Stella Niagara announces next phase of outdoor initiative

Wed, Mar 29th 2017 03:00 pm
Michael Trapasso (left) and Michael Dobrasz (right) build a survival shelter in the woods behind Stella Niagawwra Education Park as part of its Outdoor Education Program.
Michael Trapasso (left) and Michael Dobrasz (right) build a survival shelter in the woods behind Stella Niagawwra Education Park as part of its Outdoor Education Program.

STELLA NIAGARA — Stella Niagara Education Park announced its plans to further incorporate the innovative Outdoor Education Program that was created in 2015 to provide intentional outdoor experiences and infuse outdoor education into all areas of the curriculum. Building on an existing curriculum that utilized the 104-acre campus, the education committee of the school's board of directors created the Outdoor Education Program and hired Coleen Edwards as the coordinator.

"The Outdoor Education Program at Stella Niagara focusses on providing opportunities for our students to explore and learn through meaningful integration of outdoor experiences and nature in all curriculum areas and at all grades levels. This integration allows the practical application of concepts learned in the classroom," said Edwards. "The integration of our Outdoor Education Program has enabled us to enrich the learning process for our students through experiential education."

One example is the center's bird study unit underway in the kindergarten classroom, where students investigate the wingspan of common Niagara region birds. Students made wingspan predictions using the concept of "greater than" or "less than" measured wingspans of birds and kindergarten students, graphed the data, analyzed their results, and evaluated their original predictions.

"The learning that took place during this lesson goes beyond birds and wingspan. Our students applied math concepts to determine which bird had the longest wingspan and how kindergarten students' wingspans compare to the birds. Through the comparison to themselves, our students made personal connections to the birds they investigated, which has led to further questions and future investigations," Edwards added.

According to Edwards, learning potential is also evident in the center's seventh-grade ELA course with its recurring theme of survival inspired by Jack London's "Call of the Wild." Students plan and construct winter survival shelters along a nature trail, conduct science experiments to study impact of winter weather conditions on animal survival, and investigate the physics of dogsledding. "Our students go beyond studying 'Call of the Wild,' they experience 'Call of the Wild,'" Edwards said.

Plans are underway to increase the program over the next five years. A focus will be on the Stella Niagara site becoming a field trip destination for other schools and environmental groups. They would open the campus for exploration of the property's vernal pond, nature trails, wildlife and their habitats.

Architectural plans have been drawn up to explore the possibility of an outdoor classroom for the Montessori pre-school. Funding will be sought to create an access door, fencing and equipment to outfit the classroom. Stella Niagara will seek to strengthen its partnership with the Western New York Land Conservancy, who now own the Stella Niagara Preserve located directly across Lower River Road from the school. The Preserve was purchased from the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity, who sponsor the education park.

"No other elementary school in Niagara County has over 100 acres of green space, access to the river front, student gardens, woods, vernal pond, nature trails, soccer fields and outdoor classrooms," said Kristen deGuehery, the school's director of institutional advancement. "Combine that with a gymnasium, swimming pool, theater/auditorium, science and media labs and a library media center, you've got quite an extraordinary facility."

Stella Niagara Education Park is sponsored by the Sisters of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity and is a private, co-educational, Catholic school located on Lower River Road in Lewiston.

For more information, contact the school at 716-754-4314 or visit the website at www.stella-niagara.com.  

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