Last October, I had the opportunity to visit The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education (The Schuylkill Center – Departments – Environmental Art.). While there, I spoke with both the Director of Education, Virginia (Gin) Ranly, and the Associate Director for the Environmental Arts Program, Jenny Laden.
The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, originally named The Schuylkill Valley Nature Center, was founded in 1965 as one of the first urban environmental education centers in the country. Sisters Eleanor Houston Smith and Margaret Houston Meigs, along with family members, donated eleven acres of land for the center, envisioning that it be a place where the general public might visit to experience and learn about the natural environment. Over the years, the center grew to cover three hundred and forty acres of land, making it the largest privately-owned open space within the city limits of Philadelphia. The center consists of a variety of habitats, including: five teaching ponds, wetlands, woodlands, and meadows. In addition, the center provides four miles of hiking trails, public programs, school programs for students of all ages, and teacher workshops.
The Environmental Art program is still in the developmental stages, as it is only a few years old. However, the environmental art that is set up throughout the grounds of the nature center provides tremendous inspiration for visitors, and students are often invited to talk with visiting artists about their work, as well as imitate the processes of the artists.
Sharing the grounds of the Schuylkill Center is Green Woods Charter School (GCS), a public environmental charter school for grades K-8. The natural environment and explorations therein are woven into the core of GCS’ curriculum, as teachers and students are encouraged to take their lessons outside. I spent several days with the art teacher, Barbara Mail–observing her classes and the ways in which the natural environment was tied into her art curricula. I will share some of the ideas I gleaned from my experiences at both The Schuylkill Center and Green Woods in later posts. For now, check out these two fantastic sites for environmental education!