Meet Amy Vela of the Castillo de San Marcos.
“Why did you become a park ranger?”
“I’m from Western New York. So, I usually say “Outside of Buffalo” just to make sure people know I don’t mean New York City. I grew up in a pretty rural area, a dairy farm. I grew up going out to the woods and fields. I hit a point sometime in my life where I realized that’s changing for people. Small farms, they’re disappearing, which means there are less places for kids like me to grow up. That’s why I’m thankful for the Park Service, because it provides that open space that I really love.”
“How did you join the NPS?”
“I’m an accident. I didn’t grow up knowing park rangers or visiting National Parks. We did do a lot of outdoor activities and we definitely visited our state parks. But having a farm we were kinda tied to home.
I went to college and I earned a degree in history and education. I started teaching middle and high school history. And every summer I looked for something different to do. But one summer that kinda changed my life was when I found this internship program that exists with the National Parks called “Teacher Ranger Teacher”. You go serve the Park for the summer, create curriculum for them, work with young people, and then you go back to your classroom and you share with your students back at your home school all the things that the National Parks have to offer. I had such an amazing summer doing that and decided to switch careers.”
“What’s special about the Castillo de San Marcos?
“Well, I feel like all of the Parks offer something different but with the Castillo you have over 300 years of history at the fort and over 400 years in the town. You have the story of the Spanish who came here and the Timucua who were already here. Then you have all these other stories of the various nations that took over the fort and city of St. Augustine.
With my background as a history teacher, I found it hard to teach things in silos and separate from one another, having to teach one thing in isolation and then move onto the next. It was challenging to show how all these stories are interconnected. The opportunity with my job as a ranger at the Castillo site gives me this beautiful opportunity to tell people how history weaves together and how everything is connected.
This can impact their lives. And, of course, we can go even deeper when we start talking about culture and when we cover other aspects of language and religion and traditions. It’s wonderfully rewarding to me to see a young person find himself or herself in the past, whether it’s their personal family history or the nation’s history. And a site like this offers the opportunity that in an authentic setting.”