Nature at The Park School

 

(This 1107th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on June 10, 2012.)

 

Exploring pond life at The Park School

photo care of Karen Lee Lewis

 

A few weeks ago The Park School's 3rd and 4th grade students shared with me some of their field experiences. They read poems they had written about the insects (grade 3) and wildflowers (grade 4) they had studied outside on the school grounds.

 

I was overwhelmed by the quality of the thinking and particularly the ready use of metaphor and simile in the writing of these youngsters.

 

See what you think. Here are some excerpts from their poems:

 

Adina Marynowski on the bee:

 

It flies like a ballet dancer

So elegant on a breeze.

 

Ben Upshaw:

 

Giants of the insect world

Strongest wings

Dragonflies are the swamp's swat team

Cleanup crew and superheroes

Rolled into one insect.

 

Andrew Grant:

 

Wasps are

An awesome garden secret society

Stupendous

Perfect

Spies.

 

Croix Mikofsky:

 

You're fast

But I am faster

Beetle you did not stand a chance

I am a praying mantis

Silent but deadly.

 

Jack Wilie on lily of the valley:

 

I am like a gift from

The heavens

I am like snow

My perfume is sweet

I am

Like little bells but when

You try to ring them

You will not hear a sound.

 

Isabelle Sanchez on snowdrops:

 

Droopy and silly

Light and sweet smelling

When the rain hits me

Rustle in the wind

When spring comes along

I jump for joy

In the clean crisp air

I am small

But bold.

 

Josie Lauricella on glory-in-the-snow:

 

I am small

I am snow and periwinkle

A lemon center

As the morning sunshine floods my petals

And the dirt under me

Fills with warmth

I breathe and grow.

 

These delightful poems represent a small part of an ongoing project at The Park School: the development of a creative school field guide.

 

The project leaders describe the activities as "Where Mother Nature meets Human Nature;" in more prosaic terms as an opportunity for students to associate scientific study with creative writing.

 

But their teachers are giving the students an equal role in development activities. Here are some of the (prose this time) ideas that 4th grade students have proposed:

 

"A field is a place to relax, a peaceful place to focus and read. It's a ground for deer to run around and where bugs have parties. It's an open place for scientists to study, sunny with not as many trees as a forest. It's a point of view.

 

"A guide is like a light: it leads to exploration. It's like a map that takes you around an unfamiliar place. A guide is a person who helps people on their way, a person who helps your curiosity. A guide is someone you can rely on."

 

As a counterpoint to these lofty thoughts, Alec Rakas recited his poem as a rap epic, bouncing to his own cadence.

 

The lovely Park School campus with its open grasslands, woodlot, marsh and pond provides a perfect setting for this project and the leaders take full advantage of it.

 

Overall project director is second grade teacher Lisa Wood. Sanford Geffner and Scott Lembitz of Earth Spirit Educational Services provide inspirational science programming with Karen Lee Lewis serving as Literary Teaching Artist. Lewis is affiliated with the Western New York Writing Project directed at Canisius College by Suzanne Borowicz. The Park School teachers Jeanette Jafari, Chris Downey and Kyle Polaske play central roles, headmaster Christopher Lauricella and development officer Carolyn Hoyt Stevens contributing additional support.

 

This program differs sharply from our current No Child Left Behind (or ahead) national approach to education. Sadly NCLB's arithmetic and reading drill-and-practice and multiple-choice testing have narrowed the very definition of education.

 

These Park School students do study math and their creative writing is strong evidence of their reading skills. Their program reflects the John Dewey-influenced views of school founder Mary Hammett Lewis. Most important, their activities have made them enthusiastic learners at a time when this quality is too often absent from our schools.

 

I cannot resist recording a question one of these remarkable students asked me: "What is your favorite flower?" My wife will be deeply irritated when she learns my response: "The dandelion."-- Gerry Rising