Julie Weems

Ardmore High School, Ardmore AL

Gain wilderness skills, deepen knowledge of the taiga biome, explore art in Iceland and participate in Wilderness First Responder certification in North Carolina to expand a new artist-naturalist program for students and to improve safety during fieldwork.

Where I've Been

  • Reykjavik , Iceland
  • Bryson City, North Carolina

My Fellowship in Images

Improving safety for my Naturalist Studies program begins with a Wilderness First Responder training at Nantahala Outdoor Center. I'm learning to manage risk in remote environments through an intensive, hands-on course by SOLO Wilderness Medicine.
I am taking advantage of my time in Bryson City by exploring a bit of the Appalachian Trail. I'm seizing every chance that I can get to tackle steep ascents to prepare for mountain hiking in Iceland on the next leg of my fellowship!
Part of the Naturalist Studies program involves nature journaling and scientific sketching. I'm working all summer to create an example book for my students, and I'm excited about all of the inspiring content that this fellowship will provide.
Part of why I chose the 4 day Laugavegur trek in Iceland as a skill-building journey is because it is so very different from home. Learning to hike in the snow is a totally new experience for this Alabama girl!
Trekking the Icelandic Highlands is like hiking through a painting. I have lots to add to my sketchbook.
The Laugavegur trail provides such varied terrain! It's a perfect outdoor classroom for acquiring new trail skills. I am also learning a lot about how to manage a group in the wilderness.

Your Personal and Professional Growth

How have your knowledge, skills and capabilities grown?

This Fund for Teachers fellowship has given me the needed training to manage student risk in remote settings, experience negotiating a wide variety of landscapes and weather conditions as well as a cultural immersion experience that won't be soon forgotten. I feel more confident, knowledgeable and ready to lead!

As a result, in what ways will your instructional practice change?

I now have the tools to safely guide my Naturalist Studies students through a wider range of experiences during field work. I also have the background knowledge that I need to provide my art students with a more in-depth understanding of how culture, art and environment are intertwined.

What is the greatest personal accomplishment of your fellowship?

My greatest personal accomplishment is probably completing the four day Laugavegur hike. This trail led me over snow bridges, across lava fields and through rushing, glacial rivers. I learned to navigate unfamiliar terrain and weather conditions. The trek from Landmannalaugar to Thorsmork could not have been more different from what I am used to, and gave me valuable experiences that I will draw on both as a teacher, as an outdoors woman and as an artist.

Impact on Your Classroom, School and Community

How will your experiences positively impact student learning in new ways?

My students are next in line to be caretakers of a rare world treasure, but they won't be inspired to care for it if they don't feel a connection to it. What I learned from this fellowship will allow me to take my students out into the world and let them experience the amazing biodiversity that our state has to offer. I hope that my students will form a connection to our natural world that inspires them to make good decisions. People protect what they love.

What are your plans for working collaboratively with colleagues?

I got the chance to explore some of the myths and legends that contribute to Icelandic art. I'll be working on a collaborative project with our mythology teacher this year. Another item of focus for me in Iceland was to examine how environment plays a role in the traditional arts of Iceland. A fellow art teacher in my system did her Fund for Teachers fellowship in Peru, exploring similar themes. We will be sharing our findings with one another and with the other art teachers in our district.

Imagining the Future

How do you envision celebrating of your students’ new learning?

We celebrate our new learning by putting it into practice. If we learn about plants, we hike into the forest to find them. If we are exploring how cypress trees grow in the water, we kayak out to see them. If we are studying geology, we will get out in the rocks and go bouldering and rappelling.

Are there issues or challenges in your school, community or the greater world about which you and your students might try to make a difference?

My students live in an area that tops the charts both in biodiversity and in species that have gone extinct on our watch. This is tragic for our local economies, which depend heavily on healthy ecosystems (especially forestry, tourism and agriculture). An understanding of our natural resources and knowing how to be good stewards of them is critical. My students are the future decision makers for this global hotspot of biodiversity. I want to help prepare them for this responsibility.

How would you describe to a friend or a grant funder the most fundamental ways in which your fellowship has changed your personal and/or professional perspective?

I participated in my first Fund for Teachers fellowship 5 years ago, and I am continually amazed by how the impact of that one experience continues to fuel and affect my instruction today. It brought me down paths that I couldn't have imagined before my participation. It is impossible to predict how this fellowship will change my instruction, but I already feel more confident, inspired and full of new ideas. I wish every teacher could participate in such life-changing professional development.