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Syracuse elementary schoolers explore urban ecology at SUNY ESF

Students sit at tables and draw on a whiteboard while participating in urban ecology activities, June 15, 2022.
Emma Murphy
Students sit at tables and draw on a whiteboard while participating in urban ecology activities, June 15, 2022.

Dr. King Elementary on Syracuse’s Southside joined forces with SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry to help students learn the ecology of their own neighborhood. The event introduced the early learners to the higher education opportunities that are just a short walk away.

With help of SUNY ESF staff, the young students constructed urban ecosystems, visited the campus greenhouse, and examined ESF’s wildlife collection.

Fourth grade teacher Saida Balume said the trip shows students how learning about nature is relevant in their urban community.

“It doesn’t have to feel like it’s unreachable or something they would never experience just because they don’t live in that environment. And I think that the things we’re doing in here like community gardens and the kind of ecosystems they live in are important so that they can see themselves in the curriculum and the work,” Balume said.

Interim Associate Director for ESF in the High School Daniel Collins said it’s a fun way to introduce students to the many career options in science.

“My biggest goal out of this is always getting kids more interested in STEM because you don’t have to be a scientist, you don’t have to go to school specifically focused on Science to help with conservation and to be concerned with the environment,” Collins said.

Fourth grader Yaimeliz Marquez said she plans to attend SUNY ESF when it comes time for college.

“They have animals here, and I really love animals and nature. And I do love some plants because there’s banana trees, oranges, lemons, limes — and so many cute animals,” Marquez said.

Organizers said part of the goal is to get kids thinking about higher education well in advance. But fifth-grader Dae’love Braxton said some parts of the trip made him a bit uneasy.

“I thought they like, like nature, and then I just witnessed like four dead turtles and a bunch of dead birds. I like nature living not dead,” Braxton said.

ESF organizers are looking to bring more of these experiences to the region’s students. Currently they’re working on a program in which high schoolers collect test samples from local bodies of water. These organizers say it's even possible that they may see the students from today at future outreach programs at Syracuse middle schools.