School in the Park
“It was the funnest field trip I ever had. I thought it was going to be educational.” A third grader’s evaluation sums up the School in the Park experience, a hands-on program to teach the interrelatedness of people with the environment in a joyful way.
In 1984, a group of Mt. Lebanon citizens, aware of the need to conserve the limited amount of green space in the municipality, formed the Mt. Lebanon Nature Conservancy. Its goal was to educate the community on the interrelatedness of all living things and to conserve in as many ways as possible the passive parks in the community,
Working closely with the Mt. Lebanon School District, a nature program for third graders was developed. Mr. Thomas, the Director of Environmental Education, Mrs. Hilda West, a third grade teacher at Markham, Verna McGinley and Dr. June S. Delano created School in the Park.
The program and its activities were based on the third grade curriculum. From the beginning, it was designed to be an enrichment program for the curriculum and to incorporate the conservancy’s goal of teaching the interrelatedness of all living things.
The first year, 3 schools elected to attend: Foster, Howe, and Markham. Three habitats, forest, stream, and field/edge, were the activity areas. The next year, Jefferson, Lincoln and Washington also attended. The following year, after a way to bring just third graders from Hoover was designed, they attended as well. Because of the additional schools a new bird habitat was added. There were between 200 and 300 students in the third grade in those early years. When the population rose to the high 300’s and 400 students, a fifth habitat, invertebrates, was included. This helped keep the groups small.
In the beginning, the volunteers were largely members of the new conservancy. But as the program grew, parents of the third graders were encouraged to help also. Now the majority of volunteers are parents. Fortunately and happily, many of them get hooked on the program and return to volunteer for many years.
From the beginning, it was believed that a solid training program was essential for a successful experience. The training consisted of 2 half-days in the park. The first was a general overview of the program, first aid procedures, and a walk and introduction to each of the five habitats. The second consisted of a session on working with other people’s children, some housekeeping information, and, most of the time, working in the habitat of choice, role playing and learning about the particular habitat. More recently, experienced volunteers come just for the second half-day as a refresher course. This has worked well.
In the mid 1990’s a new component was added to School in the Park: high school volunteers. They are recruited by Myra Amodie, the advanced placement environmental studies teacher and Conservancy board member. They have been a valuable addition to the program. Many attended School in the Park as third graders.
School in the Park will continue to teach all involved to Respect the environment and to Replace anything picked up in the Park. This is our motto, Respect and Replace. The feedback received about the program keeps it vital and challenging for each new group of third graders.
Volunteers who love the outdoors and working with young children are invited to participate in School in the Park. Volunteers must attend one training session and be assigned to a specific location. The training sessions are held in the shelter at Bird Park. If interested or if you want more information, contact the Conservancy.
This article was written by Dr. June S. Delano, who is pictured to the left. She founded School in the Park and chaired the committee that runs School in the Park for many years.