Signorelli Presents at NYSSBA Convention in Lake Placid

NYSSBA Convention - Educational Session.jpg

On Thursday, October 12, Principal Nicholas Signorelli presented at the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) Annual Convention and Educational Expo in Lake Placid, New York. The session, "Using Nature to Inspire Learning in a Rural School District" discussed how South Kortright Central School District has implemented hands-on educational initiatives around nature, agriculture and environmental studies in their curriculum. Joined by Superintendent Patricia Norton-White and Middle School Science Teacher William Parker, the session demonstrated how these initiatives can be adapted in other districts and potential value they offer to students, teachers and the community.

Session Summary:
South Kortright is nestled in the beautiful hills and valleys of Delaware County. Settled in the 18th Century, it’s a place of history, tradition and natural beauty. Bordered by the west branch of the Delaware River, South Kortright has an abundance of natural beauty and resources, but as a rural school district they have a small student population and limited financial resources. The District has an aspirational educational mission to “…aggressively provide all students, …diversity of experiences to gain the skills and attitudes necessary for the lifetime acquisition of knowledge, aesthetics and ethics. These experiences will ensure the best quality of life for the students and their community.” To provide these aspirational opportunities, South Kortright embraced what was all around them, by thinking big and going small/local.

Educational programs and initiatives were developed around local agriculture, nature and the environment. Varying in size and scope, these efforts have provided hands on learning that can integrate with classroom teaching. Opportunities to explore multi-age group learning, appreciation and stewardship of the place you live, and community engagement were natural outcomes.

As Superintendent Patricia Norton-White modestly puts it, “We have also dabbled in hydroponic gardening (high school students assist elementary students in growing plants in their classrooms), raising tilapia, raising our own pigs (later served in the cafeteria), raising fruit, as well as vegetables (our apple tree is located in our court yard and our blueberry bushes grow in back of our gymnasium), raising trout in classrooms and later releasing them in the stream, and hatching chickens as part of our sixth grade curriculum. 

We have tried to rotate activities in our curriculum, so students are being exposed to a variety of experiences. Annually, we have had a "Farm to Table" breakfast, inviting the community to participate. We have held a few "Farm to Table" luncheons, which have included local everything on the menu. Students made the applesauce with our apples, shucked the corn grown on a neighboring farm, and were involved in every aspect of the farm to table process. Community members, elected officials, etc. we're invited to participate. Our students have also worked with local singer- songwriters, and storytellers.”

In addition, there are beehives, a vegetable garden and a green house. A current capital project will be adding rain gardens that will be maintained by the students. Science students study water quality in the west branch of the Delaware River that is proximate to the school’s nature trail. The District lies within the New York City watershed and students have the opportunity to work with the Department of Environmental Protection on water quality issues.

These educational programs and initiatives expose students of all ages to nature, systems thinking and how their actions can have a positive impact. A mindset of doing good versus doing less bad has become embedded into the culture of South Kortright as the students and the community engage with the precious resources that surround them.

Derek Goodroe