Steve Schlanger, Assistant Superintendent, gave the Nanuet Board of Education an update on the Nanuet Outdoor Education Center, formerly the St. Agatha grounds.
“The outdoor education center (OEC) is really a 38-acre campus in which kids have the opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary, hands-on learning,” he said.
The newest addition to the OEC is the .
“Kids have gotten water samples and did oxygen analysis. In addition, Highview students were up there doing observations,” said Schlanger. “It’s fascinating. It’s been a great learning experience for me as well. We’re off to a very great start.”
The pond was created because Teacher Chuck Barone was at the outdoor education center planting tree saplings with his class to teach students how different trees draw different kinds of birds.
He asked the school at that time to let the OEC grass grow so he could show students what would happen naturally.
“He also said that, ‘what we should have here is a pond.’ Less than a year later, he approached (Superintendent) Mark McNeill asking if he could get some of his classes to compete in designing and researching a pond for the OEC … research all the things that go into a pond, how to create it, what kind of soil would sustain it, etc …”
The students conducted perk tests, which is how fluids move through porous materials and how water seeps into the ground. They researched how the pond site would retain water, such as surface run-off and precipitation, and they researched potential plant and animal life.
In July 2011, the site was dedicated to the late , who was a long-standing member of the Nanuet Board of Education. Fogelman’s family came to a , at which they broke ground on the pond site.
“We started to dig the hole, thanks to the Nanuet School Foundation and the Nanuet Family Resource Center. That began over the summer (of 2011),” said Schlanger. The dirt from the hole would be repurposed for the foundation of the future greenhouse at the OEC.
“The pond, as we were digging, there was some natural water, but there were some concerns because we went from a very wet spring to an incredibly dry summer,” said Schlanger. “We were concerned with how it was going to get filled, but along came and it instantly filled.”
The pond still has water, but the dry and hot weather, along with the lack of snow, the pond has lost some water. There is a peninsula that reaches almost to the center of the pond from one side.
“This is the island that the kids had envisioned to go out and get to a deeper part of the pond,” he added. “Fencing was also added for safety.”
“It’s also a 38-acre canvass … teachers can be creative and come up with new ways for kids to be engaged, particularly in the area of environmental literacy,” said Schlanger. “A prime example of a teacher coming up with that is Mr. Barone.”
President Anne Byrne asked when fish will be added to the pond.
“I’m not sure on that yet. Barone made a strong point. We should really look into things happening naturally. For example, there are frogs and all sorts of life in there that has just evolved naturally … Turtles have found their way into the pond,” said Schlanger. “That’s part of his argument. He was explaining how birds bring fish eggs in on their (feet).”
Board Member Sarah Chauncey asked about possible programs or science courses for children during the summer.
“We’re piloting one next year (for elementary-age students),” said Schlanger, adding that they “almost got it off the ground this year. We were initially planning on combining it with enrichment, but there were transportation glitches” (and it would be during a very hot part of the day).
Other OEC Activities
“They added photo-voltaic panels to the roof of the outdoor education building and they’re now functioning,” he said. “Students have gone up (to the OEC site), had the experience of seeing how it works and understanding it.”
The Children of Promise Stable (COPS) Barn has an .
“Students are coming up to the COPS Barn and . Not just elementary children or special education students, but high school students have gone to volunteer and they’re trying to tie that into an internship program so kids can get a pre-veterinary experience,” said Schlanger.
“Also, this past fall, we dug a 25x55 foot garden. We used the manure from the COPS Barn to fertilize it,” he said. “It’s a garden to be located southeast of the building. We now have posts to create a fence around it. That’s another scout project.”
Rudy Villanyi, the Facilities Director, is going to build raised beds for the garden as well.
“Once that gets rolling, hopefully, we’ll be growing things that can ultimately be served in the cafeteria,” said Schlanger.
have also started projects at the OEC. The is up and running now and two others plan to do their Eagle Scout project at the OEC—one at the pond and the other plans to create a fence around the future OEC garden.
“Barone said that there was a problem with geese this past summer and he again challenged his students, asking them, ‘What are we going to do?’” said Schlanger. The kids did research and came up with some ideas. One of the things they found was a coyote scarecrow. We have one up there right now. It’s on the hill and it looks pretty intimidating. It’s a cardboard photograph.”
Other ideas the students have include animals geese avoid such as a swan decoy in the pond. They also proposed getting dogs to chase the geese away as well as snapping turtles and high grass (Geese avoid tall grass for fear of hidden predators).
Recent OEC Uses
Some of the uses of the OEC so far include:
- Potato gun launch
- Solar panel studies
- Mapping skills
- Weather/energy activities
- Soil studies
- Pond life studies
- Increasing bird habitat project
- Audubon bird count—“Barone has been involved with the Audubon society so they’re going to be doing a bird count out there and extensive things with the bird habitat out there.”
- Testing turbidity of pond water
- Tree ID scavenger hunt
- Calculating CO2 sequestration of a tree
- Pond microorganism study
- Tree and leaf identification activities
- Trundle wheel measurements
- Area and perimeter calculations
- Team building—Barr Middle School students have participated in this already
- Flower planting
- Nature scavenger hunts
- GPS activities
- “Numerous activities that pertain to math.”
Potential Future Uses
“The opportunities and ideas are truly endless, which is why I mentioned the canvass idea. We can be as creative as we want to be as long as we can find ways to do it economically,” said Schlanger.
- Rainwater reclamation projects
- K-12 organic garden
- Audubon bird population study
- Geese population control
- Development of nature trails—“This is a possible scout project.”
- Botanical garden
- Aquarium—“We talked about building an aquarium once we get the greenhouse up and running.”
- Pollution studies
- Erosion studies
- Veterinary medicine internships/courses
- Agriculture program
- Alternative energy sources (solar and wind)—Wind turbines have been looked into, but unfortunately do not generate the same amount of energy as solar panels can. Phil Sions, assistant superintendent for business, said that he and Villanyi talked to a wind expert in Syracuse, but she told them there would be a problem with getting a lot of wind generated and, if a turbine is 100 feet tall, it also needs 100 feet of clearance all around it.