Get to know Sadie Norton (she/her), who has been a field instructor with Cottonwood Institute since the winter of 2021-22! Sadie brings light and warmth into every space (indoor or outdoor) she enters, and developed her love of experiential education at the Kent State University Outdoor Adventure Center, YMCA Camp Fitch, Outward Bound, NOLS, and the I Have a Dream Foundation. In addition to working with Cottonwood, Sadie is also a full-time Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) in the Emergency Department at Children’s Hospital of Colorado. We are so lucky to have her on the team!
Learn more about Sadie below, and read our other staff and board profiles here!
What led you to become an environmental educator?
My first true taste of environmental education came from working at a YMCA camp in Pennsylvania called Camp Fitch during a challenging time in my life. I had just dropped out of college and was feeling pretty lost. I was working part time at a climbing gym, trying to decide what the heck I was going to do next in life.
I began volunteering on the weekends at Camp during the fall and winter, when school groups come in for overnight environmental education field trips. I fell in love with the subject matter, as well as with the practices behind teaching in outdoor settings. I saw how transformative experiential education was for our kids, and how playing outside empowered them to be themselves. The whole experience was life changing, and it ended up being the foundation for all that I have done thereafter.
What’s your favorite environmental topic or outdoor skill to teach?
I’ve really enjoyed teaching wilderness first aid lessons. I got my Wilderness Emergency Medical Technician (W-EMT) certification last summer, and currently work full-time in emergency medicine. It’s been fun being able to mix my passion for experiential education and my knowledge in wilderness medicine with Cottonwood students. I love being able to create scenarios that simultaneously allow students to be problem-solvers, leaders, and collaborators. I also think that having some knowledge of first aid helps to make outdoor spaces feel a little bit safer for students who may be more apprehensive or nervous. It’s a fun way to engage students while also making outdoor spaces more accessible and equitable.
Do you have a formative memory of when you learned to love the outdoors?
My earliest experiences of the outdoors mainly involved playing in my backyard at home in Northeast Ohio. I would garden with my mom and dad, climb trees, and explore the woods with my sister. It wasn’t until later in life that I started to partake in outdoor adventure activities. I think that it was all those hours spent playing that unconsciously made the outdoors so integral to my life. Creating forts out of downed trees and brush, building toad houses out of mayflowers and ferns, searching for wild raspberries, shoveling the snow off of the swamp each winter to skate on the ice underneath— it was these little moments that taught me to love the outdoors.
How do you get outside these days?
These days, I spend my days off doing a lot of biking, climbing, and hiking. I find that biking makes the whole world feel like a magical place; climbing shows me I can overcome anything I put my mind to; and hiking draws me back down to earth when I’m feeling super far away.
What are your favorite memories so far from leading Cottonwood trips?
Honestly, all my favorite memories have been when things diverge from the original plans. I love the moments when we throw away that intricate and well-thought-out lesson in favor of searching for feathers and plants to decorate handmade bows and arrows, or playing games for hours with a single downed tree, or searching for spiders under rocks, or collecting lightning bugs…I am always reminded that we all connect to the outdoors in different ways, and that students and nature itself are our own best teachers.
What’s your favorite snack to eat in the woods?
I really love making energy balls out of oats, honey, peanut butter, chia and flax seeds, cinnamon, and chocolate chips. Yummy.
What’s an unusual skill people might not know you have?
I am really good at juggling a soccer ball (with my feet). My record is 300 touches in a row!
We’re so happy to have Sadie on our field programs! Follow us for all Cottonwood news this fall: