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"Why Volunteer to Instruct for the Guided School Program?"
By Mike Medvesky
I’m a Naturalist Instructor for the Guided School Program (GSP). I’ve been volunteering now for three years and have enjoyed every single minute of it. The GSP allows school children, from Pre-K through high school, to experience first-hand nature “in the wild”. Friends of Five Rivers offers scholarships for inner city schools to come to Five Rivers; when they otherwise would not be able to afford the field trip. Some of these children have only seen our plants and animals in books or in zoos.
The courses that are offered depend on the age of the child and the season of the year, and include: Explorer; Maples; Animal Signs; Insects; Stream; Pond; Winter Explorer; and Snowshoeing. My fellow instructors and I all come from different backgrounds but have a common love of nature and the enthusiasm to share that love with children. We receive training from the Five Rivers DEC staff as well as from our GSP Coordinator, Nancy Conway. We then observe instructors as they take out the school groups, and when we’re ready, we go out on our own. I happen to teach all the courses, and I can honestly say I don’t have a favorite class to teach—all age groups bring different thoughts, ideas, and interactions to the classes. However, I think all the classes instill an appreciation of nature, and the need for preserving the animals’ and plants’ homes or habitats.
This past Fall Season, I took out a Thursday Explorer Class of first and second graders. Explorer is a class geared for Pre-K to second grade, where the children discover “Nature” hands-on using their five senses. It’s a great class because you never know what you will find when you start, and the children become excited with the little things adults might miss. During the class, my group found a deer bed under a stand of spruce trees. They discovered, but didn’t touch, deer scat, and we decided to follow the deer trail through the trees and tall grass. We discussed why deer have big noses and ears (to sense predators), and what the deer needed to survive (food, water and shelter). On the way back we passed the Five Rivers Orchard and the children looked for signs of animals that might have been there. They were excited when they saw the holes in the fence and the paths under the crabapples made by Mr. and Ms. Deer.
The following Sunday, I was hiking at Five Rivers, and as I was passing the Orchard, a young girl came running up to me with her mother and little brother calling out my name “Mr. Mike”. Her mother said that her daughter had been in my Thursday Explorer class, and that she had been a chaperone. They both loved Five Rivers so much that they had to come right back. The young lady wanted to show her little brother all the animal trails, but especially the deer runs and of course, the deer scat. What a great feeling to know that the GSP, with its classes and volunteer instructors, can have an effect on a child’s love of and respect for nature.