A board member recalls her first experience volunteering through the Environmental Educator Training Program held at Marshlands Conservancy and Cranberry Lake. The program was coordinated by volunteer Barbara Hicks, and later Penny Berman. Mary B. Davis, Program Director, along with curators Alison Beall, Ken Soltesz, and Jeff Main, taught the 20-session course (offering four college credits from SUNY Purchase and Manhattanville College).
“Mary B. Davis had founded a visionary ecology enrichment program in 1984, as part of a Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation school outreach program. We were trained to give an indispensable hour-long introduction in the classroom. In collaboration with the classroom teacher, despite its serious intent, we playfully informed, oriented, prepared, and got to know the children before we met them again, on a two-hour field trip. Together, with ultimately hundreds of trained volunteers, my teaching partner, Barbara Wolkowitz, and I, taught in classrooms throughout Westchester County in economic and racially diverse public schools, until the program ended in 2003. All the trainees were given the very comprehensive VIP Environmental Educator Training Manual. This manual is still used, in various forms, by all the nature guides who took the course and went on, as we did, to work at different nature centers throughout Westchester County and beyond!
‘In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.’
— Baba Dioum, African Environmentalist
I took the VIP Training course because I wanted to know enough to interpret the nature I was looking at, whether it be a tree, a field, or a bird. Cut off so very long ago from our ancestral connections to the land, I find at times that our human-dominated life feels very narrow, self-centered, self-absorbed and constricting. There is so much more wonder, fascination and above all, value in the lives of all the myriad of creatures we share this remarkable planet with. It is wonderful to roll over a log and show a group of children the different creatures that thrive in its ecosystem. And to look under recently fallen leaves and see the leaves below from the year before, broken down by different decomposers into smaller pieces. The leaves are broken down year after year, until they are reduced to soil and their nutrients are absorbed by the root systems of trees and other plants.
I also took my own small children on field trips to the conservancy, and then their boy and girl scout troops. Now, in 2021, the friends of my adult children come to the MarshIands Conservancy. Being an environmental education volunteer is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. It is a wonderful way to introduce others, in an ever-expanding circle, to the ecology of the natural world, which so vitally sustains each and every one of us!”–Clare Francis