MARCELLUS | Children in 19 schools throughout central New York are learning about nature up close and enhancing their science, technology, engineering math skills with lessons from Baltimore Woods Nature Center educators.
In its 12th year in the Syracuse City School District and its second in the Auburn City School District, the Nature in the City program provides STEM lessons for students in grades K-6 when the nature center's educators visit students in their classrooms for three hour-long sessions.
As well bring some extra learning to area students, Baltimore Woods Marketing Coordinator Stacy Drake noted Nature in the City offers educational activities at a time when many schools are cutting field trips out of their budgets.
At the same time, because Baltimore Woods comes to them rather than them going to the nature center, she added, schools are cutting their carbon footprint by avoiding extra bus trips to transport students.
"We're linking urban schools with neighborhood green spaces," she said. "It is aligned with the New York state school curriculum."
She noted Baltimore Woods' website, baltimorewoods.org, now has a tab at the top of the homepage specifically for Nature in the City to help users learn about the program and how it is supported.
The lessons are tailored around the students' urban environment, and there are different lessons for each grade level. For example, second-grade students learn about birding, and that lesson focuses on birds found in the city setting.
Drake said the students get to use binoculars to look for the birds, and it is a big deal for the children because many of them have never even touched binoculars before, let alone examined birds up close.
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Other lessons focus on fossils, land forms and even electricity to give students a solid science background at a young age.
"We are providing programs across the board," Drake said, noting there is appropriate learning for each grade level the educators visit.
She said she tagged along with educators to a kindergarten class at Salem Hyde Elementary School in Syracuse, where educators brought the nature center's eastern box turtle named Geronimo.
That day, she said, the youngsters learned how to tell the difference between things that are alive and not alive by checking out the turtle. He eats and drinks, breathes, grows and reproduces, for example, the educators told the children, so that means Geronimo is living.
"It's part of the science instruction and science lessons, so it actually meets certain learning standards for curriculum," Drake said, noting the educators work with teachers to come up with lessons that connect with what the teachers are already teaching their students.
A boon to the program, Drake said, is that for each of the 19 schools, there is a matching corporate sponsor, and Nature in the City is funded in three ways. She noted that the sponsors are "passionate about STEM education" and feel it is important to provide that to children.
The cost of each lesson is split three ways between Baltimore Woods, the school and the sponsor, so that helps the schools save money boosting their educational activities for the students.
"It's really a nice triad of support," she said. "We all team up to provide something to the kids that helps them connect with nature."