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-from June 28, 2010-

Seasonals Learn the Art of Putting Visitors First

On June 21-24, 16 summer seasonal interpreters for Gateway National Recreation Area learned the importance of listening to visitors. They practiced telling stories not only with words but also with objects, photographs, open-ended questions and hands-on activities.

To learn about Gateway’s diverse resources, seasonals toured all three units. They seined at Great Kills Park on Staten Island; toured Battery Potter at Sandy Hook and explored the Wildlife Refuge at Jamaica Bay.  Being together for four days allowed seasonals to get to know each other as well so that they can help each other throughout the season.

For C.J. Gutch, starting his third season with Gateway, the training "captured a lot of what I've observed firsthand at Sandy Hook. As a result of this training, I feel our division is now better equipped to interact with the public and communicate why each of our parks is so special. Additionally, it was a pleasure getting to know my counterparts from the New York units."

“I have trained college students for summer employment in the NPS for fifteen years,” said Interpretive Specialist Charles Markis, who organized the four days. “This is one of the best groups I have worked with.  They have backgrounds ranging from natural resources and cultural history to community planning, and all display a wonderful zest for learning to be Park Rangers.”    

The four-day training emphasized that interpretation involves as much listening as speaking. Summer visitors frequently meet seasonal interpreters face-to-face. To encourage stewardship, interpreters must connect a visitor’s life and interests directly to the park’s stories.  “It’s always exciting to talk about what you’re interested in,” said Claudia Ocello of Museum Partners Consulting, LLC, who participated in the training. “But we need to think about a visitor’s motivations for coming to our site. The visitor needs to come first.”

Ocello encouraged staff to think about the variety of reasons visitors come to parks and museums. Theorist John Falk has identified five categories of museum visitors: explorers, facilitators, rechargers, hobbyists and experience seekers. While hobbyists want to know every detail of an aircraft at Hangar B, a recharger may want to be left alone to reflect.  Facilitators might come to for the good of a child, or to entertain an out-of-town friend.  Beachgoers may stop to look through a spotting scope to see a nesting site, but their main priority is the beach.

Seasonals also learned about learning theories, such as Howard Gardner's theory of “multiple intelligences.” Simply stated, it means that people learn in a variety of ways. Therefore, rangers need multiple strategies to engage visitors. Some people prefer the traditional ranger talk. Others need to touch objects and examine photos, while musically-inclined learners may respond to the sounds of bird calls. Kinesthetic learners need to move; interpreters can lead a group in imitating the “broken wing” walk of the piping plover or by leading a march at Battery Weed.

Thomas Bunyan, a seasonal working on Staten Island, stated, "The week of training gave me new perspectives on engaging audiences by various methods used in identifying and catering to visitors needs."

Contact Information
Name: John Harlan Warren
Phone Number: 718-354-4608

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