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The McDevitt PD Program: Rob Dowling '91 Travels the National Parks

The McDevitt PD Program: Rob Dowling '91 Travels the National Parks

This summer, Rob Dowling ’91 embarked on an American adventure: 13 days exploring some of our nation’s most coveted treasures, the national parks. It not only was a personal dream but also a professional development opportunity for the history teacher, made possible through the generous McDevitt Professional Development Program.

“The country’s National Park Service is a treasure and has been described as “America’s best idea” by historians,” explains Dowling. “As a history teacher, I have always been fascinated by the concept of national parks. There is much to learn as an educator and share with students by visiting the parks. There are meaningful lessons concerning government policy, nature, resource management, recreation, ecosystems, social science, indiginous peoples, environmental science, and history. Exploring some of these parks positioned me to bring what I learned back to the school and students, as well as provide an unforgettable personal experience.”

Originally, Dowling proposed a 13-day trip to seven parks: Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, Teton, Redwood, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Rocky Mountain. Upon receiving the proposal, Head of School Jim Detora advised that the planned itinerary might be a little crowded, and suggested that Dowling instead focus on one park and explore its every corner. Dowling ultimately met him half way and visited four.

Dowling flew into Arizona and began their tour with two days at the Grand Canyon. They then flew to Montana and spent several days in Yellowstone, but still could have used more time to see it all. Next, They made it to Teton National Park, which was a special experience for Dowling.

“After my first year of teaching at Avon, a colleague and I took a road trip across the country. We made it to Jackson, Wyoming, where we were offered jobs at a white water rafting company which was in desperate need of CDL drivers (which we had from driving busses back at school). We spent the rest of the summer here, so sharing that place with my family was a lot of fun.”

They also visited Joshua Tree National Park and drove through the Mojave Desert. But, back where it started was what remained Dowling’s favorite: the Grand Canyon. Dowling shares that a guided sunset tour via a Jeep took them to some remote areas of the Canyon that were simply overwhelming in their beauty.

Along the way, Dowling and his family also had the honor of visiting with some of Avon’s finest who live out west: they had breakfast with Kitty Ordway P ’04 at her home in Wyoming. They also were able to meet with Chris Hetherington ’91, Todd Ferrier ’91, and John Solberg P’12,’17, all friends of Avon living in LA.

“This trip was the perfect blend of so many things: I was able to explore some of the most special places in our country with my family, and was also able to reconnect with alumni and friends of Avon on the West Coast. The timing was perfect, as I was able to fit in two weeks away after school closed out for the summer before AOF’s baseball camp began. It was a mission-appropriate experience that allowed me to learn, experience, and enjoy history.”

The McDevitt Professional Development Program

Professional development for faculty is critical in ensuring the highest quality instruction for our students. While the professional development budget at Avon is significant, some unique opportunities are simply not practical for Avon. While these opportunities would be impactful for teachers—and ultimately the students—they often include travel and a length of time that makes them cost-prohibitive. 

In 2020, Wade ’82 and Wendy McDevitt worked with Avon Old Farms to establish the McDevitt Professional Development Program. By creating the McDevitt Professional Development Program, Wade and Wendy encourage faculty to travel and stretch the limits of professional development. In recognition of the dedication and commitment of Avon’s faculty, this program is designed to provide talented faculty members opportunities that would not normally exist at Avon. Such discovery will inherently nurture the central role that faculty play in the lives of Avon’s students. 

The Program funds approximately $20,000 each year to one or more faculty members. Faculty who have worked at Avon for five or more years are eligible to apply for funding through the McDevitt Professional Development Program. 

“I am certain that my experience exploring the parks and learning more about the related history will be beneficial to me and our students,” Dowling says. “I believe that the best history teachers are those who can bring relevance to their classroom. I give special thanks to Wade ’82 and Wendy McDevitt for, among other things, supporting the continued professional development and experiences available to educators at Avon Old Farms.”