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The Christodora Experience

"Good morning. My name is Steph and if I were an animal, I would be a monkey – oo oo oo ah ah ah"

"And my name is Josh and I would be a sheep - baah baah"

A little stunned, Kayla looks around the 6th grade classroom and notices some of her classmates start to laugh while others stare wide-eyed at the new teachers who just made the monkey and sheep noises at the front of the classroom.

"All right, now we want to know who you are as well, so let's go around the classroom and tell us your names and make your favorite animal noise," states one of the new teachers.

It's the Christodora Winter Ecology Program's (CWEP) first day in her school and already Kayla is petrified that she's going to have to speak, or even worse, make an animal noise in front of her classmates. A brave few step up to the plate and growl like a tiger or bark like a dog, while others, including Kayla, sit bashfully quiet, barely letting the sound of their names escape their lips.

Over the next few weeks, Steph and Josh bring new games and activities to the classroom. The games are fun and different and Kayla begins to realize that she actually looks forward to the new teachers coming in. She likes moving around her classroom and answering questions about ecosystems or animal adaptations and notices that her classmates are way more interesting than she originally thought. The teachers are always asking questions and she notices that she is learning a lot from her classmates' answers and also that she knows a lot more than she had realized. Her favorite activity so far is the water cycle game where she becomes a water droplet. She pretends to shiver and shake as the temperature rises and she evaporates. Then, grouped together with other water droplet classmates, as the temperature cools off for condensation, she falls to the ground as precipitation.

In week seven, at the last class, Steph explains to all the students that they are now a part of the Christodora family and that even though they will be ending their classroom visits, there are other ways to stay involved. "And, we'll be seeing you in two months when your class comes up to the Manice Education Center!" Josh informs the class excitedly. The remainder of the class time is spent talking about Manice and making bumper stickers with important environmental messages on them.

Two months later, with packed lunches and sleeping bags in tow, the students hug their parents goodbye and depart on a school bus for Manice in the Berkshire Mountains. Kayla, never having been out of New York City, nervously talks with her friends about being in the woods and camping. Five hours later, the bus turns onto a dirt road and climbs, climbs, climbs up to the top of a very steep hill…and there it is! Kayla sees Steph and Josh with four other educators waving hello to the bus.

The next three days are filled with hiking, group building activities, name games, beaver lessons, forest ecology, campfires, and night hikes. Kayla is very proud of herself for walking through the woods in the dark by herself and is greeted by huge hugs and high fives from her other classmates when she made it to the end of her solo hike. She is surprised that she is making friends with students from other classes, and even more surprised that she isn't homesick.

"Come back for the summer. Or if you want to do more right now, join our weekend program at the Bronx Botanical Gardens," Matt, the Director of Manice, says on their last day at the center. "We want you to stay involved and to keep growing with us." Kayla is thrilled, buzzing with the new knowledge she has gained and good friends she'll be taking back to the city. She is sure she'd come back for the summer trip. Canoeing and backpacking sound pretty challenging but, as she learned at Manice, taking risks is a sure way to grow. When she steps off the bus and into her parents' arms, she cannot stop talking about the trip, about the trees and rivers and the macroinvertebrates she identified. She feels brave and proud for making it back and excited to continue exploring nature and the outdoors with Christodora.

The Christodora Winter Ecology Program is offered free of charge to underserved public middle schools in New York City one day a week for seven weeks. The curriculum used closely follows the scope and sequence for New York State Department of Education standards for science classes. This program is followed by school field trips up to the Manice Education Center in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts and builds on the ideas and concepts shared in CWEP. The summer programs offer one-week to 19-day trips filled with canoeing, backpacking, and environmental studies for students in 6th through 12th grades. There is also another program, the Summer Ecology Program that is more science intensive for those 16 and over. During the school year, Christodora also offers hands-on learning programs on weekends, as well as New Youth Conservationists, which is held every Saturday and Sunday at the Bronx Botanical Gardens. For more information please see our website, or contact: We want to get your students outside exploring nature with us!

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