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University partners with Binghamton schools

By : Ryan Yarosh

Binghamton City School District students are getting a taste of the great outdoors while Binghamton University students hone their teaching skills. In the past month nearly 500 students — just about every seventh-grader in the city school district — has received a tour of the University’s Nature Preserve, guided by college students in environmental studies, biology and science education.

The program is funded by a grant of more than $6,000 from the Steven David Ross University and Community Projects Fund, which supports university-community efforts that promote creative and innovative cooperation between the University and local nonprofits.

The program offers the seventh-graders an opportunity to identify wildlife, trees and seasonal changes in the preserve, all to go along with what they’re learning in science class. BCSD science teacher Joe Zapach, who holds a master’s degree in teaching from the University, finds a distinct advantage to the natural classroom. “Teaching life science in a room all year does a great disservice to the subject,” he said. “Taking students out into the life we’re learning about makes the classroom information more real to them.”

Jeff Bohner, a joint MS/MAT biology student, and School of Education and Human Development Professor Tom O’Brien wrote the grant with the idea of creating an educational program to be steered by Dylan Horvath, the new steward of natural areas of Binghamton University.

“When I was an undergrad at SUNY Albany, I really had to dig to find ways to gain experience in ways geared towards environmental, outdoors or wildlife work,” Horvath said. “These seventh-grade trips are a very accessible way for Binghamton University students, especially those interested in outdoor education, to gain exper-ience in outdoor education, public speaking and leadership.”

MAT student Katherine Rolfe would like to teach in the Binghamton area following graduation. “This has given me the opportunity to interact with these students outside the classroom and to see where they are coming from,” she said.

Rolfe has also noticed the effect a college campus can have on the BCSD students. “They were so excited when we stopped by the dining hall,” she said. “You could tell that they were really excited about the prospect of going to college.”

Horvath hopes that this project will do more than change the way the seventh-graders view the world around them. It could provide long-term environmental benefits.

“Many of the kids are intimidated by the ‘wild’ land, but often after just a few minutes they relax and then they become excited,” he said. “Many of the unsure students are the ones who really surprise us in how they change. They change from looking around timidly and asking, ‘What’s going to hurt me?’ to picking up salamanders and wondering, ‘How can I help wildlife?’”

Bohner also believes the hikes are much more than a walk in the woods. “The seventh-graders get to come to the Nature Preserve in the fall and then again in the spring to observe seasonal changes,” he said. “They will get exposure to nature, and for some kids this will be their first exploration in a natural area.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08