Rachel Arbor, 31, is the coordinator of environmental education at the Garrison School.
What is your philosophy as an environmental educator?
My mantra is “connection to nature, connection to self, connection to others.” If we’re going to fight this climate crisis, we need to understand and appreciate nature. We also need to understand ourselves and our role in nature. Finally, we need to understand how we can collaborate with others to solve the problem.
While you have your own class teaching environmental engineering and community-based conservation projects, you also contribute to the core curriculum. What’s your approach?
Here’s an example. Our fifth-grade teacher has a unit called “The Age of Exploration,” about European explorers. I’ll teach how that relates to the environment. The explorers needed resources from the environment. That’s why they explored. That mindset is something that we still have. We ask, “How can this ecosystem give us what we need?” rather than, “How is this a two-way relationship?”
You received a butterfly grant?
I’m applying for a grant to make the Garrison School part of the Pollinator Pathway. That means we will plant local flowers that attract migratory monarch butterflies on their path from Canada to Mexico. This is part of my community-based conservation initiative. My goal is to connect Garrison students with the larger community. Students also will learn about pollinators as part of their ecology curriculum.
You had said that the late Bob Oddo, who taught science at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, was a big influence on you. How so?
He was so unconventional. In one assignment, he made us go be “freegans” [someone who scavenges for food]. We went to Dunkin’ Donuts and got all of their extra bagels. We had no idea what restaurants did with their waste. He got us out there in a way that changed our perspective on what food manufacturing looks like. He sent us dumpster diving! His passion was contagious.
Do people remark on your last name? It seems appropriate for an environmental teacher.
My husband and I met while leading backpacking trips. We loved being in nature and we loved helping students be in nature. When we got engaged, we wanted to find an identity that fit us both. So we looked at the letters in our names [Rachel Tabin and Jake Harrison Latchaw] and we figured out how we could scramble them to give us an identity we appreciated. When we changed our names legally, the judge said, “Let the court reflect the fact that this is beautiful.” We both go by Arbor. Jake is an English teacher at Beacon High School. His students call him Mr. Tree. My students call me Ms. Arbor.
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