Garrison School heads outdoors for School Forest Day
By Mary Ann Ebner
The forest is growing greener . . . and not only can Garrison School students see their forest through lush trees, they can see salamanders, insect larvae, birds, and even jelly fungus. Spring rains may be greening up the school’s natural surroundings, but helping hands are assisting in the effort. Students are learning not only how to appreciate the wonders of their forest, but how to care for and maintain it. The Green Team, a new elective course offered to middle school students during ninth period class time, takes kids out of the classroom and into the forest to get their hands dirty and make a contribution.
Garrison School Principal Stephanie Impellittiere is excited about the Green Team’s launch and conservation of the school’s forest. “We had an eco-team for the younger children,” Impellittiere said, “and the Hudson Highlands Land Trust came up with the Green Team initiative and wanted to instill this with the older kids.”
On a sunny spring afternoon, members of the class worked side-by-side in the forest to plant seedlings and build exclosures to protect the forest. “We’re cleaning up the forest and building a fence,” said seventh-grader Ted Northup. The students completed the fence under close supervision from Salmansohn, and also cleared trails in preparation for the annual Garrison School Forest Day. “Forest Day has almost taken on a life of its own,” Principal Impellittiere said. “The entire school goes to the forest to explore, engage in sensory games, and later record their experiences in a journal.”
The 2012 School Forest Day, held May 10, included a wide range of curriculum-related ecological activities from tree rubbings and stream studies for the younger children to tree planting and orienteering for older students. Garrison teachers Patty Klubnick and Gina Dodge shared nature studies with their second-graders throughout the school year, and appreciate the novel access that they have to the forest. “I’ve been at Garrison since 1990,” Dodge said, “so I’ve been doing this a long time. They love it.”
The second graders assembled along a stream in the forest, each outfitted with a net and a small dish, and listened for instructions from Salmansohn. “We’ll be collecting samples from the stream,” Salmansohn explained to the eager students. “They’re delicate creatures and they’ll be swimming, and you’ll use these (small dishes) as your little aquarium.”
The students found a wide array of samples and after everyone shared observations of their findings, they released their tiny critters back into the stream. When Salmansohn asked the group how many of them were surprised to find so many different specimens throughout the morning session, dozens of hands reached high into the air. The forest also provided fun and imagination as the young students collected twigs, bark and leaves to build “fairy houses” out of all natural materials, and then graduated to a muddy project of nest building for birds.
After the nest building, interpretive naturalist Bakker inspected the nests, and students tested their structures to determine if they were worthy of holding an egg. “Oh, these are great,” Bakker said, “and what are nests made of?” she asked. “Leaves, sticks and mud!” the nest builders shouted. Birds chirped in the distance and the nest builders skipped off to rinse their muddy hands.
School parent Marcy Magnus didn’t mind the mud at all as she expected her children to get dirty while learning outdoors. “They’ve been looking so forward to this,” Magnus said. “All the kids remember it from year to year.”