Forest Society honors teacher making world of connections

  • Broken Ground School ELL teacher Ellen Kenny (left) receives the Volunteer of the Year Award from Society for the Protection of NH Forests president Jack Savage and education director Dave Anderson. Society for the Protection of NH Forests—Courtesy photo

  • Broken Ground School teacher Ellen Kenny (second from right) swims with students at the Merrimack River Outdoor Education and Conservation Area. In past years, she has brought groups of students to the site during summer school sessions to enjoy time outdoors. Emily Lord / Courtesy photo

  • A bald eagle at the Merrimack River Outdoor Education and Conservation Area in Concord. Ellen Kenny / Courtesy photos

  • A beaver swims in the Merrimack River.

  • A wood duck floats near a beaver dam in the Merrimack River Outdoor Education and Conservation Area in Concord.

  • A chipmunk eats mulberries from a mulberry tree in the Merrimack River Outdoor Education and Conservation Area in Concord. Ellen Kenny / Courtesy photo

Monitor staff
Published: 10/18/2020 7:47:01 PM

Concord teacher Ellen Kenny loves her early morning walks at the Merrimack River Outdoor Education and Conservation Area, and now she is getting recognition for the work she’s done at the site, and for her dedication introducing students to nature.

Kenny, who is an ELL Teacher at Broken Ground School, was named Volunteer of the Year at the Forest Society’s annual meeting, which was held virtually Sept. 26.

Kenny has been a volunteer monitor for the conservation area (often referred to as “the Floodplain”) for more than a decade. She helps the Forest Society daily with an early morning routine that includes opening the conservation area’s parking lot gate for visitors.

“It’s been a real privilege for me to have the Conservation Center be on the way to work,” Kenny said. “It’s been nice to be there really early in the morning, and you see things you never see at any other time of day. It’s a beautiful spot.”

In her role as a teacher, Kenny gets her students – mostly from new American families – engaged with the floodplain conservation area. She has brought groups of students to the site during summer school sessions to enjoy time outdoors and unstructured time to swim and explore.

“We have a lot of kids who live in apartment buildings, so the ability to get out, run through the woods, play in the woods...this is something they may have had, to an extent, in the countries they came from. It’s just exciting to introduce them to that right here in their neighborhood,” Kenny said.

She said many of her students have knowledge of plants and outdoor activities from their home countries, and they enjoy applying that knowledge to New Hampshire. She said one time, several students recognized a big mulberry tree as one they had seen before in Nepal, and had fun picking the berries.

“They wandered around the oxbow and they dug up river mussels and it was just a joyful outing,” Kenny said. “It was bringing them to a place that had connection for them already, even if they might not have known it was right within a mile or two of where they lived. It’s been a real pleasure to bring them to places like the conservation center where they can roam around and just experience being outdoors in a really positive way.”

On her morning walks at the floodplain, Kenny also takes photographs of animals, plants and the landscapes that she sends to the Forest Society to use in the organization’s publications, e-newsletters, website and social media. She has photographed seldom-seen animals like bald eagles, osprey, great blue herons, nesting wood ducks, mink, beavers and turtles and writes blog posts about her experiences to accompany the photos.

“It slows you down,” Kenny said, about photography. “It has you just sit in one place and look at things. The more you look, the more you see. The more you look around one place, the more you get to know it in a really intimate way.”

Carrie Deegan, the Forest Society director of volunteers and community engagement, says Kenny’s love for the outdoors is evident when she is spotted out with her students.

“Her gift to the Forest Society is not only the time she volunteers to take photos and share wildlife stories, but also the time she spends with young people on our floodplain property,” Deegan said. “Our staff have been beneficiaries of her connections to our increasingly diverse community of Concord neighbors.”




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