environmental education excellence in the region, and speaks to years of hard work, dedication and passion for the field.

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Chippewa Nature Center is a non-profit organization whose mission is to connect all people with nature through educational, recreational and cultural experiences. Enjoy free admission to 19+ miles of trails from dawn-to-dark, 365 days a year. The Visitor Center, located at 400 S. Badour Rd., is open 8 am-5 pm Monday-Saturday and 12-5 p.m. Sunday and select holidays. Learn more at www.chippewanaturecenter.org.