School psychologist, kayaker to appear on National Geographic special this fall
When National Geographic airs its special on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in September, there will likely be many local students in the valley who recognize a familiar face on the television screen.Michael Freeman, 49, of Glenwood Springs, will be one of those featured on the program during a kayaking trip he took to Alaska in July 2006 with several others, including author Jonathan Waterman and photographer John Burcham. The trip was sponsored by National Geographic to study global warming in the north coast of Alaska.Freeman had done an earlier river trip with Waterman, who called in May 2006 to invite him on this one. Freeman met Waterman and Burcham on the second part of the trip to paddle down the Kongakut River.
“My title was basically ‘boat boy,'” Freeman joked. “I had all these supplies, and I had to guard the food.”In a draft writing for the National Geographic piece, Waterman describes Freeman as a welcome addition to the group.”After ten hours of hungry paddling, we reached Mike Freeman,” Waterman writes. “He had been guarding our liquor and kayak cache with a shotgun at Drain Creek, the Kongakut River put-in alongside a bumpy airstrip. By the time we’d shrugged out of our wet gear and into dry clothing, Mike had dressed the gravel bar with a checkered tablecloth. He filled our plastic cups with red wine, our bowls with boiling water and topped it all off by dumping in freeze-dried lasagna.”Actually, Freeman is an expert kayaker himself, who has run wild and technical waters throughout North America. He began kayaking about 24 years ago and continues to this day, paddling about three times a week during the summer.”I still kayak and I ski – downhill and backcountry – and I hike a lot and go canyoneering,” he said. “I’m outdoorsy. I work, and when I’m not working, I’m out in the woods.”
When he’s working, Freeman is a school psychologist for the Mountain Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), which covers 10 school districts from Silverthorne to Parachute. Over the past 15 years, Freeman has worked in the Re-1 and Re-2 school districts, Eagle County and District 16 in Parachute.He is currently working in the Re-2 district in two elementary schools, a middle school and high school between New Castle and Silt.Born and raised in Charlotte, N.C., Freeman received his undergraduate degree from the University of North Carolina and Oregon State University, then a master’s degree from Mansfield University in Pennsylvania in rural psychology in 1985. In 1991, he received a school psychology endorsement from the University of Colorado in Denver. That same year, he moved to Glenwood Springs.”I work in four schools now, and the kids I work with either have academic or behavioral problems,” he explained.But its the kids that he likes most about his job.
“It’s so much fun to go into a kindergarten and watching the kids genuinely want to learn,” he says in his Southern drawl. “They’re so much fun, and that’s what puts a smile on my face.”The tough parts of the job are the legal aspects.”The special laws can get very cumbersome,” he said. “The paperwork. There’s a lot of legal mandates.”But when school lets out, Freeman is likely to be found in wilderness areas as far away as Alaska or Canada.”The reason I do this – spend time in the wilderness – is so I can hear my heart and hear what it’s saying,” he said. “We all need a place.”
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