Monday, September 28, 2015

JSU Field School: Interview with Renee Simmons Raney



 By: Deanna Jones, JSU Student (2011-2015) 

On September 25, 2015, Renee Simmons Raney, Assistant Director of the JSU Field School, sat down for an interview. We discussed the JSU Field School and some of the local events that are coming up. Renee was the Education Director for the Anniston Museums for 10 years, and has been Assistant Director of the JSU Field School for 12 years. We also talked about the importance of preservation of Alabama’s natural environment.

I read about your education center at Little River Canyon and saw that the JSU Field School has another location as well, can you tell me a little bit about both?

Renee Simmons Raney: Yes, our education corridor spans from what we call “the deepest canyon to the highest mountain in Alabama.” The whole space between Little River Canyon and Cheaha State Park is our outdoor classroom. Within that space, is the highest concentration of nationally protected natural areas in the country.
Little River Canyon is the northern corridor and the Talladega Mountain Field School is the southern part of the corridor. Little River Canyon was funded by NASA through an $8 million dollar congressional appropriation. The Talladega Mountain Center was funded by several partners including the Alabama Department of Transportation and FEMA for the $4 million dollar facility. These are both Jacksonville State University education facilities. 

 I also read that you partner up with US Forest Service (USFS), National Park Service (NPS), Alabama State Parks, and others. Can you tell me about that, and how they assist you?
RSR: We partner with all of them, including the US Fish and Wild Life Service, and not to mention the county and city governments. We span about 8 different counties that we work with in Alabama. We also present around 400 programs a year for around 25,000 people. As far as our actual visitors, like the people who come in to pick up maps and things, we have about 200,000 visitors each year for both centers.

 Wow, that’s a lot of work and people.

RSR: It takes a village. We assist them with their outreach program, and they assist us with our community based education. So it all works beautifully. We like to call it the “web of goodness.”
  
While doing my research I see that preservation of the environment is a big part of your mission statement. Can you tell me about the importance of preservation?

RSR: Absolutely, it goes from as basic as if you like to breathe, thank a tree. We have to have our natural environment for our own well-being. It’s not just our physical health but our mental and emotional health as well. Statistics have shown, that children who play outside and learn more about nature, actually perform better in their academic work. Environmental education programs, being outside, learning about our cultural history, having hands on art opportunities and having opportunities to play games that are educational really increase children’s academic performances, their mental health and their emotional stability.

You sent me a packet of all the events planned for the rest of the year. You have a lot of things going on up there. Can you tell the readers what to expect out of the events coming up?

RSR: On October 10th the national park is hosting a presentation on the cultural heritage of Little River Canyon.  We have experts coming out in many different fields, they bring their expertise to the public. We often use our faculty from JSU, as well. There are often times people, who don’t have time to take a class but are interested in certain topics and these kinds of programs open up those topics to everyone. These programs are free of charge, easily accessible and they’re always exciting. The material is always fresh and new and meets our mission statements.  The public responds well with these types of programs.
Another program we have on October 10th is our Take a Hike events. It happens every second Saturday of the month. We originally wanted to schedule a hike every Saturday. With that scheduling, we couldn’t meet everyone’s request, so we designated every second Saturday as Take a Hike Day. We have multiple hikes going on all throughout that corridor I mentioned before. On different times, there will be a group hiking the Pinhoti Trail here close to Calhoun and Cleburne County. We’ll have hikes going on up at Cheaha State Park and a hike at Little River Canyon. Each hike is about something different. One might be about waterfalls or plants, and the other might be about just going outside and exploring. We also work with Choccolocco Creek Watershed Alliance, which we offers stream and creek walks, where we talk about how important the watershed and the waterways are as our natural resources.

Where can people go and find out more about the JSU Field Schools and all the events that will be coming up?

RSR: The two best places would be our website. Our calendars are on there, and you can go read more about our missions, our history and our heritage. It pretty much gives you everything you need to know. With social media now being so impactive, liking our Facebook page will be a good way to keep up with us. I’m constantly posting our programs, updates and flyers. If people just clicked on our page and scanned it for a bit, they will learn about a lot of what’s going on throughout our whole 8 county area.

Again, thank you to Renee Simmons Raney for taking the time out of her day to answer some of my question.  To find out more about the JSU Field Schools and their wonderful program be sure to visit their website and Facebook page:




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