As spring begins in Cambridge, so does Cambridge School Volunteers’ Art and Science in One Program (AS1). A collaboration begun in 2011 launched by engaged parents, CSV, and Fresh Pond Reservation, AS1 has become a much-welcomed opportunity for students of Tobin Montessori School to engage with their local environment. AS1 matches local volunteers one-to-one with students in a nature journaling and exploration experience over the course of five weeks.
This year, the program has expanded to include two classrooms, and CSV needs more volunteers to make it happen (Orientations for the 2020 season are not yet scheduled). According to Chief Ranger Jean Rogers of Fresh Pond Reservation, the first session, launching at the end of March, can expect to “look at a raw canvas” with just the beginnings of flora and fauna waking up—a unique opportunity within the context of today’s fast-paced, tech-driven lives. Come May, for the second group, the ranger expects the Fresh Pond area to be “screaming with life.”
Volunteers and students learn techniques for drawing and observing flora and fauna through instruction by Erica Beade, the trainer contracted by Cambridge School Volunteers. Beade teaches drawing independently and at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, and has worked for Clare Walker Leslie, author of multiple books on nature journaling. CSV Art & Science in One Program Coordinator Julie Croston, one of the creators of the program, describes the volunteers’ responsibility as not only coaching kids in those techniques, but just as importantly,
“sharing the experience of developing your own capacity to enjoy the outdoors and find out more things about what’s happening in nature. The two (student and volunteer) are usually expanding, in tandem, their capacity to explore the habitat in depth.”
Croston notes that the program is dynamic: the conversation between each adult and student evolves based on the changing conditions at the pond.
“A kid might go to the volunteer mentor and say, ‘hey look, this spiderweb has three different kinds of prey in it’ and the mentor can say ‘whoa, do you notice if any are still alive? Is the spider there?’ AS1 is an ongoing dialogue about what is being noticed.”
Fresh Pond was chosen for this program because it is the largest open space in Cambridge, and the open space that provides the most biodiverse habitat, while still being a ten minute walk from an elementary school.
The program builds upon the school district’s science curriculum, which brings children to Fresh Pond to learn from Susan Agger, director of the Maynard Ecology Center, and her colleagues at the Water Department. Instead of a single visit, students in AS1 return to the same place multiple times to observe the environment over a season. Connecting to nature with their mentors gives students an individualized experience that fosters their specific interests.
Ranger Jean notes that because the reservation lies within their own city, children in the program have ongoing opportunities to explore the area and apply the observation techniques that are taught in AS1 as they move into upper grades and beyond. Drawing what you observe in nature is accessible to anyone at any age. As Ranger Jean points out, a connection with nature is “visceral, it’s somatic, it’s something you embody.” On her desk, the ranger—who will retire later this year after 25 years at Fresh Pond—keeps a quote attributed to Carl Sagan on her desk: “Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.”
It would be a fitting motto for CSV’s Art & Science in One.
To join Art & Science in one as a volunteer on Wednesdays or Fridays in Spring 2020, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written in Spring 2019; updated November 2019.
Amanda Kimball is an intern with Cambridge School Volunteers while she completes her Masters in Education at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. While at school, she is exploring how education research impacts the policy sector and how to create communities of change. Prior to starting grad school, she served with Peace Corps Namibia as a Health Volunteer, teaching children positive life skills and about HIV.