Nurturing Young Minds Through Education and Conservation
By Philip Oviatt, Central California District Public Affairs Officer
Fort Ord Interpretive Specialist Tammy Jakl with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has made a career out of doing educational outreach to thousands of students in the Central Coast area spanning 22 years. Known to her students as Ranger Tammy, she has had a lifelong impact on her community and within the education system.
“I love this job and the people who I work with,” said Tammy. “Not in a million years did I think I would end up doing what I’m doing today. I started out in fire, and I thought that was where my career path was. Boy was I wrong!”
Tammy began her BLM career in 2001 as a Fuels Specialist at the Fort Ord National Monument within the BLM California’s Central Coast Field Office. As a member of the fuels crew, she cut fuel breaks throughout the monument to mitigate wildland fire danger. Later that year, she moved into the Park Ranger position at Fort Ord. She then became Fort Ord’s Interpretive Specialist in 2006.
While Tammy was working as the Fort Ord Park Ranger and continuing her education studying at Monterey Peninsula College, she had to prepare a presentation for her Public Fire Education class. She was studying Fire Protection and Technology. For her final project, Tammy opted to produce a puppet show that encompassed the BLM’s mission to cultivate community-based conservation, citizen-centered stewardship, and partnership through consultation, cooperation, and communication. The show centered around Smokey Bear teaching the residents of the forest surrounding the Hundred Acre Wood, namely, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger and Piglet about fire safety.
“I always like to think outside of the box,” explained Tammy. “While others were doing your basic run-of-the-mill presentations, I wanted to do something informative yet fun and engaging as well.”
Fort Ord National Monument Manager Eric Morgan asked Tammy to present her show during Public Lands Day. Former Fire Management Officer Keith Barker was in attendance and was so impressed with her show, along with her enthusiasm and passion for conservation, he challenged her to share her show and her message with others. Specifically, Keith wanted Tammy to take her show into the schools in the area. Tammy accepted the challenge and took her show on the road beginning in 2001. That decision would change the course of her life as she embarked on a career of teaching children her message of conservation and fire safety.
“From the first time I met Tammy, I knew she had a gift,” Morgan said. “Her understanding of conservation and public engagement has enabled her to reach a wide range of audiences over the years.”
Tammy decided to focus her attention on programming for second- and third-grade students. She reached out to the local school district and soon learned that there was a shortage of science teachers. After talking to the schools, they were eager to have Tammy join their classes to fill that void. Tammy quickly realized that this endeavor was going to grow and expand far beyond a puppet show about fire safety. Up to the challenge, Tammy headed into the classrooms with puppets and a conservation curriculum.
Tammy expressed that she was scared at first. “I didn’t know if this was going to work, but I knew I had to try.”
Tammy started instructing students at three schools two to three times a week. She averaged approximately 100 programs a year between 2001 and 2007. Tammy’s time for teaching was somewhat constrained as she juggled both her teaching load with her Park Ranger duties. As word of her classes spread throughout the school system, the demand for her programming grew.
“I saw that Tammy’s programming was growing by leaps and bounds,” said Morgan. “I knew we had to do something with staffing to accommodate the needs of the educational programming with the duties of the Park Ranger at the monument.”
In 2014, Fort Ord hired another Park Ranger, which freed Tammy up to do more programming. Her teaching load immediately expanded, and her programming jumped to 308 classes in 2014 alone. This steady growth led Tammy to teach five days a week in classrooms at 14 schools.
“I was floored and humbled,” exclaimed Tammy. “I never dreamed that the interest in public lands education would grow to the size and scope that it did. The greatest reward came from seeing students out in public and having them come up to me to say, ‘Hi, Ranger Tammy!’”
Blanca Pauda, a teacher with the Alisal School District, had worked with Tammy for four years. Tammy had become an integral part of Blanca’s curricula and with each new class, she included Tammy. The two collaborated on how to expose students to more of nature outside the classroom. School budgets were often limited for field trips, so Blanca and Tammy organized Saturday hikes at the Fort Ord National Monument for Blanca’s students and their families. In 2017, they held four hikes throughout the school year with approximately 30 students and parents attending each hike. During these outings, led by Ranger Tammy, students were given real-life experiences to apply what they had learned in the classroom.
For 2018, Tammy opened the Saturday hikes to other schools. The four regular hikes filled up so quickly that Tammy opted to lead hikes once a month throughout the year. The hikes have become a vital part of the curriculum and have been attended by 30-80 students and parents at each outing. Tammy was teaching in 15 schools five days a week and leading weekend programs including the once-a-month Saturday hikes.
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Schools closed, people were scared, and the future seemed uncertain. That didn’t stop Tammy. Like many of us, Tammy sheltered at home trying to establish a new normal. While figuring out how she could continue to reach her students, she embarked on an adventure in her backyard. Armed with a video camera and script, she began making full-length videos about things kids can see in their backyards. In all, she produced 23 videos that encompassed the benchmarks of her curriculum and served as an outreach to students during a scary time. After she would spend about a week of filming and editing each video, she enlisted the help of Central California District Public Affairs and California State Office of Communications to put the finishing touches on the videos. Once ready, Tammy sent her videos out to her schools. The feedback she received from both parents and teachers was overwhelmingly positive and appreciative.
“I remember lying on the grass in my backyard and wondering, what can I do next,” explained Tammy. “I found myself watching a snail intently, which lead to the idea. Using my husband as a cameraman, I went to work!”
An example of one of Tammy’s videos can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvo86nINKcU.
“I was amazed at the work Tammy put into the videos,” said Serena Baker, former BLM Central California District Public Affairs Officer. “I worked with her and our State Office staff to get the videos ready for the public. It was a great project, and I was glad we were able to help Tammy make it happen.”
As schools adapted to the changing education environment of in-person classroom learning to a virtual setting, Tammy adapted as well and reshaped her curricula to be taught virtually. She would prepare program materials for her teachers who would in turn distribute them to the students. Tammy would hold class with her students and continue to teach her conservation curricula through as much engagement that the virtual setting would allow. It was a challenging time, but Tammy was, once again, up to the challenge.
During the 2021 school year, some schools returned to in-person learning, while others remained virtual. Not wanting to leave any student behind, Tammy prepared curricula for both virtual and in-person learning. It was a lot of work, but Tammy met the needs of every student in whatever setting they were being taught. By 2022, all schools were back to in-person. The once-a-month Saturday hikes were able to resume, and Tammy was there to teach her conservation message and lead the hikes to promote an appreciation of our public lands.
“As the education system changed, I had to change with it,” said Tammy. “I could not let the kids or teachers down. I worked tirelessly to develop modules and class materials to accommodate the kids in any setting until we could all be back together again.”
Today, Tammy is teaching five days a week in classrooms at 19 different schools. She is leading the once-a-month Saturday hikes with an average attendance of 30-80 students and families. Always looking to evolve, Tammy has sought out ways to be more engaged with her community. She jumps at any chance to give public presentations and promote the benefits of enjoying nature. She also works on special events such as Earth Day, the Sea Otter Classic, and Blue Zones projects - activities that are aimed at improving health and well-being for everyone living in Monterey County, California, just to name a few.
To manage the workload, Tammy has enlisted the help of two volunteers. Lily Raine and Kaytlin Kimball, now high school students, were in Tammy’s class when they were in the third grade. The two help Tammy with hikes and preparing materials for the schools. Tammy was thrilled that she had an impact on these students to a point that they wanted to continue in Tammy’s footsteps.
“Having former students return to help with the program has been a dream come true,” said Tammy. “It’s an honor to know that I have had an impact on these students’ lives as I have sought to instill a love of nature in each and every one of them.”
Moving forward, the future looks bright, and Tammy sees no end in sight. She has plans to continue to grow and expand her programs to reach as many young minds as she possibly can. Her life goal is to instill a love of nature and of our public lands, as well as promote the concept that we all share a responsibility as stewards and citizens of this incredible place we call home.
“I have a lot of work left to do,” chimed Tammy. “As long as I am making a difference and having a positive impact, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, one school year at a time. By the looks of the demand, I could be doing this rewarding work for the next 20 years!”
BLM California and staff at the Fort Ord National Monument extend our thanks to Tammy for her wonderful contributions and wish her continued success doing what she loves for the young minds and patrons to our public lands. To learn more about some of Tammy’s work at the Fort Ord National Monument, visit online at https://www.blm.gov/programs/national-conservation-lands/california/fort-ord-national-monument.