On a sunny June morning last year, a long line of second grade students wound its way from the Polly Hill Arboretum (PHA) parking area to the Far Barn. There were smiles, giggles, and excited chatter as the students walked through Holly Park. PHA Youth Education Coordinator Betsy Dripps led the way. As she reached the steps, a boy next to her exclaimed, “Wow! This place brings back memories!”
Most years, the PHA school education program introduces more than 1,000 Island children, from all six towns, to Polly Hill Arboretum, many of them on repeat visits. Betsy has crafted specific programs that adhere to the Massachusetts curriculum framework for science. Polly Hill herself was quoted as saying, “Educate yourself. Learn. The learning is the fun.” The PHA school education program aims to be a laboratory of discovery, according to Betsy Dripps.
This spring, Island schoolchildren (and other Vineyarders) have been wandering PHA looking at “Vanishing Acts,” a traveling outdoor exhibit developed by the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill. The exhibit, which opened in March and runs through June 28, seeks to increase public awareness of the precarious future of the world’s endangered trees. Visitors to the “Vanishing Acts” exhibit embark on a global journey, exploring tree stories from around the world, displayed on 15 panels. Many of the featured trees are planted on the arboretum grounds. The self-guided tour offers a message for all ages: The trees we know and love are endangered in the wild; by protecting them, we help ourselves and the entire planet.
The free school programs, which focus on kindergarten through fourth grade, fill the PHA calendar in spring and fall. Popular programs include “Flowers Change” in the spring and “Seeds Travel” in the fall. Other programs include “Tree Detectives” and “Dinosaur Plants.”
Every class receives a two-part curriculum. The first is a classroom visit, where Betsy Dripps and her assistant, Jill Bouck (a certified K-6 teacher), visit the classroom and bring armloads of various materials into the classroom: seedpods, leaves, flowers, and scientific tools. These resources provide hands-on learning as each student examines botanical materials with a magnifying glass. The students learn about how Polly Hill created her arboretum by planting seeds, and that they, too, could be scientists. The second part, shortly after the classroom visit, is the field trip to the arboretum, the living laboratory.
Once at PHA, children see the entire picture come together. Classes are divided into small groups led by volunteers, many of whom are retired teachers. The students are encouraged to be curious, to look around and ask questions. Before they leave, they make a drawing and discuss what they’ve seen, learned, and enjoyed in their outdoor classroom.
For more information on “Vanishing Acts” and Polly Hill’s education program, visit pollyhillarboretum.org.