My story begins with a robbery. At 4 years old, my mother and two sisters lived in a garden (basement) apartment in suburban Philadelphia. While sleeping, someone came into our apartment and stole the little money my mom had. A friend of my mothers found us an apartment in a more rural area about 20 miles away. This new house, the property and town around it was the place that hooked me on nature. I recall every detail of this life changing home. Our apartment was in a converted mill built in 1831 on a stream. We had no air conditioning, but a dogwood tree along the road. Our backyard was amazing. Part of it was a large mowed flat field. Another part was a paved curved hill and inside the curve were a couple of large trees and another mowed grassy area. Surrounding the large area was generally unkempt. I remember creating “rooms” and hallways by clearing low brush. We had wild animals in our yard regularly like pheasant and deer.
I feel like I was outside all day every day from the time I was 4 until 16. Neighborhood friends and I would explore the creek or go to the local swimming pool in town or ride our bike to Tyler State park just a couple of miles away. My bike became both my mode of transportation, my key to exploration and one of my favorite hobbies.
When it came time to go to college, because that’s what everyone did, I had my mind set on Meteorology and went to Penn State Abington, Ogontz campus in the late 80s. I studied mostly physics and calculus. After 2 years, I made my way to main campus in State College. I continued my study of Meteorology, and joined the PSU bicycle racing team who quickly became my mini PSU family. We spent many cold weekend mornings training and pushing each other.
About a year after graduation, I found a job as an operational weather forecaster for a consulting company just outside of Boston. So, I move to a Boston suburb and began my career as a Meteorologist. Being a meteorologist did not pay well, so I picked up a part time job at the local bike shop. While working at the forecasting company I got to do a lot of skiing. I also worked with people who liked the outdoors so I hiked Mt. Washington twice that year. I realized soon after that the life of an operational meteorologist was not for me. I didn’t have the same love of the weather that my colleagues had.
I decided what I wanted to do was teach. I spent about another year and a half in the Boston area working at the bike shop and a restaurant. At this point I was in my mid 20s and my brain started to fully work. I suggested to my old college girlfriend that she move to Boston with me and we get married (side note that we had only dated for a couple of years at that point). She wasn’t going for it so I moved back to Pennsylvania with a ring. I moved in with family friends, got a job at a restaurant and went back to college 5 years after earning my B.S.
I figured out that my best path would be to work on my Earth & Space Science teaching certificate for the state of New Jersey and by the Summer of 1999, I was fully certified and got a job in a small rural district in central New Jersey teaching 9th grade Earth Science and some Physical Science for 9th & 10th graders. The next year I got a job teaching 9th grade Physical Science at Hatboro-Horsham High School.
Janine, my now wife, and I moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia. I began to notice both my need for a greater connection and the need for my students to have a greater connection to nature. I started to dream of teaching Physical Science and now Physics outside. Teach children to sail to study forces, buoyancy, heat transfer and fluid dynamics. My teaching there brought me to meet some great teachers including Craig Nishiyama (Nish), one of the all time greats. While at his cabin in upstate Pennsylvania, I walked under the canopy of the woods behind the cabin. That was the moment. I knew that I needed to be there much more, in nature and specifically under the trees. I started to do some reading and research. I started to spend more time with people who also spent time outside. I took my children, Luke and Abby, outside hiking, skiing, anything!
Pieces started to come together. My choice of Meteorology made sense to me now. I loved nature and I loved the study of Physics(which is really the study of how nature works) so in my 17 year old brain I put it together and got Meteorology.
Other pieces started to become clearer. The most significant was the fact that I was not going to be able to spend the next 20-25 years teaching indoors. I declared to several friends and colleagues that I was going to start my own nature based high school in 3 to 5 years. 3 years past and a friend emailed me asking when my school was going to open. That was the spring of 2015. A couple of weeks later Jess, Sarah and I walked for miles down Forbidden Drive next to the Wissahickon Creek and talked about our Dream School.
And that's where we are today! Feeding off of one another's excitement and passion for this school to become a reality!
I spent most of my childhood days playing sports, fishing, building forts, dirt biking and discovering nature that was right in my backyard at Kemper Park by the Neshaminy Creek.
I have my BS in Secondary Education/Biology from Temple and a Masters in Environmental Education from Arcadia University (where I met Ken).
I currently teach environmental science at George Washington Carver School in the Philadelphia public school district.
I am inspired by: the positive effect that nature has on people.
I am committed to: creating opportunities for kids and people to connect with the natural world around them. I am committed to rekindling our bond with nature.
Best advice: There is no one right way for people to live.
Growing up in coastal New Jersey, my childhood was spent exploring the woods with my Dad and at the beach with my Mom.
Upon moving to Philadelphia to study biology at St. Joe’s, my time in nature was limited to playing rugby in Fairmount Park (Go Hawks!)
One day, between traveling for work and my weekly runs through the concrete jungle, I took an outdoor boot-camp class and suddenly realized how much I missed the enjoyment of running through the woods, how peaceful I felt while being immersed in nature and the pure happiness I experienced for days afterward.
At Chestnut Hill College I earned my Masters degree in secondary education so I could share my love of biology and environmental science with high school students.
Once I had my own children, we spent most of our days outside noticing our natural surroundings and all their details. I quickly observed the calming effect nature had on my kids and their unedited excitement when the wind blew the trees or while discovering a new plant or flower. If nature was this beneficial for kids, and myself – then I knew that I needed to do something to ensure that more children are growing up connecting with nature.
I am inspired by: Breathtaking scenes of nature. The northern lights fascinate me!
I am committed to: Getting people outside and interacting with their natural environment.
Best advice: Be true to yourself
Secret talent: I disguise veggies in fun food and my family actually eats it.
What makes you laugh: Dancing babies. I'm giggling just thinking about it.
Like many of you, my childhood was much different than the kids’ today. I left the house in the mornings to build forts and run barefoot with my neighborhood friends and returned for dinner as the sun was setting for the day. I have fond memories of dirt baseball diamonds, roaming through creeks catching crayfish and frogs & bringing baby snapping turtles home to keep as pets.
As I grew up, organized sports took over my free time and my time outdoors was limited to softball fields and tennis courts. In 2001, I attended University of Delaware for my degree in Sociology and I recall choosing that campus because of all its lush green space and the wide open campus.
After my time there, I moved back to Philadelphia and started working for The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia managing and writing grants for several different research departments. In 2009, I decided to get my M.B.A from Rosemont College while still working at CHOP full time. And on graduation day, I got pregnant with Xavier and my life began to shift.
When Xavier was born in 2011, I knew he was different than the other babies – but it wasn’t until I got my hands on a book, THE BOOK, by Mary Sheedy Kurchinka, called Raising Your Spirited Child, that it all started to make sense. X had sensory issues and could hear, see, smell and taste things that the average person would never even notice, thus making him extremely sensitive to the noises of everyday life. I turned to nature to soothe my baby and it ended up saving our family.
In Xavier’s 5 years on this planet, I would estimate that over 75% of that time has been spent outdoors. The change in his mood as soon as we hit the Wissahickon can be seen with the naked, untrained eye. He literally NEEDS nature to be his best self and as we spent more and more time outside, throwing rocks and making leaf boats – nature became our recharge space. Our go-to for a reset, a place to think through big life stuff and our everyday adventure fun because you never know what you will encounter when you’re out there exploring! In seeing my son’s experience with nature, I began digging into the research and connecting with other like-minded parents and outdoor advocates. There was no denying that the power of the natural world existed and was helping children and adults all around us.
I began having a reoccurring dream in the Spring of 2015. It was of a school where children were roaming freely outdoors, working diligently on hands-on projects. Everyone was happy and engaged and connected and present. So, I wrote about my dream on Facebook and my friend Jess sent me a message that I needed to connect with her friend Ken – because he too had this same dream. That week, the 3 of us hiked Forbidden Drive for several hours, talking and sharing our ideas for this super school. At the end of our first meeting, we all looked at each other and agreed that we would do whatever was within our power to make this dream a reality! And here we are today!
I am inspired by: People that are chasing their true, life passions.
I am committed to: leaving this planet a little bit better than how I found it.
Best advice: If you have brains in your head, and feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself any direction you choose
Secret talent: I can (literally) catch ANYTHING that’s thrown in my general direction.
What makes you laugh: Other people laughing – it’s totally contagious!
How did we start this?
The Nature School began in Spring 2015 as a recurring dream that one day Sarah shared with Jess. Jess connected Sarah to Ken and Ken brought Latch along for the ride and after our first meeting we all knew that we would be the ones to make this dream a reality. Nature has played and continues to play such vital roles in all our lives and we want to expand and share that with as many people as we can.
What Are We Up to Now?
We are currently working on our 501(c)3 paperwork to achieve our non-profit status as we continue to build our community and share our mission and vision with you. We have a few local fundraisers set up to help us offset the costs of our attorney and other business filings that are around the corner.
Why We Hope You’ll Join Us
We hope that you will join us in building The Nature School of Philadelphia. Share your talents, help get us off the ground and be a part of this growing movement.
© The Nature School of Philadelphia 2016