St. Croix Island Hosts Local Teacher for Summer Program

By Lura Jackson 

Ann Luginbuhl (left) provides details of the French settlement of St. Croix Island to a visitor with the visual assistance of one of the many bronze statues along the trail. Luginbuhl is a local teacher (at Charlotte Elementary) that joined the park over the summer as part of the national Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program. 

Over four centuries ago, the first Europeans to settle north of Florida came to the St. Croix Valley and set up an encampment on one of its largest islands. Led by Samuel de Champlain, the Frenchmen that journeyed here were met with an unusually brutal winter that took many lives and discouraged the permanent settlement of the island. Despite the many hardships faced by the expedition, the site now serves as a historically rich resource thanks to the meticulous record-keeping of Champlain and the ongoing preservation efforts of both national and local organizations. One program that has been particularly effective in maximizing the vast educational resources of the park is the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program, sponsored by Friends of Acadia. For the past three years, a teacher from a local school has been selected to join the rangers at St. Croix Island Park for a summer, gaining a hands-on understanding of its history and operation that they can then incorporate into lessons for their students. Ann Luginbuhl (teacher of grades 6, 7, and 8 at Charlotte Elementary School) has had the privilege of working at the park this past summer, and she can't wait to share the experience with her students. 

"St. Croix Island is an undiscovered gem," Luginbuhl says, describing how area residents and visitors tend to be unaware of the significance of the site. "One of my goals is to get more schools involved in using the park as a resource for historic education," she says. "Parks are the most interesting places in our nation, historically and geographically, and I want kids to be aware of that."

When school resumes in the fall, Luginbuhl will be returning to the park with the 37 students of Charlotte Elementary. Each year, the school studies broad subjects thematically, with physics and geography being this year's focus. Luginbuhl has designed a lesson plan that uses national parks to give students an impression of the geography of the country. While her intention is to convey the importance of all of our national parks, the proximity of St. Croix Island gives it a special purpose.

"These kids live in a place that's historically very significant," Luginbuhl says. The park employs several resources to help visitors connect with the reality of the French settlers that overwintered here, including an archeology chest that contains replicas of artifacts found on the island. Luginbuhl says that giving students the opportunity to physically handle the objects makes history come alive for them. Showing the difference between a recovered stone axe and a metal one lets students understand the technological contrast between the French settlers and the Native Americans that thrived here for thousands of years. "I'll ask the students, 'How quickly would the technology [to make stone axes] be lost once the metal ones became available?' It puts it in perspective for them."

In addition to spreading an appreciation of St. Croix Island, Luginbuhl aims to raise awareness of the park ranger profession to her students. "When you ask a kid what they want to be when they grow up, they might say policeman, firefighter, or teacher. A ranger is all of those things." Young enthusiasts can now participate in a Junior Ranger activity program at the park, earning a patch upon its completion.

Teaching the importance of national parks is a vital step in the preservation process, especially for endangered sites like St. Croix Island. The island is under constant threat of soil erosion, and it is now protected from visitors in an effort to reduce the potential for lost artifacts. A high tech total station has been utilized in recent years to analyze the degree of the erosion on the south bank. Park Ranger Meg Scheid is hopeful that the data will lead to better funding and an expanded management plan, especially during high energy storm systems. Of the 35 men that Champlain recorded as perished on the island, only 25 have been recovered, and Scheid emphasizes that there is a degree of uncertainty as to where the other 10 bodies may be. "[Protecting the site] is a huge responsibility, and we take it very seriously," Scheid says. "It can be difficult for kids to wrap their heads around the idea of preserving something forever," she continues, adding that the Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program is a big help to the process. "Once they do understand, the park becomes something they can come back to with their children and their grandchildren for the rest of their lives."