Teacher turning national parks passion into children's books – Spectrum News

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UNION COUNTY, N.C. — A Union County teacher is using her love of the United States’ national parks to help students learn, and care, about the world around them. But, she needs help. 
Mindy Reed is a global studies teacher at Unionville Elementary. She is also probably the school’s biggest national parks fan. 
“It actually came from me teaching, the more I started researching and learning and teaching the students about it, the more excited I started getting about it. And then I started planning our family vacations around the national parks,” Reed said, while showing off the national parks souvenirs in her classroom.
“This is— my junior ranger badges that I have collected over the last couple of years, and this is always a fun place for my kids to go and look,” Reed said while showing a section of her board.
As part of the global studies curriculum, Reed teaches about national parks to her first graders, Europe to her second graders, Asia to her third graders, South America to fourth graders, and Africa to fifth graders. 
Reed said as she became more invested in teaching and learning about the national parks, it worked its way into her personal life and vacation planning. Now, she’s been to about 14 national parks, and dozens of national sites. 
Her passion is even inspiring the travels of her students.
“They love seeing the realness of the parks,” Reed added.
In fact, a growing map and display board on one of her classroom walls is filling with pictures from current and former students exploring the country’s national parks. 
She’s so passionate about using the national parks in her classroom, she literally wrote a book about it.
“I kept searching Amazon and searching the bookshelves at the national parks and I wasn’t coming up with a lot of materials,” Reed said.
That led to her husband Rusty giving her an idea.
“Finally my husband said, ‘Why don’t you just create something yourself?’” Reed said with a laugh.
In the spring of 2020, Reed started her first manuscript, a children’s book about a family starting to plan visits to national parks. Then, she wrote a second book about Mammoth Cave, and is now working on a third about Shenandoah. 
Her books are a mix of facts, adventure and humor.
“The dad has to save the day by duct taping her shoes together in order to get through the cave,” Reed said, while reading a section of her Mammoth Cave manuscript.
Down the hall, another teacher is helping Reed illustrate the books.
“It started off with just pencil sketches that I had sent her to see how she liked those,” said Eric Hinson.
Hinson, a tenured art teacher at Unionville, said it’s been a pleasure working on the project and seeing Reed’s passion.
“She started talking to me about these ideas that she had for these stories and these books. Obviously, it just made sense for me to become a part of that, and I was honored to be able to do that,” Hinson added.
Now, the two are searching for help on the next steps to get the books published and put in classrooms and national parks. They have sent the manuscripts to the national parks for review and are discussing the project with agents.
Reed said her goal is to get children across the country excited about national parks and spending time outdoors with their families.
“I want them to be excited and to learn about parks they didn’t know existed, and to want to go on these adventures with their families,” Reed said.
So far, Reed has not heard back from the national parks or other publishers. But, it’s not stopping her from continuing to teach about the country’s recreational resources, inspiring more student trips to famous places.
“I went to Mammoth Cave, that was my favorite, I liked exploring through the cave. And I went to a bunch of others. There was also— it had a lot of wildlife, and a lot of nature, I loved walking through the trails in there and stuff, and seeing a lot of caves,” said Cayson Price, a fifth grader and one of Reed’s students.
Price said the next park on his vacation wish list is Yellowstone. And, just maybe, Price’s future Yellowstone trip could inspire Reed’s fourth manuscript.