John Muir and Kathy Van Deusen: Inspiring conservationists for tomorrow

Kathy VanDeusen is inspiring conservationists using John Muir’s example

Kathy Van Deusen is inspiring conservationists.

Kathy VanDeusen

(Updated November, 2015;  April, 2016; April 2017.)

Gull Lake PartnershipKathy VanDeusen, Delton-area resident, long-time Sierra Club member and John Muir admirer with 40 years experience as an elementary school teacher, is teaching first- to fifth-graders five days a week at Bedford Homeschool just north of Battle Creek. She also leads a once-a-week class in Richland. She is working with Gull Lake Partnership, which offers adjunct curricula for area home-schoolers as far away as Sturgis, 50 miles to the south.

Kathy’s students learn about John Muir’s life, work, philosophy, and accomplishments. Her classes introduce youngsters to nature right there in the neighborhood. She holds some of her classes entirely outdoors.

Kathy’s goal is to instill at a young age an appreciation for nature, an understanding of our environment, and an inclination toward preservation and conservation, using John Muir’s example as inspiration.

Update: April 21, 2017 – a party for John Muir’s 179th birthday

Kathy’s students celebrated a John Muir birthday, his 179th

This year, the birthday party was an all-day celebration. Kathy’s classroom was an open house for all visitors from 9 AM to 5 PM. Here’s just some of what Kathy had in store.

Nice citizen-scientist project by a group of students in the “Mini Beast” class shows the need for butterfly habitat restoration - Monarchs in particular.

Nice citizen-scientist project by a group of students in the “Mini Beast” class shows the need for butterfly habitat restoration – Monarchs in particular.

Lilly the Goat

Lilly the Goat came to the party again this year.

Robin Nott

Robin Nott sang environmental songs with the students and told a story about Jon Muir’s first encounter with Stickeen, the dog that became a good friend.


The students made special cupcakes and held a silent auction to benefit the Bedford School’s Environmental Fund.

Kathy’s students sent a “Thank you!” to us for joining their birthday party for Sierra Club founder John Muir.

Side One of the thank-you note from Kathy’s students.

Side two of the thank-you note from Kathy’s students was a collage of photos from the party.

Update: April 21, 2016 – a birthday party for John Muir

Kathy's students made this poster for the Bedford School's front door. Inspiring conservationists

Kathy’s students made this poster for the Bedford Homeschool’s front door.

Kathy’s class celebrated John Muir’s birthday with a public open house.

On Thursday, April 21, Kathy’s class marked the 178th birthday of famed naturalist and Sierra Club founder John Muir. Kathy’s students invited their parents, the rest of the school, and the general public to join the celebration and learn more about Kathy’s work with her students.

The kids brought homemade birthday cakes to the party for a silent auction benefiting the school’s new Environmental Fund, a fund to help support environmental classes and landscaping plans designed by the students. Sierra Club Southwest Michigan Group brought two cakes – one for the silent auction and one to share with the school’s faculty, students, and visitors. Festivities included games, prizes, a bird feeder display, a baby goat, a visit from a barred owl and a sparrow hawk from Kalamazoo Nature Center, and lots of giveaways – some that the students created, others donated by Kalsee Credit Union and Parker.

You can’t have a birthday party without cake!

More scenes from the party

Some of Kathy’s teaching tools were on display at the birthday party.

Click the photos on the left to see enlargements.



Update on Kathy’s work (November 2015)

Photos by Kathy VanDeusen

Kathy’s class started with the new school year in September. In November, she updated us on her project. The slideshow on the left shows her students in the natural neighborhood around Kathy’s classroom building.

Kathy’s thoughtful and creative teaching is imparting an understanding of John Muir’s principles and an appreciation of nature to Southwest Michigan’s next generation of environmental enthusiasts.

Kathy has been doing this kind of work for nearly 30 years.

During her teaching career in Wisconsin from 1970 to 2006 and known then as Kathy Lee, the Wisconsin State Journal reported on her work with fourth-grade students at John Muir Elementary School in Madison.

The 150th anniversary of the birth of pioneering naturalist and wilderness advocate John Muir is a big deal to some elementary school students in Madison. So much so that they have taken it upon themselves to ensure that residents of the state he grew up in are aware of the legacy his lifetime provided to all Americans, and that his vision for a national park system for America started on a small farm in what is now Marquette County.

With the help of their teacher, Kathy Lee, students at the John Muir School have drafted a resolution proclaiming 1988 a Commemorative Year for Wisconsin in honor of the school’s namesake. A delegation of students will deliver the resolution to state representative Spencer Black in his office at the state Capitol today, symbolically kicking off the effort to establish the commemorative year. The ceremony will take place at 12:30 p.m. The resolution praises Muir’s scientific, literary and conservation achievements, and recognizes his role in making all Americans aware of their natural heritage, and helping establish the modern Conservation movement. Muir was a founder of the Sierra Cub, one of the leading environmental organizations in the world.

“The students want to call attention to the life of this great man, who grew up right here in Wisconsin,” explained Kathy Lee, fourth grade teacher at the John Muir School. “Because our school is named after him, the children had a special interest in his achievements and philosophy.”