Learning from nature: Holyoke elementary students participate in new program at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary

View Photo Gallery
  • Mareymi Morales, top center, and Orialys Ocasio, both third graders at Lt. Clayre P. Sullivan School in Holyoke, and paraprofessional Sue Gorman, right, cup their ears to simulate the increased hearing sensitivity that deer gain from their adaptation of having large ears. The hands-on learning came from Mass Audubon teacher naturalist Kim Hoff, left, during a hike around Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton to explore animal habitats. Mareymi Morales, top center, and Orialys Ocasio, both third graders at Lt. Clayre P. Sullivan School in Holyoke, and paraprofessional Sue Gorman, right, cup their ears to simulate the increased hearing sensitivity that deer gain from their adaptation of having large ears. The hands-on learning came from Mass Audubon teacher naturalist Kim Hoff, left, during a hike around Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton to explore animal habitats.

  • Mass Audubon teacher naturalist Kim Hoff, left, flashes a swatch of white fabric to represent the tail of a white-tailed deer in danger and gets her group of third graders from Holyoke’s Lt. Clayre P. Sullivan School to respond to the alarm signal by “running like a deer.” Taking part are, from left, Amiyah Rivera, Thomas Evans, Mareymi Morales and Lillee Lemere. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mass Audubon teacher naturalist Kim Hoff asks her hikers to note the difference in two pine cones they've found: one is whole and one shows signs of being eaten. The third graders from Holyoke's Lt. Clayre P. Sullivan School made the discovery during a hike around Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton to explore animal habitats on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mass Audubon teacher naturalist Kim Hoff talks about salamanders during a hike around Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton with Lt. Clayre P. Sullivan School third graders, from left, Mareymi Morales, Amiyah Rivera, Yanielis Alvarado Jorge and Thomas Evans on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mass Audubon teacher naturalist Kim Hoff examines a log for signs of animal activity with Mareymi, background left, Amiyah Rivera, Yanielis Alvarado Jorge, right, and other third graders from Holyoke’s Lt. Clayre P. Sullivan School during a hike at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mass Audubon teacher naturalist Kim Hoff and a group of third graders from Lt. Clayre P. Sullivan School in Holyoke discovered this salamander during a hike to explore animal habitats at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mass Audubon teacher naturalist Kim Hoff, left, leads a group of third graders from Holyoke's Lt. Clayre P. Sullivan School in "running like a deer" across an open field at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. The simulation of a deer's response to danger was part of a hike exploring habitats of prey and predator animals. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mass Audubon teacher naturalist Kim Hoff turns over a log to look for salamanders during a hike with students from Holyoke’s Lt. Clayre P. Sullivan School to explore habitats at Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton. The search was successful with help from third graders, from left, Orialys Ocasio, Lillee Lemere, Thomas Evans, Mareymi Morales, Janielys Sanchez Oquendo, Amiyah Rivera and Yanielis Alvarado Jorge. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Mass Audubon teacher naturalist Kim Hoff holds an insect-eaten oak leaf found by one of the third graders in her group on a hike to explore animal habitats around Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Lt. Clayre P. Sullivan School thrid grader Amiyah Rivera listens as Mass Audubon teacher naturalist Kim Hoff uses a model of a beaver skull to talk about adaptations during a hike around Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 11/27/2019 8:05:09 AM

On a cold, drizzly Tuesday morning, Tina Lariviere’s Lt. Clayre P. Sullivan School third graders weren’t inside, sheltered from the dreary weather in their classroom. They were outdoors, taking their turn to visit Mass Audubon Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary in Easthampton for the day. All 20 of Holyoke Public Schools’ third grade classes have taken part in the Exploring Habitats program, now in its first year, structured by Arcadia’s Head Teacher Naturalist Kim Hoff.

“It’s fun but they’re also really learning concepts that are important for them to be learning,” said Hoff. “Nature helps the students to learn in a new way in a beautiful setting and it also helps students to make discoveries about themselves, to challenge themselves, to see new things.”

The idea for this program started out earlier this year with a “goal to get everybody out into nature,” said Arcadia Director Jonah Keane.

“Pioneer Valley — you think everyone can get out and go for a walk in the woods, but really it’s very variable depending on which community you’re in in the Valley,” he said.

In an attempt to reach the urban communities within the Pioneer Valley that don’t have easy access to nature, in February of this year, Keane said Arcadia reached out to a donor couple who were interested in the same goal. The donors expressed interest and pledged their support in March. By the next month, Keane met with Superintendent of Holyoke Public Schools, Steven Zrike, given that Holyoke is the closest urban center to the sanctuary.

“So, it kind of evolved with all of us thinking about it,” said Keane.

Keane thought that Arcadia’s accessible grounds and diverse habitats could provide the ideal place for the program.

“Just going for a walk in the woods is lovely but coming here you get to explore a lot of different habitats in one relatively small area,” Keane said. “And so, for a class like this, which is trying to introduce third graders to the concept of habitats and different habitats, it’s a perfect location.”

Before their nature walk Tuesday, the Lt. Clayre P. Sullivan School third grade students had a short introduction by the teachers and a lesson from Hoff when they arrived at Arcadia at around 9:45 a.m. Seated on the floor, the students discussed what habitats are, what habitats they might see outside and how animals survive in their habitats.

They also did a couple of activities, including singing the “Habitat Song” and making a “habitat survival soup,” a large soup pot filled with water and pictures of the food and shelter of various animals. The ingredients were stirred up and then blown on by the students to represent the five qualities needed to make a habitat: food, water, shelter, air and space.

As hiking time approached, a few hands went up when Hoff asked if there was anyone nervous about their first time in the woods.

The group that Tuesday was particularly small, the other class usually in attendance having canceled due to the weather. The class was split into groups between Lariviere and Sue Gorman, a paraprofessional from the school. One half of the class became Gorman’s group, going on the hike with Hoff, and the rest went with Lariviere and two teacher naturalist aides from Arcadia.

After a bathroom break, the students returned with energized bodies, shuffling around the room, getting in lines and putting on coats and gloves.

The next hour and 20 minutes of the hike included five stops: the field, pond, forest, river, and then a last stop where the students discussed the comparisons between habitats in New England and that of others around the world — especially Puerto Rico and Mexico.

Out in the circular, wet field for the first stop of the nature hike, 8-year-old Orialys Ocasio, one of Gorman’s students, said the smell of the air reminded her of Puerto Rico.

“A lot of the students either have family in Puerto Rico and Mexico or are from Puerto Rico or Mexico,” Hoff said. “So they get to make some of the connections between animals that they’re really familiar with or types of habitats they’re really familiar with in those parts of the world.”

After stopping and standing in a huddle to discuss the habitat around them, the students moved on to a nearby sign. There, they learned about the white-tailed deer, and how the white color underneath their tail signifies danger when it’s flipped up. At Hoff’s cue, the children lined up and ran like a deer in danger at the sight of white on a cut out fuzzy paper tail, held in Hoff’s hand.

From the field, the students took a small bridge, usually on top of a flowing river in the spring and early summer, and analyzed the low level of the water. After looking at a picture of salamander eggs, likened to “an eyeball” by one student, the third graders headed over in the direction of the Woodcock Trail to look with their eyes and not their hands for salamanders under Hoff’s direction.

A salamander was found underneath a damp log overturned by Hoff and the students marveled at the slimy little creature. So did Gorman, who listened just like the children to Hoff’s mini lesson on salamanders.

“She’s teaching me things I didn’t know, especially about the salamanders and habitats. It’s pretty cool. I love it,” said the teacher.

Experiences like this made it worth the treks in the colder weather, according to Orialys and 9-year-old Lillee Lemere, two students who held hands and pranced around, fully enjoying their time at Arcadia.

“I enjoy that we get to see different animals,” Orialys said.

“And we get to have fun and we get to learn stuff,” added Lillee.

As the day ended, students chatted about what they saw on the trip home.

“They are super excited because they’re never exposed to anything like this,” Gorman said. “Even on the bus ride the things they see in the field, they never see on the ride home.”

Since the program is still in its initial stages, one of Keane’s focuses is sustaining it. Another is including more students in the action and instilling trips to Arcadia into the common Holyoke school experience.

“These grade-level experiences make it so if you do them over time, the whole community gets this experience,” he said. “So we’d love to see it evolve to more communities and expanding to different grades, getting kids out so that over time the Valley gets nature experience that they wouldn’t normally get.”

To Keane, the program’s timeliness adds to its significance. As climate change and disconnection from the earth becomes an ever-present issue, Keane believes connecting youth to nature through understanding and protection is vital to the future.

“Programs like this help to fill that gap and hopefully move our society along,” he said.




Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2019 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy