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Volunteer profile

Minnesota Master Naturalists help students study the forest

Master Naturalist volunteers Pam and Michael Pagelkopf prepare field desks to deliver to students in the DNR’s School Forest program.

Pam and Michael Pagelkopf completed the Minnesota Master Naturalist Big Woods, Big Rivers program in 2007. Inspired by their love of the outdoors and a belief that today’s youth are the future stewards of the earth, they looked for volunteer opportunities that would support student learning in the outdoors.

The Minnesota DNR’s School Forest program put out a call for portable field desks for schools enrolled in the program. In addition to a clipboard writing surface, the field desk serves as a container in which the student can transport study materials to the field. The Pagelkopfs deliver the field desks directly to students representing the school forest sites.

“For us, the gift in return is the opportunity to interact with the students and feel their enthusiasm and excitement about their forest and the activities they participate in. The teachers are happy to have a new tool to make learning in the forest a little bit easier,” said Pam. “We leave each school forest site knowing that the volunteer project we chose is supporting student learning in the outdoors.

“The wonderful notes of appreciation that we’ve received from the students and staff have brought smiles to my face and sometimes tears to my eyes. With the intention of giving, I sometimes feel I’m on the receiving end.”

“When the first delivery of field desks was done in 2010, I never dreamed that I would still be doing it 812 field desks later,” said Michael. “I have walked in outdoor classrooms that tried to draw me into being a student again. I hear the sparkle of nature in the voices of students as they share their outdoor classroom experience. It has been good and it has opened my eyes to what the forest can do for learning. I hope the need for field desks continues and that next year I can build and deliver to more School Forest sites.”

The Pagelkopfs originally committed to purchase materials and build 300 field desks over a three year period. As of 2016, they will have built and delivered 812 field desks to 30 Minnesota School Forest sites and driven over 4,000 miles to do so.

“For us, the gift in return is the chance to interact with the students and feel their enthusiasm and excitement about their forest . . .”
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