Saugerties students get their hands dirty

The garden at Cahill Elementary (photo by Lisa Preston)

Now that spring has sprung, elementary school students in Saugerties are interacting with the great outdoors as part of their everyday curriculum.

Nestled in the shadows of the Catskill Mountains, and embraced by the Hudson River and Esopus Creek, Saugerties is ideally situated for hands-on educational exploring. And with the snow finally melting away and life springing up from the earth again, students at Cahill, Grant D. Morse, Mt. Marion and C.M. Riccardi elementary schools are getting their hands dirty again, whether they’re going off campus or sticking close to school.

“Our teachers love to do science labs outside on school grounds gathering materials in nature and incorporating them in lessons,” said Carole Kelder, principal at Mt. Marion. “Several of our schools have gardens and nature trails where students get to pick various flowers and dissect them, explore the food chain relationships and types of animals and how they interact with one another.”

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Students are also studying nature on an even grander scale.

“Teachers often study the water cycle and weather systems,” Kelder said. “Some schools have weather stations where students observe and document the data they collect.”

Field trips are also a big part of getting out and about for Saugerties elementary school students. The district has a longstanding relationship with the Esopus Creek Conservancy (ECC), with teachers crafting timelines, lab projects and pre- and post-field trip activities within the framework of state educational standards. Students are able to witness seasonal changes at the Esopus Bend Nature Preserve, step out into the wetlands and learn not only from their teachers but also ECC board members and volunteers and Catskill Center staff. Third grade students across the district visit the preserve in the fall, and they’re already preparing for their return this spring.

Students are also given the chance to visit Montgomery Orchids, where they learn about the importance of bees and how they do more than make honey. They’re also likely to enjoy the Hudson Valley in places like the Walkway Over the Hudson, Hurd’s Farm, Small World Playground, Falling Waters Preserve and both the Saugerties Lighthouse and U.S. Coast Guard station.

“Students can relate some trips to their science curriculum when they visit Howe Caverns and learn about the different types of rocks,” said Kelder. Some field trips take on nature from within the Big Apple on visits to the Bronx Zoo, the American Museum of Natural History and Central Park.

Though students aren’t traveling the Hudson River to get to New York City, they are able to experience science along the waterway locally.

“All fourth grade students in the Saugerties [Central School] District participate in the Hudson River Stewards Program created by the Hudson River Maritime Museum,” said Kelder. “It combines reading, critical thinking, teamwork and hands-on activities tied to Hudson River ecology. They learn through artifacts and primary documents, simple machines and live fish onboard the Clearwater Sloop.”

Kelder’s Farm in Kerhonkson is also a frequent stop for Saugerties students, though usually in the fall.

“Several of our primary students go to Kelder’s Farm in the fall to learn about nature and agriculture,” said Kelder (no relation). “They get to see firsthand how fruits and vegetables grow, interact with farm animals, and play some mini-golf. Students usually come home with a special pumpkin that they picked themselves. They go apple and pumpkin picking, and then make apple pies and applesauce back at school.”

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