Kids walking on the beach

Put that phone away!

By Damien Ruffner, School Programs Manager

June 29th, 2007 changed the world forever: This is not the date of a presidential election, or the start or end of a military conflict. It’s not the day humans first traveled into space, or discovered some profound scientific theory. Think smaller, about 4 inches to be exact. It’s the date the first iPhone was released. And here we are, one decade into the smartphone generation.

The aspect of my position at the Schuylkill Center that takes up the most time every year is the Adventure Treks summer camp program, and specifically the 10-12 year old camp group. This means this upcoming summer, for the first time, I’m going to have kids coming to my most popular program that have never existed in a world without a smartphone. Older generations are in a constant struggle with these kids and their blasted phones. “Put those away!” “Am I going to have to confiscate that?” “No phones will be allowed on this trip.”

I’ll admit that I am guilty of saying a few of these phrases in my career as an educator. But is it the right way? It’s a question I struggle with constantly. If a 10 year-old comes to camp this year with a phone, how can I tell him or her that they can’t have it? Their whole life has been integrated with this device. It’s used in schools. Complicated schedules are logged and tracked. They have pictures of their friends, contact information for their parents or guardians. It’s a 21st century security blanket. Think about it like this: What if you went to a camp and the person in charge said there was going to be no running water or indoor bathrooms at this camp. And it’s simply that way because whoever was in charge didn’t have running water at camp when they were younger, and neither should you. In other words, it’s the “right” way to experience summer camp. Things have changed, and as educators, we have to adapt. Continue reading

Wildlife clinic peregrine falcon

Wildlife clinic at 30: 80,000 wild animals later

Baby redtail hawk with parent puppet

By Anna Lehr Mueser, Manager of Communications & Digital Strategy

In an unassuming building on Port Royal Avenue, our Wildlife Clinic treats over 3,000 animals each year, from hundreds of baby squirrels to injured raptors like peregrine falcons and red-tailed hawks. In this building life-saving treatments save opossums, mend broken wings on Canada geese, suture the shells of turtles hit while crossing the road, and nourish tiny mammals brought in when they are too young to feed for themselves. This year, our clinic celebrates its 30th anniversary. Continue reading

Crochet mushroom

Foraging for Art

By Liz Jelsomine, Environmental Art & Public Relations Intern

Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program. Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar. Calendars are still available, now 50% off – only $10 each!

What started out as an amateur attempt to forage for mushrooms led to 20 years of exploration, mycology enthusiasm, and art for Philadelphia artist Melissa Maddonni Haims and her husband, Josh Haims.

Josh’s curiosity was initially peaked after noticing mushroom foragers during his early morning bike rides along the Wissahickon when visiting Melissa’s parents in Norristown, while Melissa’s curiosity was sparked after inquiring about a morel mushroom dish at a Manhattan restaurant. Their curiosity grew, and Josh presented the idea of foraging to Melissa. Soon, the two were in Fairmount Park stumbling over rocks and deep into the woods in search of fungi.

Josh began stopping on his bike rides to photograph the mushrooms, and developed quite a collection of fungi photos over time. Blending her creative crocheting with an interest in biomimicry, Melissa was inspired to crochet made-to-scale mushrooms mimicking Josh’s photographs, which were then attached to found wood.

Melissa Maddonni Haims Cold Comfort 1Melissa had previously exhibited at the Schuylkill Center in 2012. Her work, Cold Comfort, involved crocheted yarn-bombed trees along the Widener Trail and main driveway, enlivening the brown and grey winter landscape.  At a visit to the Schuylkill Center in 2015 to discuss a possible biomimicry show, discussions with Director of Environmental Art, Christina Catanese wandered to the morel mushroom and her husband’s collection of mushroom photography, and the concept for The Foragers was born.

Melissa and Josh brought fungi life into the Schuylkill Center in the form of crocheted mushrooms and photographs in their joint exhibition in early 2016. Melissa’s crocheted tableaus were given a setting by Josh’s photographs, creating an overall feel of being immersed in a forest.

The artists chose to focus on local fungi for the show. “These are mushrooms that you could go outside here [at the Schuylkill Center] and anywhere in this area. Something that is amazing about mushrooms is just the sheer diversity of them,” Catanese said in a conversation. “I think what’s great about Melissa’s work is that it’s like these little windows into the forest floor that celebrate this diversity.”

SCEE4813In addition to their work being displayed in the gallery, Melissa tapped back into yarn bombing and expanded her work onto trees along trails at the Schuylkill Center. Visitors could discover 9 crocheted mushrooms on their travels, staged as they might be found along the trail and on trees. In addition to the show, Melissa held a mushroom crocheting workshop, inviting participants to explore the creative and earthly processes.

A show shedding light and celebrating the forest ecosystem, Melissa explained that, like mushrooms, The Foragers exhibit represented just the fruit of something with roots stretching back 20 years.

Ben Franklin Bridge Walkway

On The Circuit: 6th annual Richard L. James lecture

By Elisabeth Zafiris, Acting Director of Education

On February 23rd the Schuylkill Center will welcome Robert Thomas, a founder and principal of Campbell Thomas & Co. Architects and Planners, as our 6th Annual Richard L. James Lecturer. This year we’ll be talking about The Circuit – a remarkable network spanning the region and connecting urban, suburban, and rural communities.

Thomas dedicated over 40 years advocating for parks, trails, and greenways, planning and building the green infrastructure that Philadelphians and visitors are fortunate enough to call their own. Thomas served on the original committee that created the Schuylkill River Trail, and was involved in drawing the first maps of The Circuit, an ever-growing network of regional trails. A lifelong cyclist, Thomas himself knows how important these trails are; for decades, Thomas has biked everywhere he goes, never owning a car. The Circuit Coalition, in turn, brings together 72 organizations to promote these 750 miles of trails. Continuing this work, Thomas advocated for bikes to be allowed on SEPTA trains, working alongside the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia. It’s safe to say that he’s a strong champion for the rich trail system we enjoy today.

Thomas brings his rich experience and perspective on trail systems to the annual lecture. He’ll discuss how The Circuit was created and regional vision to “Connect The Circuit” by linking all 750 miles of trails. Turning our attention to the future, Thomas will explore the coalition that has gathered around The Circuit and discuss the trail system’s future.

The Circuit trails are of special interest to the Schuylkill Center – our property borders the immensely popular Schuylkill River Trail. At the James Lecture Executive Director Mike Weilbacher will share details how the Center’s master plan invigorates our connection to the Schuylkill River Trail.

In the meantime, visit us – and come via the River Trail! Thomas recommends taking the Septa Manayunk/Norristown line to the Miquon station, walking the River Trail to the Schuylkill Center’s back entrance, and then walking up the back of the property – it’s route he recently took himself, and one that demonstrates what he thinks is the future for transportation – a linkage of cycling, public transit, trails, and roads that serve all people and places.

Past James lecturers include Kenneth Finch who spoke about the importance of keeping nature play in children’s lives in 2013 – coinciding with the announcement of our Nature Preschool, which opened later that year. In 2014, Dr. Michael Suk discussed the health benefits of nature; and, in 2015, Sarah Wu, of the city’s Office of Sustainability, walked a crowded auditorium through how climate change will affect Philadelphia’s future. The Richard L. James Lecture is an opportunity to think deeply about important environmental and regional issues, and this year’s lecture will be no exception.

This essay first appeared in the Winter 2017 Quill, our members’ newsletter.

Nature preschoolers treat penguin doll at play clinic

Children Need Nature: An Emergent Curriculum Study

Children Need NatureBy Kristina Eaddy, Sweet Gum Classroom Lead Teacher

Children Need Nature is a monthly blog column from our Nature Preschool program. Read more posts here.

Why do leaves change colors? What is under the frozen ice? And where do birds go during the winter? These are questions we hear every day, as Nature Preschool teachers. Young children’s minds are full of wonders and questions, trying to learn about, connect with, and understand the world they are surrounded by.

At Nature Preschool, we nurture this natural curiosity in young children by following the emergent curriculum approach. The goal of an emergent curriculum is to create meaningful learning experiences that capture children’s passion, foster inquiry-based experiences, and instill a love for learning. In contrast to a traditional, thematic-teaching approach, topics are not pre-planned in advance nor are they conducted in one- or two-week increments. Instead, a subject of study arises from the interests and developmental needs of the children in a group at any given time. A study can last anywhere from a couple of days to weeks, or even months, depending on how long the interest in the topic persists.

Continue reading

Tree on Belmont Plateau

Winter 2017 Photography Contest

Tree on Belmont Plateau

By Jenny Ryder, Environmental Art & PR Intern

Winter is in full swing in Southeast PA (though it doesn’t always feel like it), and we’re trying our best to get outside every day despite the icy chill in the air. We encourage you to do the same—get out of your home/office/classroom, etc. and take a photograph for our Winter 2017 Photo Contest!

This year, one of my resolutions is to find room in my heart for the wintertime by finding new ways to appreciate nature throughout the cold, dead months. The colors of winter are one of the most striking aesthetic features of the season, with its muted lavender and grey skies, the stark silhouettes of white birch trees in a tangled sea of naked branches and buds. With the warm snow days we’ve been getting (as a consequence of global climate change), I’ve begun to appreciate the big snowflakes these days offer us. If you look real quick before it melts on your chest, you’ll be able to see each flake’s fascinating little pattern fade away.

How do you relish in winter’s gentle light and fierce beauty? Where do you connect with nature when the grass is matted down with snow? Are you desperate to see some more snow on the ground? Bring your camera with you to capture a sliver of the season’s magnificence and submit a photo anytime between now and February 28th! Three winners will be selected by a staff committee.

Guidelines

The rules are simple:

      • The photo must have been taken this January or February
      • The photo must be taken in the Philadelphia area
      • The photo must be outdoors or feature the outdoors
      • The photo must be your own creation and its publication may not violate the rights of any third party
      • Photos must be submitted by 5pm on February 28.

Please note:

  • No explicit or offensive photos.  The Schuylkill Center reserves the right to determine whether a photo is explicit or offensive.
  • By submitting a photo, you grant the Schuylkill Center non-exclusive rights to reproduce your image.  You maintain copyright and you will be credited.
  • Only 3 submissions per person will be accepted.
  • Winners will be chosen by a panel of Schuylkill Center staff.

How to Submit a Photo:

  • Email your photo to Environmental Art & PR Intern, Jenny, at jenny@schuylkillcenter.org with the subject line “2017 Photo Contest”

We look forward to finding out how you see the cold season, in the city and beyond – submit a photo now!

Featured photo: Stephanie (@Cattandco). 2015.

Plants on classroom windowsill

Bringing Nature into the Classroom

By Damien Ruffner, School Programs Manager

Here at the Schuylkill Center, we set yearly themes. It doesn’t necessarily dictate all of our goals and events throughout the year. Rather it is an ongoing conversation that the staff members have that consequently is reflected in our programming. In 2015 we marked our 50th anniversary, working these celebrations into many aspects of our work. In 2016 our theme was climate change. For 2017 the conversation around the Center is “What does environmental education look like in the 21st century?” It’s a simple enough question, but the answer is not so simple. We’re so early into this span, and who knows what kind of advancements in technology will shape the later part of the century?

My biggest goal, and first step, in answering this question is reminding people that nature is not “over there.” It’s easy to think that we live in civilization, and nature is some destination. There has been this separation in the 20th century of nature and people. That has to change if we want to move forward with environmental education. The great outdoors is not a place you drive to, pay an admission price to get into, and then take a few pictures of. It’s all around us, all the time. It’s in the trees planted along Ben Franklin Parkway. It’s in the grass behind your house. It’s in the fields we mow to play baseball.

My first introduction to nature was in my classroom. Our principal, and lead teacher, brought the outdoors into our world. She had animal stations that we were in charge of. She had more plant species than I can remember (all native to the Mid-Atlantic region) and it was our responsibility to care for them. When I was younger, I thought it was busy work. Put a ten-year-old in charge of the plants for this week and he can almost babysit himself. It’ll focus his energy and keep him from disrupting class with his friends, as ten-year-olds tend to do. Looking back now I see the true purpose. It was to foster an appreciation of plants and animals I never would have come in contact with. I began to care for these species even though I was never taught a single fact about them. I’d go home and water the wilting plants my mother had on the windowsills. I’d find box turtles in my back yard and return them to the forest. I caught and showed my mother salamanders, much to her dismay, before returning them to the stream that ran through my neighborhood.

The easiest way to foster an appreciation of the outdoors is to simply introduce a student to the natural world. With limited resources, and ever growing testing schedules, a trip to a place like the Schuylkill Center might be out of reach. So I urge all teachers to bring the outdoors inside. Bring some plants in to decorate your room and assign students to take care of them. Bring in a pet like a hamster or snake and keep it in the room where students can not only see it, but get used to it. Make it a part of their everyday lives and slowly, but surely, nature will not be “over there.”

GirlMS

How to Be Like the Glaciers Melting

Guest contributor Leslie Birch, 2014-2015 LandLab Resident Artist

A few years ago I sat at my computer reading the latest on the demise of the glaciers in the Arctic. I was angry with the polluting corporations, fed up with the greed of the oil industry, disgusted by people’s consumption, and alienated by a government ruled by lobbyists. I felt frozen, as if calamity had already happened; some days I was even bleak about the future. My home thermostat was set to 69, two of my computers were on, I was surrounded by electronic parts for a project and I was getting ready to drive to Whole Foods in a Honda Element wearing a puffy NorthFace jacket picturing a tall Chai Latte. Feel free to laugh, as I’m certainly laughing now as I write this. How long did it take me to figure out that I was the problem?

RavineA2

Luckily for me a a few years ago I also discovered the Schuylkill Center’s LandLab program and started an investigation of a gully that had formed from stormwater runoff on the southeastern side of the Center’s property near Port Royal Ave. This water finds its way down to Wind Dance Pond, where it eventually overflows into the stream. With the help of Stroud Water Research Center I was able to develop a monitoring system to measure the changing depths of the stream. While this was an interesting project, what is pertinent is the fact that I was forced to face climate change head on. Philly is getting hotter and wetter, and while the Center can’t stop mother nature’s waters it can encourage artists like me to communicate the problem and get involved.

ClimateDisrupted

After the project was over, the Center asked me to collaborate on two other art/education projects dealing with water issues, thanks to a grant from CUSP (Climate & Urban Systems Partnership). CUSP is working on preparing Philadelphia for the future issues brought by climate change and they work locally getting neighborhoods on board using friendly techniques. I decided to join their efforts and have become part of a team of organizations and individuals starting conversations, offering education and demonstrating mitigation techniques.Thanks to their workshops I’ve learned how to discuss this topic without scaring people, have discovered what other partner cities are doing to face the same issues and have attended lectures by experts in the field. I should mention that I don’t have a science background, but I do consider myself a citizen scientist. CUSP’s strength is its ability to bring all types of people together, and later in the year I worked with another member artist to create the first climate change art festival under their umbrella in Fishtown. It was exciting to create my own art on the topic of corn and weather, and fascinating to see how people expressed their climate concerns using mixed media, including spoken word and music. The Schuylkill Center’s fall 2016 exhibition on climate change was part of the same grant and has brought together even more artists and enabled more people to join the conversation.

PublicLab

As you can see, what started as a small project has snowballed, and I find myself looking for other ways to combine my interests to work on the problems of climate change. One of my strengths is working with electronics, so I recently joined Public Lab, a grassroots movement using DIY techniques to address environmental concerns. I attended their LeafFest gathering, which was a weekend camping trip where members demonstrated their latest environmental work including solar balloons, an Arduino modem style device and a trail cam. I learned about a project they are developing which uses a houseplant and aquarium pump to help reduce toxins in the air. They sent me home with those materials and soon I’ll be creating a tutorial for the project that can be shared around the world. It’s all part of the mission to offer open source methods to monitor and mitigate environmental issues.

So, having come from a state of being frozen like a glacier, I too am melting. There are many small changes that can help this planet,and I’m starting to make them part of my life. Nowadays I’m walking to the grocery store with my husband. It’s great exercise, less stressful and certainly kinder to the environment. I recently learned just how important it is to give feedback to our government officials about environmental matters. So, I’ve returned to my old ways of calling legislators and writing emails. Now I’m learning how to combine art and activism through free webinars from The Center for Artistic Activism. Someday I hope to engage other groups and artists in work that goes beyond education and actually encourages others to make changes.

PublicLabGroup

My story isn’t “yea, me” because there is probably a lot more I can do to serve this world. However, it is a huge thank you to the Schuylkill Center for helping me to realize that by working on one small problem I would gather the courage to do more. There is a reason for the Center’s commitment to the arts and it goes beyond appreciation for beauty; it’s another strategy for voice and change. We all have the ability to do more, whether it be to add water-loving plants to our yard, to make a roof reflective, to buy our food locally or to just have a conversation about the environment with our neighbor. Doing one small thing makes all the difference. What kind of strategy or skill can you offer to help Philadelphia prepare for the changes that are already beginning?

2017 Calendar january feature_Jake Beckman

Reflection of Environmental Art and Time: January

By Liz Jelsomine, Environmental Art & Public Relations Intern

Editor’s note: The Schuylkill Center produced a wall calendar for 2017 in celebration of the environmental art program.  Throughout the year, we’ll run a monthly post on our blog highlighting the art works featured in that month of the calendar.

Artist Jake Beckman, LandLab Resident Artist from 2014-2015, sheds light to the often over looked world of forest decomposition in his ongoing installation at the Schuylkill Center, Future Non-Object #1: Sol’s Reprise.

Beckman explored the detritus cycle of a forest and its disruption by invasive earthworms by creating sculptural installations that make these hidden processes visible to visitors. This wooden sculptural installation inoculated with local fungal spores will break down over time and enrich soil health. The piece poses questions about where the raw materials of life come from, what happens to “waste” in the forest ecosystem, and how the components of soil can affect the health of an ecosystem. The sculpture exists as a quiet meditation in the forest.

The name of the piece, Future Non-Object #1: Sol’s Reprise, can be related back to multiple sources. Sol Lewitt was an American artist linked to various movements, including Conceptual art and Minimalism. You can see these geometric and modern influences in the design of Future Non-Object #1: Sol’s Reprise. While Lewitt had created his work to last long after his time, as many artists do, Beckman intended for his sculpture to slowly disappear and eventually cease to exist. “Sol” can also play as a double meaning in the sculpture’s title, relating to its meaning in Spanish, “sun.” The sun is a major component of Beckman’s sculpture, in which it helps organisms to grow and aid in the decomposition of the piece.

It has been a year-and-a-half since Beckman’s sculpture has been installed at the Schuylkill Center, but the effects nature, the elements, and decomposition have had can already be seen. The once new and bright wood composing the sculpture is now dark and saturated. Leaves covered the sculpture in the fall, which will continue to play a large role in decomposition. Slight decomposition of the wood can already be seen, and depending on the time of year, various mushrooms of all shapes and sizes have popped up in and around the sculpture.

Beckman’s work is the featured art work for January in our environmental art calendar.  You can view the rest of the calendar and order it here.

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About the Author: Liz Jelsomine is a graduate of Bowling Green State University with a BFA focusing in fine art photography. She provides commercial photography services, is involved in several photography organizations in Philadelphia, and is currently an Environmental Art & PR intern at The Schuylkill Center.

PlayscapeChallengers_RD_12-19-16 001

Children Need Nature: Teaching Peace

Children Need NatureBy Rebecca Dhondt, Sassafras Classroom Lead Teacher

Children Need Nature is a monthly blog column from our Nature Preschool program. Read more posts here.

This time of year tends to be full of excitement and energy.  With so much baking, decorating, and visiting going on there are many stories that Nature Preschoolers are eager to share.  Children naturally begin to compare notes, trying to understand what is happening in their own homes and wondering about the ways others might celebrate teachers in the Sassafras room heard exclamations such as: “I have a Christmas tree too!”, “What is an Elf on the Shelf?” and “How do you play dreidel?”

An early way to help introduce children to cultural inclusion is to build on this natural interest in holidays.  This year the Sassafras class has spent time exploring Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, and Kwanzaa.  We have welcomed visitors, read books, played games, sung songs, cooked traditional treats, and had many lively discussions.    The children love learning new things, finding similarities and differences.  After learning about the seven concepts of Kwanzaa one of the preschoolers said: “We don’t celebrate Kwanzaa, but we still care about all those things!” Continue reading