Partnership with New Jersey Audubon Designed to Cultivate a New Generation of Environmental Stewards
MORRISTOWN, NJ — The Patriot’s Path trail in Morristown sits between the Whippany River and NJ Transit’s Morristown rail line, a slice of natural urban sanctuary in a bustling town.
On a muggy day in July, dozens of first- and second-grade campers at Morristown Neighborhood House visited the wooded path to enjoy everyday natural wonders right in the camp’s backyard.
The trail exploration is part of an ongoing collaboration between Neighborhood House and New Jersey Audubon, the statewide, non-profit environmental education and conservation advocacy organization.
“We’ve been working with New Jersey Audubon for about eight years now. Our relationship really started off informally and has since grown strategically and programmatically,” said Dayjahnae Rogers-Martin, director of child care services at Morristown Neighborhood House.
Many of Neighborhood House’s students are from low-income families and may not have the resources to travel to far-off rustic camps for the summer, Rogers-Martin said. “So, instead, New Jersey Audubon brings the nature experiences right to us!
“Our children commonly don’t have that much opportunity to interact with nature and animals,” Rogers-Martin added. “Through this partnership, we want to make it more personal and more relevant to their day-to-day experiences and give them an understanding of nature when they go outside to the park or in their own backyards.”
Previously, Neighborhood House would work with New Jersey Audubon on nature tours and other light educational activities. But now Audubon provides several programs onsite for after-school and pre-school programs, as well as for the Neighborhood House summer program.
Following the theme “Full STEAM Ahead,” with an educational emphasis on science, technology, engineering, arts, and math, 160 campers now take part in the environmental education program at Neighborhood House. Audubon offers the program free of charge thanks to funding from individual and foundation donors.
The students eagerly anticipate the arrival of “Miss Christine,” aka, Christine Whorton, a teacher-naturalist in urban education at New Jersey Audubon, who routinely takes the students on Patriot’s Path to explore natural wonders just a short walk from the classroom.
“I really liked how we can see what leaves are poison ivy and what we need to watch out for,” said Christian Hernandez, age 6, who will enter the first grade this fall at Hillcrest Elementary School in Morristown.
Amy Fernandez, also 6 years old, who is looking forward to first grade at Mendham Township Elementary School in the fall, said a highlight on the Patriot’s Path exploration was when Miss Christine turned over an old, decaying log, revealing dozens of crawling “animal friends”.
“I thought it was cool that the worms loved the muddy, dark place under the log. It’s good that they find a cool place when it’s so hot out!” Amy exclaimed.
“The kids get such a thrill—and I do, too—when they realize that they can take what they’ve learned on our walks and apply it to wherever they go, whenever they want to,” Whorton said.
“Giving them that practical understanding of nature will give them an appreciation of the environment for many years to come,” she added. “It’s our goal to instill environmental awareness and understanding at a young age so we can all be responsible stewards of our environment.”
Jacquelyn Looby, director of volunteer services at Neighborhood House, describes the relationship between the school and New Jersey Audubon as “awesome.
“They’re the experts in the field and they teach the kids about nature, the sciences, and that’s something we want our children to be exposed to,” Looby said. “To have this partnership where our kids and learn, thrive, and pick up information that they otherwise wouldn’t have access to is fantastic.”